It took me a while to get to this point where I'm comfortable giving my final verdict about this game. I took my time not because I had a hard time engaging with the game. No, it took me this long because the game is very long and I was savoring every moment of it. This and limited free time resulted in 6 weeks and some change to (mostly) finish the game. To translate that to a number you can understand, it took me almost exactly 100 hours to finally take the leap and wrap up the main story.
It would be utter cliché to say: I got a feeling of deja vu, but it also would be absolutely true. The bloodhounds of the internet are out in force again and will try to convince you that Starfield is not only the worst Bethesda game ever, but the worst game since Daikatana. That is if you took their word for it. Just as it happened in the case of Mass Effect Andromeda.
Let's roll back the clock to 1st of September. My first impression of the game was that it looks amazing, far better than I had anticipated for a Bethesda game built on their ageing creation engine. Does it look as good as Cyberpunk 2077? No, and Yes. Cyberpunk is pretty well balanced in the graphics department, it shows similar fidelity throughout its entire world. Starfield however is all over the place, it can look awful at some locations, amazing at others and everything in between.
The one thing it gets absolutely right is materials especially on space stations, space ships and clothing items. I've never seen so good looking fabrics and metal bulkheads and sci-fi interiors. In this it isn't just able to match CP2077 but leaves it in the dust. In CP2077 everything just looks like plastic humans included. In Starfield metal surfaces actually look like metal and everything is full of detail.
Where Starfield is the least good looking is during exploration of uninhabited planets, the foliage and landscape rendering is behind the curve by at least two generations.
It is also a creation engine game through and through. It could not deny this even if there were no loading between areas or entering some buildings, or using elevators. I don't know why would anyone expect a seamless world from Bethesda, but even if you hoped for it, there is absolutely no reason to scream like your head is in a vice because you didn't get it. I don't know what to say to you if a 3-5 second long pause between areas makes the game unplayable to you. It's not that I like the creation engine, but it never got in the way of immersion for me.
This is a first person shooter first and RPG only as second. The gunplay is clearly an evolution of what we had in Fallout 4, with similar weapon types, but a lot more variety in weapons. I think Fallout 4 was already a competent shooter, and this is even better. My only complaint here is that the hitboxes sometimes seem to act weird. You feel you should be hitting the target but no damage is registered. This happens occasionally at very long range and often at very short range but rarely in between.
The thing that makes this more interesting than Fallout 4 is that you have jetpacks and different gravity and O2 levels on every planet. On planets with high gravity you can barely jump, and running will drain your stamina instantly. Depending on the environment you might or might not need a spacesuit, but it doesn't protect against all environmental effects.
You can get status effects like hypothermia, poisoning, etc. So the health bar has two functions, it obviously serves as a health bar first, but from the right side a yellow bar can appear that is environmental damage. Which cannot be cured by medpacks, and reduces your max health. Depending on the seriousness status effects can either be cured slowly over time, or by visiting a doctor. If they get very bad, it will cause ill effects like blurred vision, inability to sprint, very slow replenishment of stamina.
This is where I need to mention a huge missed opportunity in the game. You can have a med-bay on your ship, but as far as I could tell there is no way to hire a doctor, so you have to go to settlements for healing.
The RPG elements
This is probably the weakest part of the game to me. There are just too many trees, each with too many skills, spread too wide and too thin. And every skill has 4 ranks to unlock, meaning to max out just one skill you need four skill points. And you still only get one per level. For context in 100 hours I only got to level 44, which means theoretically I could only max out 11 skills. There are about 15 skills in every tree, and there are five trees: Physical, Social, Combat, Science and Tech. So you can barely scratch the surface in a complete playthrough.
To add insult to injury you also have to complete a challenge before you can put more points on the same skill. These challenges vary and sometimes are very easy to complete, they almost happen on their own, but other times you have to go out of your way to complete them, which can defeat the purpose of upgrading a skill.
