Starfield review: A wondrous journey through the stars

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Few games launch with as much hype and anticipation as Bethesda’s Starfield. And even fewer live up to said hype and expectations.

Starfield is not just viewed as the next big franchise from Bethesda Game Studios — and the first new IP from the studio in 25 years. It’s also seen by many as Xbox’s last hope of competing with PlayStation.

With Bethesda having sent out review codes in mid-August, the publisher not only displayed amazing confidence in their game. In doing so, they were also essentially telling us that there’s so much content to explore in Starfield, that a week or so wouldn’t be enough time. And they were right.

Starfield is a massive game. And I’m not just talking about the number of galaxies you can visit, although that’s impressive as well. It’s massive in the sense that there’s so much to do and so many different systems and mechanics working together at once to create a sci-fi RPG that offers something for everyone.

Do you like role-playing? From selecting your starter class to your background traits, the character creation system is fairly robust. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as your choices throughout the game will further define the type of person you are.

Do you like combat? Starfield features a mixture of both ground combat and space dogfights. And does both competently.

What about ship customization, base building, house decorating. Yes, yes and yes!

But I fear, as many are about to enter this massive universe, that the hype and marketing leading up to release will have many disappointed by what Starfield doesn’t deliver than what it does: an incredible sci-fi RPG experience.

Starfield is not a space sim. There’s no seamless exploration between planets and space. Instead, it’s done through a Grav Drive that lets you jump from system to system. Any flying done in space is when you’re orbiting a planet or moon.

Starfield - Xbox Series X PC
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There are limitations to your exploration. There are loading screens.

But none of this takes away from what Starfield does well: presents you with an intriguing universe that’s rife for exploration.

Admittedly, Starfield feels a bit overwhelming at first. The menus and interface aren’t the most intuitive, especially the fast traveling and warp jumping from planet to planet.  And there are so many different systems and mechanics thrown at you early on with very little explanation that it almost feels as if it’s intended that way — almost like encouragement for you to explore and figure things out on your own.

Even before the game gets going in the character customization portion, you’re asked to make all of these decisions that not only shape your character’s background but provide you with certain in-game skills or bonuses. How are you supposed to make a decision without knowing what any of these things really mean?

Like I said, it’s all overwhelming at first. But after the first dozen or so hours, it all starts to click. The story ramps up and it’s off to the stars. This is when the fun begins.

Starfield - 7
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Bethesda has a knack for storytelling and with Starfield has created an entire timeline of events leading up to the game’s current setting of 2330 A.D. Humanity’s journey into space is some of the most fascinating lore I’ve seen form Bethesda, and there’s tons of background story for you to sink your teeth into.

But perhaps even better than the lore itself is how it’s presented — told to you through the planets you explore, the cities you visit and the people you meet. Yes, you learn a lot through conversation, but even the visuals of the planets and cities have a story to tell. If there’s something you encounter on your adventure, it almost certainly has some sort of well thought out background story behind it.

Of course, all of these individual stories ultimately tie into the main overarching question you are looking to answer. And from this attempt to answer humanity’s biggest question sprouts an even deeper mystery.

While you work to solve these mysteries, you’ll come across all sorts of fascinating people and factions. How you interact with them will shape your character, your story and, ultimately, your entire experience. To that end, Starfield isn’t so much about the destination, but rather the journey. I know its cliche to say, but it’s also true.

Starfield‘s main story isn’t terribly original. It’s definitely interesting, but nothing I haven’t already seen before. But it provides the groundwork for all of these other elements that combine to make this such a rich and compelling RPG experience. And this is where Starfield shines.

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There’s so much to do and see in Starfield that even with 60-plus hours played, it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game. Yes, I’ve beaten the main story and experienced New Game Plus, but it still feels like I had more to do. But, without getting into spoiler territory, that sort of works well for the story.

Like I said, Starfield is about the journey, so just go slow and take it all in. And when I say take it all in, I mean all of it. There’s ship customization and modding, outpost building, planet surveying, relationship building (or destroying) and faction missions.

Now up until now I’ve only really touched upon the role-playing aspects of Starfield. So how’s the actual gameplay?

