REVIEW – In the video game universe of 2023, many stars are already shining, each more brilliant than the last. Among them are comets like Zelda: Tears of the Sun, Diablo IV, and Baldur’s Gate 3. But now we have the real ‘star’, Starfield, Bethesda’s latest release that has reappeared on our radar after five years. Buckle up for a stormy ride!
Do you hear that low roar in the distance? Can you see the leaves on the trees moving and the dust kicking up? These are harbingers of things to come. Bethesda’s giant spaceship – Starfield – has finally landed on our dear blue planet without a single routine check. What’s more, the Todd Howard-led team’s creation arrives in such a mysterious final form that we haven’t even had a sneak peek. So there were only two possible explanations for the secrecy: either the Xbox exclusive was a bitter disappointment that its creators tried to hide until the last minute, or Bethesda had spent all the time it had to release one of the most ambitious games of the decade in the best possible condition.
Officially announced at E3 2018 and in development for eight years, Starfield has since been hailed as a massive sci-fi RPG with a playground “bigger, more complex, and more detailed than anything Bethesda Game Studios has ever created.” With its single-player campaign, side missions, factions, builds (creating ships and outposts), and most importantly, thousands of explorable planets, it quickly became one of the most anticipated games in the genre. Skyrim has already defined the world of video game role-playing, and the team behind it has often compared their latest game to a cross between No Man’s Sky and Mass Effect.
“Space: the final frontier?” Nope! In the beginning, you’re just a miner!
The adventure starts in a dark mine. They don’t give away the chance to explore exotic planets and vast landscapes hidden in the four corners of the star system for free! When our hero, whose skin we’re about to take, stumbles upon a strange object, he faints, but not before strange visions flash before his eyes. This is the starting point of a mission where our choices can have serious consequences. To be clear, this test does not reveal anything about the more sensitive parts of the campaign. Since the game is about exploring the unknown, we feel it is important to keep the surprises that come with the strange finds scattered throughout the many systems a secret.
While it may seem simple at first, the story of Starfield is deeper than we thought. Building on proven dramatic devices, it plunges the astronaut into the center of a mysterious labyrinth where faith and science collide. You may rightly ask: what is the role of religion in an age when man has crossed all boundaries with the help of science? The campaign is well written, although it could have done with more major decisions and tangible consequences with good and bad results depending on our actions.
A star is born
Starfield’s avatar editor is quite detailed, so you can create heroes with precision. Body, mouth, teeth, jaw, chin… everything is customizable. There are also plenty of options for backgrounds and traits. Before you spend too much time, though, remember that you’ll be dressing your avatar in a thick space suit for the rest of the adventure!
The quality of the story in Bethesda’s new game Starfield has improved significantly, which is no small achievement since the American company has not really excelled in this area compared to BioWare, CD Projekt and Obsidian. The main characters are interesting and strong, which makes for entertaining and sometimes very humorous dialog. The members of Constellation have diverse backgrounds and it is nice to see that Bethesda has avoided clichéd archetypes. It’s not every day you get to take on the marauders of the galaxy with a chicken farmer on your side!
Our hero’s silence during dialogues adds to the role-playing experience, and the voice acting is well done, even if the mouth movements are not perfect. And what about the flirtations? It’s possible, but only with some members of Constellation, the famous organization that explores the secrets of the universe.
In Starfield, the developers have taken great care not to slow down the momentum of the single-player campaign, which can be completed in less than 25 hours. This means that dialog can be interrupted at any time, and the first choice of MCQs is always the one that moves the story along the fastest. However, those who want to learn more about the rich background will not be disappointed. Every conversation with an NPC gives you the opportunity to learn more about objectives, factions, or simply how the universe works. The lack of information at the beginning of the adventure means that the game runs the risk of losing users who miss out on key elements of the overall story. Of course, curiosity is not a bad thing in Starfield, and a visit to the Vanguard Museum is enough to learn about the problems of the time and the conflicts between the different factions. And it’s free to visit.
