It’s September 1st, 2023. Through nothing else but sheer luck, I appear to have been granted Starfield to play on early access. I’ve given myself two weeks to power through it as best I can in the hopes that I see enough of this highly anticipated game to give it a justified score. My palms are sweaty. Knees weak, arms are…well, you get the idea.
Two weeks, and fifty seven hours later here I am. I’ve stepped foot on near-every planet available to me. I’ve taken down enough space pirates to be considered a general to stand alongside Lord Cutler Beckett. I’ve romanced most of the Constellation and I still get lost looking for the gun store in New Atlantis. For better or worse, Starfield has consumed my gaming habits for two weeks straight and I’ve never played a game quite like this before.
Seeing as we’re two weeks into the release I’m not going to rage on about certain gameplay and story aspects, there’s just no point. If you really want to you can play this game now for less than a tenner on your phone or your PC. It’s not difficult to experience it for yourself so why would I delve deep into mechanics? I’m simply going to talk about how Starfield, as a whole, made me feel. Is Starfield that console killer-app your Xbox has been crying out for? Will it lead a revolution for Phil Spencer to at last shake off the ‘Xbox has no games’ moniker and alleviate the fears of its biggest fans? More importantly, did I enjoy Starfield at all?
Well, yes. Yes I did. And I didn’t. But mostly, yes. Let me explain.
First off, I don’t understand the constant comparisons to other games of its ilk. First and foremost, Starfield isn’t like any other game Bethesda has ever made, but you know it’s definitely a Bethesda game. It’s buggy, it’s choppy, it’s full of NPCs that have plenty to say but nothing to actually talk about. It’s directionless but is constantly telling you to go places. It’s unbelievably, unfathomably slow in the places you want it to be fast and desperately fast in wrapping up the primary story. It features perhaps the worst menu design Bethesda has ever committed to a video game and that really is saying something.
And yet, after 25 hours going in and out of this dreadful menu you sort of get used to it, and you just put up with it because you know you haven’t got much of a choice but to go into menus everything you want to bloody do absolutely anything at all in this game. Starfield is more convoluted than No Man’s Sky ever was. It’s more subdued that Skyrim from a narrative point of view and it’s certainly not as enthralling as Fallout is at its peak.
Perhaps you could put this next to the likes of Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds but even then you’re doing the scope of the game a disservice. I absolutely love The Outer Worlds because the story and characters were hugely fun and engaging. Starfield is the opposite. It’s not as easy to get on board with because everything is so bloody serious.
Yes, your character has unlimited quips to throw the way of anyone he/she/they speak to, but it’s always the final option. Like ‘ok, reply like this if you must but they aren’t gonna like it’, and mostly, no they don’t. The characters you meet would rather have a straight conversation with you rather than quip every five minutes like you’re in a Marvel movie.
What it is then, is unique. I’ve said it already but there really is nothing else like Starfield and it works to its favour that no matter how hard the internet wants to try there genuinely is very little to compare it to. I was constantly in awe of the universes Bethesda had me explore, and how utterly vast Starfield is. No, not every planet is as exciting as you would hope but each one has something to explore, something to see which can benefit your story. There’s very little behind progress walls and once you’re free to dance around the cosmos it’s almost imperative to do so. It’s enormous and it rarely wipes the smile off your face when you come across a new planet with a new species and a human-built shack where you can find apples and magazines (do keep an eye out for magazines, they’ll add to your skill points).
And the backstory of the Starfield galaxy is damn near as spectacular as the scope. It feels lived in. It feels like hundreds of yours of human evolution which led to the United Colonies are all over every planet that found itself in its crosshairs. There’s a beauty to them all and there’s a story behind damn near everything you come across. Learning about how humans came to colonise space and settle on a variety of different planets and the wars won to bring balance to a loud universe simply looking for somewhere to call home. It never stops being utterly engrossing, with a fascinating story-thread mission that explains the origins of human settlements in space becoming possible at all (granted, it’s slap bang in the middle of probably the worst mission in the game, but if you’re paying attention to the lore scattered throughout there’s an absolute ton to piece together).