Bethesda, unfortunately, has a bit of a reputation of sometimes putting out buggy games. I’m sure we all remember the train wreck that was Fallout 76‘s launch. But even Fallout 4 had its fair share of glitches and bugs. And, to be perfectly frank, the Creation Engine had started to feel dated.

Starfield is a Play Anywhere title, meaning you can play on Xbox and Windows 10/11 PC with cross-save capabilities. I played primarily on my MSI Katana GF66, a budget-friendly gaming PC that I purchased a few years back.

The game ran about as well as I hoped it would. The loading times were quick, the graphics (on high settings) were sufficient enough and the gameplay/combat was smooth.

Starfield uses a modified and updated form of the Creation Engine which, admittedly, was one of my biggest concerns heading into the game. But the improvements with Creation Engine 2 are definitely noticeable. The gunplay feels snappy. Flying feels smooth and responsive. Characters still sometimes move a bit wonky and there were definitely some clipping issues, especially with doors, but overall, Starfield feels like a big improvement over some of Bethesda’s other games. It’s still not quite up to the level of polish and smoothness of other current-gen games, but it feels good enough.

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One of the key focal points of Starfield is the number of planets you can visit. There are hundreds of them, but only a few are really worth visiting and spending time exploring.

Each planet has a set of unique traits and characteristics. There’s the type of planet (rock, ice, etc.), the amount of gravity, the temperature, atmosphere, and more. All of this will have an impact on your character’s health.

While on the surface of the planet, you’ll be able to use your scanner to gather data on the native flora, fauna and resources. If you gather all of the necessary data and survey 100% of the planet, you’ll get a survey slate that can be sold for credits.

While the prospect of exploring hundreds of planets sounds promising, I actually found it quite tedious.  Most of the planets were barren and while they all have some sort of landmarks or points of interest to uncover, I didn’t really feel compelled to explore them all. It’s possible that I might missed out on some hidden activities, but exploring these mostly lifeless planets just felt a bit too boring and repetitive. Any secrets possibly hidden on these planets beyond my goal of locating an Artifact just didn’t feel worth my time.

I understand that Starfield‘s space exploration is somewhat grounded in reality as it pays homage to the golden age of early space flight. But if Bethesda wanted to convey the wonder and majesty of space exploration, then they should’ve made the planets a bit more wondrous, or at least a bit more exciting then dusty rocks that stretch on for miles.

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Starfield doesn’t necessarily do anything with its core gameplay mechanics I haven’t already seen in other games. But what it does well is is bring all these different systems together to deliver a cohesive gameplay experience that is approachable yet deep.

What especially impressed me was the number of skills you can unlock for your character. As you progress through the story and complete missions, you’ll earn experience and level up. Each time you level up, you gain an experience point that can be spent to unlock a skill (or increase the effectiveness of a skill that you’ve already unlocked). There are over 80 skills to choose from, each with four additional upgrades.

In order to upgrade a skill that you’ve unlocked to the next rank, you must first perform a challenge associated with that current skill’s rank. For example, to increase my Shield Systems (increase ship shield capacity) to Rank 3 from Rank 2 I must first Take 350 Shield damage before I can spend my skill point. For Ballistics Rank 3, I need to kill 50 enemies with a ballistic weapon.

These skills allow you to determine how you want to approach the game itself. Do you want to run into missions guns blazing? Perhaps invest in the Combat tree. Do you like to talk your way out of problems? The social tree might be for you, where you can increase your Persuasion skill or Theft skill.

The skills you invest in will help determine how you complete the many missions and activities you’ll come across in Starfield. There are multiple ways to approach a situation and dozens of possible outcomes. The fun isn’t always in reaching your destination, but rather experiencing how you got there.

That’s not to say the final destination in Starfield isn’t worth the trip. But it’s really the trip itself that makes it all worth it. To that end, take your time when playing through Starfield, especially if it’s your first time.

Starfield (PC) Score: 9/10

Starfield is a return to form for Bethesda Game Studios. Top-notch storytelling and a compelling narrative will have you eagerly jumping from planet to planet in hopes of discovering the next big mystery. While not without some bugs, the gameplay is among the most polished I’ve seen from the studio.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.