September 15, 2023

An out-of-this-world experience finally out to the world. Delve into the vast expanse of Bethesda’s sci-fi epic in our Starfield review!

It’s been quite a long time since we’ve played a new mainline Bethesda game – 2015 gave us Fallout 4. Simultaneously, we’re surely a long way off from The Elder Scrolls VI, so fans of this studio’s grandiose adventures are sure to settle in to its first new IP in more than two decades, Starfield. The premise is simple enough – explore space, traversing new planets, customizing your space ship, assemble your crew. It’s essentially a dream game for anyone that grew up wanting to be an astronaut with a boundless amount of content to sift through.

Starfield review character close-up

You’re finally awake. You were trying to explore space, right?

Starfield has had immeasurable amounts of hype surrounding its release. There’s a lot of interesting factors at play, one of the most compelling being that it’s a Day One Game Pass title. A high-budget AAA flagship console-exclusive title with minimal DLC being made available en masse instead of the $69.99 price tag is as high-risk as it gets.

But the mere fact that this is a Bethesda title means that millions will flock to play it on that principle. And millions did, making Starfield the biggest launch in the company’s history. So, how does the game stack up to sky-high expectations?

Starfield Review – Story

You may have seen some talk that the best way to play Starfield is to rush through the main story and *then* go exploring. That’s not typically how I like to play games of this nature, but this turns out to be pretty sound advice – you’re best off absorbing the universe within the fairly well-paced narrative.

In a nutshell, you’re on the hunt for artifacts after an out-of-body experience, and the group Constellation is here to help you collect them across the Settled Systems, which you’re free to jump from planet/galaxy to planet/galaxy at will. You can take a break from the story at any point to go exploring, but I do suggest getting easy XP and better immersion powering through the tale as your main focus to start – especially since there’s so many systems to learn in Starfield.

Starfield review Sam Coe cowboy

Sam Coe, an ex-cowboy pilot voiced by Elias Toufexis, is an instant-favorite companion.

In typical Bethesda fashion, Starfield also has major factions who aren’t big fans of each other. The Freestar Collective and The United Colonies are the biggest governing bodies, and of any Bethesda game yet, it’s actually quite tough to make a choice of which to join between the two. This is where the role-playing aspect of Starfield truly comes in clutch and offers a great deal of replayability as you’ll likely deliberate this choice more and more across multiple playthroughs, of which there are likely to be more than just one depending how hooked you get.

Starfield Review – Performance/Visuals

Starfield is the biggest gut-check for high-end PCs since Cyberpunk 2077. I played that game on release in 2020 with an RTX 2070, and I’m going into Starfield with an RTX 3080 to tackle 1440p. As Starfield is optimized for AMD tech and doesn’t include DLSS support on launch, I’m not necessarily going into this game with an advantage towards framerate, but I’m pleased to report that, much like past Bethesda titles, the only dips in performance are in bustling cities full of NPCs. In fact, I got a full 165fps in well-lit buildings, indicating there’s some deep optimization at play, only lacking in the consistency department.

Starfield review visuals graphics

Starfield looks great – if your PC can handle the herculean task of running it well.

Load times are very quick on an SSD in Starfield. They’re not Ghost of Tsushima 2-second cross-map loads out of the gate, but getting into space takes only a few seconds, caves a few seconds, new planets maybe 10-15 seconds. I also didn’t experience any visual glitches in my gameplay, which is basically unheard-of for a AAA PC port nowadays; they really squashed all of these bugs before release which is a feat for a game of this scope!

Starfield review visuals graphics

Planets manage to feel different from each other in Starfield – no carbon copies to speak of.

The ability to land on a new planet and not know what to expect to see is one of Starfield‘s most endearing qualities. One planet was a rainy marsh, the next an icy brick, and they all utilized different color pallets, weather patterns, and day/night indicators that is a far cry from Fallout 3‘s all-too-green debris-filled wasteland. I was skeptical hearing “you can visit 100 planets!” that copy/paste would come into play, but it was a thrill seeing the diversity of eye candy across each new world.