Galactic Guide for Future Space Heroes
Before you can become the ultimate galactic explorer, you need to master the basics. Todd Howard and his team’s latest creation can be played in both first and third person. The goal of the game is to complete missions by traveling to different parts of the universe using a variety of weapons (pistols, laser rifles, machine guns, etc.) and increasingly powerful equipment (helmets, suits, jetpacks, etc.). Missions can be divided into five categories (Main, Factions, Miscellaneous, Missions, Activities) and can be solved by adventuring through the cosmos. In its general structure, Starfield does not attempt to change the cosmic gameplay.
Completing a goal gives you credits, the game currency, and experience points that can be used on the skill tree. Skills in the skill tree can only be unlocked if two conditions are met: you must have experience points and you must complete certain tasks related to the targeted trait. For example, to unlock level 2 lockpicking, you must pick 5 locks, and to unlock level 4 ballistics, you must hit 100 enemies with bullets. You get the idea. The advantage of this design choice is that it makes the player more active and proactive in developing their skills, since no advanced level can be reached with experience points alone.
In terms of RPG elements, Starfield continues to tread well-trodden ground. Character creation allows you to choose traits that provide bonuses/penalties, as well as additional dialog options throughout the epic. There are plenty of ways to be cool or evil. There is enough choice and freedom in customizing abilities to play the game in your own style and achieve your goals the way you want. Your humble servant, for example, specializes in everything to do with business and trade, gets bargains in shops, and has the knowledge of the system’s most influential CEOs.
Most conflicts can be avoided by successful persuasion (using a probability-based mini-game), and many actions, such as killing innocent bystanders on the streets of a large city, earn skill points. Don’t try to assassinate protagonists who are important to the plot, because the game won’t allow it. It is true that the game does not allow as much freedom in RP action as Baldur’s Gate III, something that some hardcore RPG fans will surely miss. While the core mechanics are not revolutionary, the gears work well. Starfield’s structure and rigorous RPG feel classic, even academic, and reminiscent of other Bethesda/BioWare productions. As the saying goes, the best alien jam is made in an old pot, but in the world of video games, inertia can make players angry. Fortunately, the developers have successfully counterbalanced the traditional RPG mechanics with a gigantic amount of quality scripted missions, minimally invasive procedural content, and a measured but welcome sandbox aspect. Yes, Starfield is a love letter to SF lovers who get excited at the mere thought of exploring and conquering lost stars in the farthest reaches of the cosmos.
To infinity and beyond
Constellation is the newest group of space explorers searching the galaxy for mysterious artifacts. Do you want to jump to the moon, visit bases on Mars, or simply discover alien species on the other side of the universe? Or do you want to earn thousands of credits by selling rare materials, transporting VIPs, establishing outposts or joining space pirates? Starfield offers a single ticket – first class – into the fantasy world of all SF fans. Where there’s always something to see and do. In addition to the tasks assigned to you by the parent company, you can also interact with a number of factions. They offer additional missions in different styles. While action is often the order of the day, especially with the Colonial Union, Ryujin Industries is more about discretion and persuasion, to name a few.
The faction missions are well done. It’s worth going through the ranks of the different factions and discovering the unexpectedly rich history and situations that don’t occur in the main campaign, such as clashes with monster bosses. Fedex missions, or jobs, are designed to earn credits more or less easily. From bounty hunters and shipwreckers to ambulances and space taxis, there are plenty of ways to boost your bank account in exchange for a little elbow grease. However, transportation contracts are far from glamorous, and the entire journey is just a few clicks away in the menus.
“Oh my God, it’s full of stars!”
One of the main attractions of Todd Howard and his team’s creation is the hundreds of star systems that can be freely explored. Yes, the player can walk around most of the amazingly large number of planets! Why, you may ask? To exploit their resources, visit their structures, or simply do a little space tourism and admire the often barren landscapes. Sometimes, while we are quietly exploring the extraterrestrial riches, a spaceship will fly overhead and land in the distance. Is it a hostile threat? Who knows…
To map all planets 100%, i.e., studying all their resources, structures, fauna and flora, would certainly take a lifetime. Many worlds are in extreme conditions that strain the suits’ defenses, while others have different gravitational forces than Earth.
