- PC, XBOX X | S
- Mature 17+
- FPS, RPG, Sandbox, Sci-Fi
- Release date
- September 6, 2023
Bethesda’s long-awaited return to single-player open-world RPGs, Starfield takes players to the stars to solve mysteries, do battle, and try to survive an existential threat to mankind. Will you be a pirate or fight them? Will you save the universe or leave it to its fate? As the player, you will decide everything except whether or not to announce your pronouns.
NVidia RTX 3090 Founder’s Edition (not overclocked)
32 GB DDR3 2666
Intel Core i7 4.4 GHz
Windows 10 22H2
Samsung EVO 970 SSD
XBOX One Wired Gamepad
- Tight FPS controls
- Fresh UI (not just re-skinned Fallout)
- Multiple play styles (explore everything, just chase the dot, bit of both)
- Clever hybrid progression system
- Boost packs!
- Space combat is simple but well-implemented
- Still crashes whether you need it or not like every other Bethesda game
- Shipbuilder is clunky and poorly documented
- Gets boring traversing empty landscapes
- Missions get super repetitive towards the end
- Suffers from a mild infection of the “Woke Mind Virus.”
Mysterious artifacts are being discovered all over the known systems. They bend gravity and distort space, and for you, the player, they impart unintelligible visions, but their true nature and purpose are unknown. However, when brought together, they respond to one another like pieces of a whole. As you search for the artifacts, you’ll encounter exotic landscapes and hostile alien wildlife, navigate asteroid fields, and political intrigue with equal peril. You’ll shoot, talk, or sneak your way in and out of danger until the assembled artifacts bring you face-to-face with the ultimate decision not just about your own fate but the fate of mankind itself in this expansive star-faring adventure.
Starfield is an open-world first-person shooter (FPS) and role-playing game (RPG) set in a post-Earth future where mankind has spread to the stars and brought all his faults and virtues along for the ride. Player choice takes center stage in this epic galaxy-spanning adventure, where players will create their own custom avatar, buy, build, and modify their own spaceships, build their own settlements, and forge their own way across hundreds of planets on the ground in zero gravity and in space according to their own play style. Players will have to decide between combat, diplomacy, deception, or stealth as they navigate the epic narrative toward its galactic conclusion.
A Fresh Coat of Paint
The first thing that stands out is the new user interface (UI). While it has some similarities to the Elder Scrolls and Fallout UI, it feels very fresh. The circular display in the lower left shows health, O2, and local gravity (as well as adverse conditions, if there are any). Stamina is now displayed as O2, and it depletes if you sprint or try to run while carrying too much mass. This is, of course, affected by gravity in a somewhat intuitive way, but it opens up more player choice than simply making it so you can’t run if you’re over-encumbered.
The first-person shooter controls are very well implemented – the best I’ve ever seen from Bethesda. They’re tight and snappy and give you a sense of accuracy that was definitely lacking in Bethesda’s prior efforts.
Starfield’s skill progression is a pretty clever hybrid of the “do it to learn it” and the “spend skill points to learn it.” You spend skill points to unlock a skill and additional skill points to upgrade the skill, but in between each level, you have to complete a challenge before you’re allowed to upgrade. For example, to get from “Pistols 1” to “Pistols 2” you have to kill 10 enemies with a pistol.
The skill system seems designed for specialization, as there were only enough earnable points to unlock about 12% of the skills on the first play-through.
Eventually, you’ll gain the ability to build a settlement – which is a sort of home base you can use to store things and create a custom set of facilities. This is an optional activity – the game never requires you to build one. If Minecraft, Factorio, and other “builder” games appeal to you, settlement building can be a great diversion from questing.
In one of Bethesda’s more novel decisions, gravity plays a large part in how you’re able to explore. Go somewhere with low gravity, and you can suddenly jump ten feet in the air. Travel to somewhere with high gravity, and your character can barely get off the ground. Boost packs, a kind of power-assisted jump, also open up a lot of vertical possibilities – everything from restoring your ability to jump in high gravity to nearly being able to fly in low gravity.
The world of Starfield is pretty large – there are hundreds of planets orbiting 120 stars and a lot of ways to get around. Once you’ve visited a place, you can usually fast-travel back to it, and you can fast-travel from nearly anywhere. However, getting there the first time can sometimes feel more like a chore than an adventure. Overland, you’re often traversing almost completely empty landscapes for 10-20 minutes at a time. Additionally, Interstellar travel can be almost as bad. You’re often forced to stop off at unexplored star systems on your way somewhere else. Sometimes you get attacked or sucked into a side quest when you go to these places, but just as often, there’s nothing really there, and it’s just a waste of time.
Space is the Place
The spaceship combat controls are straightforward and intuitive. There’s an element of strategy to transferring power between systems – do you want to risk weaker shields so your lasers can do more damage?
You can upgrade and customize your ships, but it feels like a half-baked experience. For example, nearly every ship comes pre-installed with weapons and reactors that are superior to anything the vendors had to sell. The ship-building interface is about as intuitive as AutoCAD, and for some reason, there is no tutorial explaining how exactly to use it.