For example to upgrade your shotgun skill you have to kill enemies with shotguns, whether it makes sense or not just to complete the challenge. Or having to do stealth kills whether you need to or not to complete the challenge to upgrade your sneaking skills. Most of the challenges are annoying. Like having to destroy 30 ships in combat to be able to get the skill to pilot larger ships. There are skills that are rarely needed, and thus it is very hard to accomplish the required amount of usage to upgrade. This meant that despite the low amount of skill points you get, I often had unspent ones just waiting to get some damned challange out of the way so I can spend them on what I want.
And if this wasn't enough the trees are even tiered, meaning you have to spend a set amount of skill points on low tier useless nonsense to unlock the skills that might actually be useful. But by the time you get to them you almost finished the game, rendering the skills pointless.
Talking about piloting ships, space combat is an important part of the game, and I have to say they nailed it. It uses the classic X-wing / Tie Fighter formula. And if it works it works. Why change it? You have a set amount of power depending on the configuration of your ship and crew / skills, which you distribute between various systems. Up to three weapon arrays, engines, shields, and jump drive.
Of courser you don't need the jump drive for dogfighting, but it is prudent to keep at least one bar there to be able to jump away if you start loosing the battle.
Some say it all just comes down to who has more HP you or the enemy, but that's only true if you fly a large and slow ship. It is entirely up to you to make a light ship for dogfighting or a flying tank.
Unfortunately the biggest issue here is that your ship also works as your stash, and as soon as you switch ships your stash also transfers to your current active ship. So if you have a freighter with 3000 cargo capacity and you switch to a small ship with 200 capacity, you see the problem here? The game should just allow you to leave your stash with one ship while you fly around in another.
Of course there are alternatives to using your ship as your stash but they are all more hassle and way less convenient. When you are at a merchant you can sell stuff directly from your ship cargo, you can't from a random stash on a random outpost. Unless you establish supply lines, which frankly I could not be bothered.
Building outposts needs lots of resources, but to gather resources you need outposts. It's a catch 22. Still the outpost building is a bit more refined than in Fallout 4. But the interface exists in a vacuum, as if a completely different dev team made it who never communicated with the rest of the UI designers. So everything that does A elsewhere will do B here. Why, Bethesda, why?
Yes, apart from building outposts you can also make your own ship in the game, which is a lot more fun than outposts. The interface is daunting at first and outright stupid in some aspects but it is possible to get used to it. I loved the ship builder, the only drawback is that even this is hobbled by number of skills related to it. Meaning you can't use certain ship components unless you have a certain skill.
So here the problem again becomes that by the time you are able to build your dream ship you are nearing the end of the game. Unless you resort to cheating, which in this case I'd probably not fault you for. In most games cheating diminishes the experience, here it might actually improve it.
Depending on which spaceport you are at you'll also have access to different components or building blocks if you will, so it is worth shopping around.
Talking about spaceports let's segue into how the world of Starfield actually works. Well, exactly like any other Bethesda game, only you have star systems, planets, moons, and space stations instead of settlements and other POIs on the map.
There are hundreds of planets and you can land on any of them, well at least the ones with a solid surface. But only a select few planets have established settlements on them, some might have outposts, but most are just abandoned. I was a bit disappointed that there are only 3 major hubs in the game, but considering the game still offered 100 hours of content I can't be too greedy.
When you land on random planets with no colony you get procedurally generated stuff, which only serves as filler, so you really shouldn't be doing this for its own sake. Which for some reason confuses some people and they complain that it is repetitive. Yeah, stop doing repetitive stuff nobody is forcing you to do. The only reason to land on these planets is if you want to gather specific resources that are abundant there or to build an outpost. There is no reason to visit every abandoned robotics facility or spacer outpost.
Talking about spacers let's mention the major factions of the game. The game insists that spacers are not a faction, they are just an umbrella term for all lawless space faring people who don't belong to any particular faction. But as far as the player is concerned they might as well be a faction. Then we have the UC, which is the main faction, the United Colonies. Surprisingly their area of influence is quite small, comparatively the Freestar Rangers seem to control much more settled systems. The UC and FR used to be in a bloody war only 2 decades ago that employed all manners of weapons like mechs and bioweapons both of which are outlawed now.