Starfield review glitches bugs

A look at my bugged screen locked into a conversation with my last autosave 15 minutes prior…

I did say there were no visual bugs for me in Starfield, but the gameplay is far from bug-free. Talking to someone while an enemy is nearby? If the enemy catches wind of you, there’s a chance you’ll get stuck in the dialogue and not be able to do anything except load a save. This should be patched soon, but it never seemed to occur in Fallout 4 or Skyrim as those games transitioned to combat without incident. Past this annoying issue and the frame-dips, Starfield actually performs above-average for a traditionally-messy developer, and here’s hoping the last few quirks get ironed out in patches to come.

Starfield Review – Audio

Audio is a pretty big deal within sci-fi as there are tons of sounds that are unnatural and, therefore, play into imagination and are up to the sound team to create. The lasers zap satisfyingly, the void of space is echo-y and transcendental, the beeps and boops within your ship are whimsical. It’s a pleasure to the ears and best experienced with headphones to maximize on immersion which is a must for a game of this caliber.

Starfield review Sarah Morgan character

The mystifying Emily O’Brien flourishes as Sarah Morgan, my instant lock for companion romance.

Where Starfield shines its brightest, though, is with its stellar voice acting across the board. Not the one-size-fits-all three male voice actors we experienced in Skyrim, you can truly distinguish NPCs between each other (even if a few of those Skyrim voices do return). Bringing in the star power and range of the likes of Damien Haas, Armin Shimerman, Steve Blum, and more, it’s fantastic to hear variety in a Bethesda game that we also saw the start of in Fallout 4.

Longtime Bethesda composer Inon Zur is back at the helm for Starfield, and he sure didn’t phone it in this time around. The main theme is stuck in my head as I type this, and the soothing, venturesome tunes accompany you throughout your journeys. Fight scene songs are tense, and big story beats get the backing of climactic symphonies giving their all. The 5-hour soundtrack has already hit Spotify and will sure to be on the study playlists of gamers for ages to come.

Starfield Review – Gameplay

The bread and butter of Bethesda games are their unbound, take-your-own-pace adventures that stretch what would be a 20-30 hour main story into 100+ hours of scouring maps for every nook and cranny and letting your imagination run wild. No other company can pull it off quite as well as Bethesda can; now that they’re putting the setting in space with dozens and dozens of planets to delve through, it’s a massive risk after such games like No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous have already wowed gamers in this realm.

Starfield review relaxed character

Rest easy, Bethesda fans; Starfield still has that winning formula, this time with less bugs and even more to do!

You may have seen that the “first 12 hours” of Starfield are the hardest to get through. That statement was felt in droves in my playthrough, as the learning curve is no joke. This game throws so many different systems at you and maybe could have done a better job at tutorializing instead of setting the player loose; I didn’t realize you could fast-travel onto a planet from basically anywhere in space, and it took 5 hours for it to click that I had to purchase a skill to even use the boost pack. You may need to look up guides more than ever to fully enjoy Starfield, but when progression and flow finally clicked for me, I could feel myself get hooked as hours passed like nothing.

Starfield review gunplay FPS

Once you start finding unique modified weapons that high-level enemies carry in Starfield, combat really picks up and is a blast.

The gunplay in Starfield is considerably tighter than it was in Fallout 4. I did struggle to find a weapon that worked at range for a few hours, but the shotgun was an easy favorite and took massive chunks of damage off enemies in a satisfying fashion. Your companion also has fairly competent AI, being more of an asset than a liability in fights, even if they spew some of the same dialogue lines every few minutes. Enemies tend to be spongy, but enough of a worthy challenge that I didn’t mind in most cases.

Starfield review inventory shotgun

The excitement I get whenever I loot a purple (epic) or gold (legendary) tint on a new item is still a thrill in Starfield.