The challenges generated by the console are well suited to exploring desolate worlds. As in Skyrim, it’s almost impossible to tell whether the script generated the side activity or the developer. It’s amazing how realistically the entire system is simulated. Do you decide to land in an area exposed to sunlight? Then it’s possible that the rays will burn you. On the other hand, if you land on the hidden side, everything will be plunged into darkness.
Without following the hardcore survival philosophy of No Man’s Sky, crafting is encouraged to promote progression. Upgrading your clothing and weapons will inevitably require you to spend long hours mining ore and gathering multiple resources. Bethesda’s title allows players to research medicine, food and materials (equipment, weapons, outposts). To ensure that astronauts always have what they need to make items, they can set up outposts on any planet and use miners to extract the raw materials.
Home sweet home
Of course, there is no shortage of “home sweet home” in the game: players can create the home base of their dreams using an easy-to-use construction system. Once their space station is complete, they can leave it empty or send a crew member to improve its performance. These fully customizable structures can also increase exploration efficiency and create a landing strip for quick travel.
Although everything can be customized, the number of blocks that can be created is unfortunately quite limited. Although it is possible to resell the mined resources, the appeal of these outposts is unclear. They lack the fun stuff that would make them a real home, while most of the resources are already ubiquitous in the corridors of the buildings you visit.
Shipbuilding, on the other hand, is very simple: players can modify parts of an acquired ship to build the ship of their dreams. While they don’t change anything, these builds are welcome bonuses that help players immerse themselves in the Starfield universe.
Starfield offers a wealth of content: campaign, side missions, crafting, building ships and outposts, analyzing planets. It’s truly an open world game, literally! But not all planets are free to visit: the developers have divided them into large zones around the landing site. If you go too far, a message will ask you to turn back or teleport somewhere else. This is not a natural obstacle, but a message from a GM in the sky. We’ve seen better designs!
This may discourage new explorers, but it doesn’t ruin the experience. Starfield’s planets are generally empty, so there’s no point in spending days wandering around them (we’re talking whole stars here). What’s more questionable is that Bethesda has chosen quantity over quality when it comes to the spaces to explore. Many planets look very similar, with little variation in topography. Fewer, but truly different planets would have been more appropriate. Still, space exploration is much more immersive than in the last Mass Effect.
Of course, Starfield has to face other serious competitors, and while it is a great game, it has to be admitted that it falters a bit compared to all of them on its own turf. It has less planetary exploration than No Man’s Sky, less customization than Cyberpunk 2077, less RPG mechanics than Baldur’s Gate 3, and less character-building, optional dialog than Mass Effect. At the same time, the strength of Bethesda’s latest creation is that it offers a completely original composition that is both extremely rich and easy to digest, while also bombarding the player with multiple options for a unique gameplay experience.
Destiny vs. Star Wars: Big guns and space battles among the stars
When we launched Starfield, we knew it was going to be an action-packed title, but we had no idea how serious Bethesda was about gunplay. The game is packed with a variety of weapons that are exemplary in their modeling and detailed reloading animations. In addition, the modifications installed on them (stock, sights, muzzle, magazine, etc.) are clearly visible when the player holds them. It’s always nice to see the smallest details in a game of this scale. Not surprisingly, the equipment you can collect is divided into different levels of rarity, and thus strength.
The feeling of shooting is good, especially thanks to enemies that can feel the impact of a well-placed bullet. If they are hit hard, they can end up on all fours while they collect themselves. Unlocking the right skills makes combat much more exciting. With a jetpack, you can fly, run, crawl, hand-walk, and even grab ledges just like in a “real” FPS or TPS. Of course, this isn’t Doom Eternal, but the basics are there. Halfway through the campaign, when you access the “special upgrades”, a new layer of gameplay is added. We’d rather keep quiet about these “extra features” and let you enjoy the joy of discovery, but they really do add to the gameplay experience. As for the lack of 60fps on the Xbox Series X, it’s a shame, but 30fps is good enough. Also worth mentioning are the space dogfights that occasionally spice up the star travels, which reminded me of a beefed up Wing Commander. It’s a lot of fun, multifaceted, easy to learn and exciting, like most of the game.