The only other noteworthy faction is the Crimson Fleet, who are a group of pirates who work together, unlike spacers. There are other smaller mercenary groups and corporations who all operate for their own gain, but I'm not going to list them all.
Some people are livid that you can't fly your ship directly from orbit to the surface of planets, but if you are being honest with yourself even if it was possible you'd not do it regularly anyway. You'd maybe try it once then just use fast travel all the same. De-orbiting takes a lot of time, unless you want it to be super unrealistic. Yeah it is science fiction, but that doesn't mean disregarding the laws of physics.
Another set of people or maybe they are the same set, who knows complain that space is empty. Yeah, it tends to be like that. They'd want to traverse the cosmos the same way as they are traversing between locations in Fallout 4. But this is not Skyrim/Fallout in space, the sooner you come to terms with that the better. Or if you don't want to come to terms with it, then perhaps a game set in the vastness of space is really not for you.
If Bethesda added some sort of super speed mode where you can traverse between planets superfast it would just serve to break immersion and cheapen the experience.
As usual with Bethesda games the main story is probably the least interesting of all major quests. So if you plan to just run through that and call it a day, then there is no way you'll get a fulfilling experience from the game. You have to allow yourself to be lost in the world, there are plenty of more fun stuff to do than that main story. This is the most fun I had with any Bethesda game to date. I was actually invested in many of the minor side quests as well, not just the 10-20 hour ones.
Yes, this game has longer side quests than many other games' entire length. This is why I find it laughable when some try to compare Starfield to a basic game like Armored Core 6 for example. It's like comparing a single brick to a multi storey building. All it tells me is that they don't understand Starfield if they think they are even comparable. If Armored Core is your happy place, then don't worry about Starfield, be happy, not all games need to be the same.
Starfield is about exploration, not just of space, but of stories, of people, and even of what you can get out of it by building stuff.
The writing is a bit ham-fisted and I detected quite a few plotholes both in main and side quests. But nothing so bad to completely ruin the experience. It is typical Bethesda game in this regard, it is up to you if you want to live with that or avoid it altogether.
But whoever suggested that the game is pushing a woke agenda is totally wrong. The worst offense of the game is that it allows you to change pronouns in the character creator. Yet I didn't hear anybody complain about the same in Hogwarts Legacy. There were some moments that were actually quite the opposite of woke.
Surprisingly this was less buggy than my other two experiences with Bethesda launches, namely Skyrim and Fallout 4. Not that there are absolutely no glitches, but still less than I had encountered in Cyberpunk 2077 2 years post launch.
The internet meme videos collecting all conceivable bugs is not representative of the actual player experience. They are results of mining thousands of hours of gameplay for bugs, that is then distilled it into a 2 minute video clip.
It took about 40 hours until I encountered my first serious bug, and I only encountered one other major glitch outside of that. Yes sometimes a NPC might walk into the middle of a conversation. If that is a game breaking bug to you, then you do well to avoid Starfield.
This has become more of a rant than a review and I'll absolutely not apologize for that.
This is not Fallout in space, but Mass Effect with a Bethesda flavor. And despite its flaws and outdated elements it is my favorite Bethesda RPG so far.
I hope it doesn't get abandoned like Mass Effect Andromeda and we get some additional content for it in DLC form, and I don't mean horse armor.
Pros and cons
- Graphics (Material / Atmospheric effects, ship interiors)
- Vast world with lots of engaging quests
- Uses the traditional space combat formula
- Ship builder
- Too many skills spoil the broth
- Challenges for skills are annoying and completely unnecessary
- Outdated character animations
- Graphics (Planetside terrain and vegetation)
- Typical Bethesda / creation engine quirks
Graphics and technical merits : 6/10
Story and writing : 7/10
Gameplay : 8/10
Overall impression : 8/10
I was undecided between 7 and 8 for the overall score, but when I consider my experience with the game and how much I enjoyed it, then I have to give it an 8. There might not be an objective reason for it, but the game simply is more than the sum of its parts.