Inventory management in Starfield is as succinct as it has ever been in a Bethesda title. Hot-slotting weapons and loading up on food after getting hit is still a breeze, and it’s easy to tell what weapon/spacesuit to equip based on what situation you’re in. The starting carry weight is paltry, making it a must for an early level-up upgrade; I felt myself leaving behind loot because it weighed a lot, and had to put research projects on hold for the same reason. Nevertheless, it’s a godsend to spend less time in these menus and more exploring.

Starfield review random events

Random events can even happen in orbit in Starfield; you’ll never know what to expect landing in a new system.

Space dogfighting is actually quite novel in Starfield. If you encounter enemies in space, you’re not just going to hit left-click and win. At your disposal are guns, missiles, and lasers to use in unison. The part that makes this fun is you’ll have to manage your energy output between each system on your ship; reduce your shields if you want to be less detectable and avoid a fight, or boost your guns so you can fire for longer and longer. It’s a lot of trial-and-error, but the ship feels like an extension of you and your space flight skill.

Starfield review ship customisation

Spaceship customization in Starfield could be its own game. You could easily spend hours decking out your ship.

I was positively overwhelmed the first time I went to modify my ship in Starfield. This menu is chock-full of customization options to the point where you could create anything your mind sets itself to. The fact that players have been able to recreate some of their favorite ships from other games/pop culture, such as the X-Wing and the Normandy, is a testament to not only how versatile this menu is, but how dedicated players are to spend time here instead of out exploring.

Starfield review conversation dialogue

Conversations are back up to snuff in Starfield after Bethesda learned their lesson in Fallout 4.

Interacting with NPCs in Starfield is back to more than just one of four customary options in Fallout 4. There’s full sentences you can select that do vary wildly in tone and intensity, and some got a good laugh out of me. Persuasion now has a new mini-game where you’re tasked with selecting the riskiness of your dialogue options with 3 chances to fully-convince the other party. This risk/reward system is compelling and is leaps and bounds better than just hoping for the best with an orange word in Bethesda’s last title.

Starfield review scanning mode

Scanning mode lets you identify your next destination, fast travel to your ship, and research fauna, flora, and resources across Starfield.

With exploration being the name of the game in Starfield, there are some pain points in its early-goings that limit the fun during the learning process. I do wish locations on each planet could be a little bit closer as you’re spending a lot of time running from point A to B while running out of breath every 20 or so seconds. With no land vehicles to speak of, it can be a slog, but scouring new buildings and fighting baddies is as good as it always has been in Bethesda’s past.

Starfield review ship crew

Your ship’s crew is always on-board, ready to help and talk in Starfield.

Starfield Review – Conclusion

If you’re going into Starfield expecting a Bethesda RPG in space, that is quite exactly what you’re getting. That could be a massively great thing for fans of the genre, and a tribulation for those who detest the idea of gauging tons of new systems to master atop some bugs to sift through.

It is far from a seamless transition from any other previous Bethesda game into Starfield, and that’s perfectly fine, because with all that Starfield has to offer, it’s worth it to learn how the game works; I was scared this game wouldn’t click for me, but four hours in and I was hooked like nothing else I’ve played to this point this year.

Starfield review docking animation

I had my doubts in the first few hours of Starfield, but when it clicked, it was merely academic at that point. This is going to be in my playtime for a long while now that I know how to navigate, explore, and enjoy Starfield to the fullest extent. It’s evident that tons of gamers are also having a blast sharing their ship builds and adventures, so it’s clear Bethesda hit another home run in this new IP.

So, why should you buy Starfield?

  • Hours and hours of exploration and upgrading to be had
  • So much depth within ship-building, companion conversations, and crafting that extends the fun
  • More polish than to be expected within a launch for a Bethesda-developed game.

But why shouldn’t you buy Starfield?

  • So many systems to learn that you’re going to undoubtedly need some guides to acclimate yourself
  • Lots of running around and scanning as opposed to seamless exploration
  • Needs a high-end rig to even scrape by before the game implements DLSS support and optimization.

A review code was generously provided for the purpose of our Starfield review. If you enjoyed our Starfield review, be sure to check out more of our reviews and join the Qualbert Discord to chat with us about all the latest games!

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