Always the yellow road?
Bethesda provides very little explanation of how the game world works and encourages players to discover the secrets of the universe for themselves. Starfield is not a difficult game, but sometimes you will need to upgrade your equipment and ship to deal with hostile creatures and environments. There are many items to collect in the game that will add to the weight of your inventory. If you carry too much, you will slow down and not be able to move fast. Fortunately, we have a companion whose bag we can rely on when we need it. Our companion not only helps us fight, but also talks to us.
The game includes many features that make traveling and completing missions easier. For example, you can teleport to any point of interest you find, or fly directly to the planet where the mission is waiting for you. There’s always a marker to show you where to go, and if you get lost, your scanner will draw arrows along the way. The interface and menus are simple and clear. Resources for recipes are easy to find, and shortcuts can be set for weapons or skills. Our ship’s inventory is shared with our own, so we can easily craft or sell things.
Starfield also encourages players to experiment and explore everything the universe has to offer. There are not many tutorials, so sometimes you have to figure out the usefulness of certain features on your own or look up the help menu.
Great style, uneven art quality
Starfield is an amazing space adventure in which Bethesda’s artists have done an amazing job. The game’s world is full of detailed and stylish objects that give it a retro-futuristic “NASA punk” feel. Every place you visit tells a unique and interesting story, which is the pinnacle of environmental storytelling in an open-world RPG. Almost every item in the game can be picked up, stored, and viewed in your inventory. It’s a true collector’s paradise!
The game experience is further enhanced by the brilliant music composed by Inon Zur and the excellent sound effects. The game offers a wide variety of atmospheres, from futuristic cities to Far West towns to cyberpunk megapolises, all of which are authentic and immersive. The sounds are varied and accurate, and the surround sound is very well done. The sound mixing is also excellent and the effects are discreetly adapted to the situation.
Graphically, Starfield makes a mixed impression. Bethesda has created wonderful interiors, breathtaking cities and relatively well-developed faces – although there are problems with some NPCs in this area. The meteorological effects are also very varied and spectacular (snowfall, sandstorms, thunderstorms, etc.), and go hand in hand with a detailed day-night cycle that results in beautiful panoramas. However, when there is not enough light (sun or lack of light sources), the desolate planets are not so eye-catching. Some side characters are also less well done than others. All in all, the game is still a great technical showcase, running at a solid 30fps on the Xbox Series X. Only a few minor bugs mar the visual experience.
But the sheer size of the game is not without consequences. The rhythm of the game is somewhat interrupted by loading times, which are short but frequent. Every time you land on a planet, enter a base, or go into a cave, the game loads, which feels outdated. It also sometimes causes strange visual phenomena: characters suddenly appear or disappear in front of doors that serve as portals between levels.
Finally, a surprising fact: Starfield is coming to Xbox Series X in an extremely stable and almost bug-free version. It seems that Bethesda has learned from the Cyberpunk 2077 scandal. Even without the first day patch (which is now available), Todd Howard’s latest creation runs great. During 75 hours of gameplay, we didn’t experience any crashes or slowdowns/freezes – at least on the Xbox Series X, Steam Deck is a completely different story. Also, there are hardly any major visual glitches. All in all, well done Bethesda, this sci-fi RPG is one for the stars!
+ Huge open-world sci-fi world with tons of things to do and opportunities
+ Great main story and quests
+ Well-crafted FPS/TPS skirmishes
– Not very original in RPG mechanics and general structure
– We wanted to see more choices and consequences in the campaign
– Quantity over quality when it comes to planets and aliens
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Style: Open-world sci-fi RPG
Release: September 6, 2023.