Thankfully it’s more fun than the NPC enemies that have some serious Stormtrooper vibes when it comes to shooting you directly.
So there’s every chance Starfield can feel somewhat overwhelming at first and yes, it’s a bonkers-sized video game, so the campaign (which I mainlined on my first playthrough) was a welcome structure to the scope of what was ahead of me. You play as a nameless, faceless miner in space who comes across a rather strange artefact, allowing you to very briefly see visions and the power it contains. For a split second, you’re on your feet and sent on your way to those who may understand you somewhat – The Constellation. A band of misfits dedicating their lives to finding these ‘artefacts’, understanding them in an attempt to unearth their power
It’s a neat starting point, albeit somewhat classic sci-fi. Fortunately, the somewhat safe plotting really does extrapolate into something thoroughly engaging, and it kept me hooked throughout, even if I did think it ended all rather abruptly. Still, I’m not here to talk about the ending. If you’re familiar with your Bethesda games then you’ll feel immediately at home. Aside from the sheer scope and the intriguing story, Starfield is not breaking any new ground when it comes to what you expect from Todd Howard and his teams. The gunplay feels better than ever, with a huge array of weapons to choose from to make your mark on the galaxy (granted, I found an ‘old earth AK47’ and never looked back. Accept no substitute). Crafting also feels familiar along with the pain in the ass encumbrance systems which to this day utterly baffles me as a concept. I find it impossible to believe my character is carrying 150 weapons/health kits/spacesuits/random garbage I find to sell and he’s running and jumping with interference, but 160? That’s pushing it and now he can’t move. Give me a break and get rid of the dumbass mechanic once and for all, please. Ugh. Anyway.
As ever, the message at the centrepoint of Starfield is ‘humans suckkkk’. Whilst space has been colonised to an inch of its life, sentient life is still to be found across the stars, so you have to wonder what the point of it all is. Yes, they are all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures on planets far and wide, but nothing as advanced as a stupid human. Capitalism runs rife as humans pat themselves on the back for their incredible discoveries like gravity warping, which changed the game when it came to space colonisation for the human race after Earth became uninhabitable. And yet, it’s only other humans that are their audience. So where did those artefacts come from? Who put them where they were found? Many questions were asked but the bottom line; Humans clever, but humans dumb. Some things never change.
For the most part, I played the good guy. I became part of Constellation and wanted to learn about the Artefacts just as much as they all did, so I kept my nose clean and just did what I was told which was more or less ‘go and find all the other Artefacts’. Then, of course, a good majority of the levels began to feel somewhat similar. Set course for the planet, get to planet, land on planet, walk to cave, kill some bad guys who got there first, drill out artefact, take artefact back to The Lodge. Rinse and repeat for several hours. Before you ask no, there is no land transport so yes at every new location you’re walking there first before you have the option to Fast Travel. Every single time. Still, I kept my nose clean and just grabbed all the artefacts whilst topping up ammo, dropping off a bunch of stuff in my room in Constellation because I was ‘over encumbered’ (ugh), made some more Credits and went on my merry way once again.
Whilst you’re bumbling around in space you can get into comms transmission conversations with nearby ships. One fun interaction had me talking to tourists about just how great it is to have my own ship and the wonderful life I might lead. They had all sorts of stupid questions and I was certainly grinning throughout, even if it was utterly pointless. You can choose to ignore these quick events but you might as well get them done as they’ll normally offer credits or other bonuses. Certainly broke up the tedium of collecting Artefacts.
But that’s the beauty of Starfield. Much like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout before it, if you’re not up for taking on the campaign, you don’t have to. There’s an absolute megaton of things to be getting on with away from the main story branch, and you can spend hours upon hours simply finding other things to do. Quests are automatically added to your mission list if you happen to be nearby a quest so you don’t have to sit and chat with everyone you meet. And of course, you can go back anytime and get it done if you’re currently busy with something else. It’s an absolute joy to see the missions rack up knowing you’ve got even more to do in this giant wondrous playground.