There’s a point in the game where the player is forced to use the shipbuilder to attach some new components to a ship, but the game does nothing to explain how. Of course, the Internet is your friend in this situation, but it’s still a glaring oversight in the design.
Black, White, and Gray
There’s a pirates vs. navy faction questline that defines the whole Starfield experience. It offers mystery, intrigue, exploration, danger, and a huge payoff. However, where it truly shines is the tricky choice at the end. Moral conundrums are a staple of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles. In the first games, players had to choose from ideologically disparate factions. It wasn’t a matter of which faction was the most good or the most evil that made the choices hard; that part was obvious. What made the choice hard was whether you wanted your character to be good or evil.
With each successive game in those series, the writers messed with that formula by populating opposite factions with equally awful people. By Fallout 4, every faction was evil in some way. By contrast, the factions in Starfield are morally distinct. For instance, the pirates aren’t misunderstood heroes fighting for freedom, and the navy isn’t a group of secretly corrupt warmongers; you know exactly which side you’re choosing when you make the choice. This is a much-needed return to form for anyone sick of being asked to choose between the proverbial turd sandwich and giant douche.
The Bethesda CTD Shuffle
An RTX 3090 should have had zero difficulty running this game in 1080p without HDR, but there are still areas of the game where performance visibly bogs. Crash to desktop (CTD) frequency was about what we’ve come to expect from Bethesda – about 15 to 20 times during about a 40-hour playthrough. The only other major performance issue or bug encountered was that multiple lines of dialogue or other audio would run concurrently – sometimes, it was impossible to make out the one you were supposed to be listening to.
The main plot of the game is imaginative, if a little predictable. Without offering any spoilers, the most noteworthy aspect of it is the way they managed to incorporate the concept of “New Game+” into the central narrative.
There’s a spark of discovery that hasn’t been evident since Oblivion, where you notice something as you walk past on your way to the next part of your mission and think, “Hey, what’s that?” and two hours later, you’ve had so much fun exploring you’ve almost forgotten about your original mission. You can “just follow the dot” if that’s all you want, or you can dive in and get lost in an enormous game world.
Starfield is a worthy addition to the Bethesda family of celebrated first-person RPGs and manages to simultaneously represent a return to form and something fresh. It’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend it because of the woke elements, but it’s undeniably a good time.
While the woke elements in Starfield initially got a lot of press, they are not terribly distracting, and you can play a good portion of the game without them being thrown in your face or reinforced.
- Character creation is 99% typical fare, with the exception that there’s now a non-optional pronoun selection requirement. You are forced to select preferred pronouns in order to continue, which includes the choices “he/him, she/her, ” and ” they/them.” No “zey/zim” or “clown/clownself” silliness, thankfully – at least not as of the release version. The game will no longer use female pronouns for your female avatar without being explicitly told to do so. As seldom as this actually comes up in the game’s dialogue, it would have been just as easy to never use pronouns to refer to the player character at all. Although subtle, this is absolutely an intentional encroachment against players who will not answer that question in real life because of the matter of conscience that it represents.
- While this is more of a comment about the community than the game, it bears mentioning that when a modder attempted to provide players the ability to skip this dialogue question, there was immediate vitriolic backlash. Nexus Mods instantly de-listed the mod, and the gaming press spent several subsequent days tripping over themselves trying to outdo each other with virtue-signaling declarations that anger and hatred were self-evident in the mere desire not to be forced to select pronouns and that such a desire was objectively bigoted. Perhaps Google just hid all of the contrary opinions, but there were no apparent publications or platforms that considered the possibility that not wanting to promote egregious self-harm and the destruction of women’s private spaces also comes from a place of compassion for fellow humans.
- Companions, which are non-player characters (NPCs) that fight alongside you, are largely optional but required for certain parts of the game. Some companions have romance options as you establish a relationship with them. Unfortunately, this isn’t like Total Recall, where they only ask you once what your sexual preference is. The game will repeatedly offer up same-sex romance options if your companion is the same gender as your player character. In one playthrough as a male character, the main male companion dialogue offered roughly five times as many opportunities to “[Flirt]” compared with that of the main female companion. If Bethesda really added a pronoun option for the purpose of supporting player choice, they should also add a choice that disables non-preferred romance options.
- Romantic relationships make up only a small part of the game’s story threads, but the ratio of homosexual to heterosexual relationships between NPCs is about 3:2, and the heterosexual relationships are all defined by some sort of toxicity.
- Giving specific examples would involve spoilers, but suffice it to say that when the game explores the subject of capitalism, every executive business leader is painted as a greedy, unempathetic, murderous sociopath who lacks self-awareness. At least when Outer Worlds did this, it was tongue-in-cheek. Here, it’s as though the writers take it for gospel that that’s what every large business is actually like.
Simon is a science fiction author, tech blogger and retro gaming enthusiast. He lives in the US Midwest with his two sons and wife of 26 years. Though he doesn't consider it a religion, he is unabashedly Christian. His heritage is primarily Native American and Scott/Irish. He is an outspoken libertarian (in belief, not necessarily in party) and values the principles of freedom and individual sovereignty above all else.