But that’s also where Starfield becomes a little unstuck. I’ve been talking to the Finger Guns guys for two weeks about Starfield and how much I’m enjoying it. How it’s lived up to the hype in almost every way and how it’s going to be an absolute killer for Xbox moving forward. Bethesda should be congratulated for creating yet another incredible, impossible world to get lost in and there’s plenty about Starfield I really, genuinely love.
But to me, is it a Game of the Year contender? No. Not really. If I were to really look at Starfield, take it apart and really study the sum of its parts it becomes something that has so much breadth, so much story and fascinating lore, there’s also a bunch it really fumbles on.
I’m not looking at this from a technical standpoint. In the last two weeks I’ve played Starfield on an Xbox Series S, a very capable beast of a gaming laptop and through the Xbox cloud on my phone with a Backbone controller. The Xbox Play Anywhere system is superb and seamless, and I could care less about framerates and raytracing or any of that bullshit when I’m having this good of a time. This is not a technical review, I don’t care enough to give an opinion. Please go to Digital Foundry if you must see moments where framerates dip and cause an entire fanbase to implode. Ugh.
I’ve said it already but the menu sucks, it’s awful. And again this is a huge problem because as I’ve mentioned you spend so much of your time in the menus of Starfield, the fact they aren’t as smooth as the gunplay or landing mechanics is barbaric to me. I hate ‘setting course’ to planets because it takes so bloody long. I can’t stand having to reset a route because I’m too far away and I can’t grav jump that far so I’ve got to go one planet at a time until I can make it to the planet I need to be on. You’re making all this up so why can’t I just jump to the planet? Is that really that much of a big deal? The planetary maps are well designed but all look the same, so you’re going to every single one looking for one planet without any kind of guidance.
Do you have any idea how long it took me to work out how to dock onto other ships? The game simply doesn’t tell you that all you need to do is press A on your controller (or E on PC) and then you have the option to dock. Why didn’t this come up? Why would you not mention such a crucial segment of the controls? The Bethesda way is getting tiresome, Todd. Your imagination is second to none but let’s thread everything together a little tighter else I fear it’s all going to fall apart soon enough.
In a game of this scope perhaps not everything was going to be perfect. And yet, I kind of expected it to be? That’s hype I suppose. I do really like Starfield an awful lot and I’m not done playing it, far from it. I’ve still got plenty to do and I’m excited to find easter eggs and random encounters. I’m excited to go to Earth, landing at random areas and seeing what’s left (the three or four times I’ve been there were for story reasons and it was all a bit empty, though I’ve been made aware of secrets hidden so I need to jump in and have a proper nose around).
I loved searching the moon and finding the moon landing. Those little touches make Starfield what it is. A fully engrossing living and breathing world which, for better or worse has all the Bethesda trimmings on top. It’s genuinely up to you if you can handle a Bethesda version of sci-fi space opera with everything that entails.
There’s a whole universe out there waiting to be explored and it’s an absolute joy to do. I really, genuinely like Starfield and I can’t wait to see what’s next for it. Who knows, perhaps I may come to love it someday. For now, it’s not a game of the year contender for me but it’s everything I kinda hoped it would be, rough around the edges with a wonderfully realised world to explore whenever the hell I want. That’s perfectly fine with me.
It’s September 15th, 2023. I’ve been playing Starfield for six hours. There truly is nothing like it, and I’m glad it exists.
To the stars.
Starfield lives up to the hype and more, bringing a fully realised universe to our TV screens with a captivating, intriguing story and worlds that are begging to be explored. Damn near every Bethesda trope you can imagine is present and correct here though, and it’s up to you if you can power through them to find the greatness within or if they’re just a bit too irritating to genuinely fall in love with the game completely. We’re in the latter, but boy is there plenty to enjoy here regardless.
Starfield is available now on Xbox and PC (reviewed primarily on Xbox but also played on PC and Xbox Cloud Gaming).
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.