Platform(s): PC, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bethesda
Release Date: Sept. 6, 2023

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'Starfield'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Oct. 3, 2023 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Starfield is a next-generation role-playing game set amongst the stars, where you create any character you want and explore with unparalleled freedom.

After playing 60 hours of Starfield in the first week after launch, I can say that I've played a fair amount of it. With all that I've experienced with the game, it is difficult to pick a particular spot to start a review. There are elements of familiarity for anyone who has played a modern Elder Scrolls or Fallout game, but Starfield is its own massive thing. It's probably best to start with those familiar bits and work outward from there.

To that end, there is one sentence that I keep coming back to: "Skyrim in space." This is probably most often used as a phrase of derision, but to the development team's credit, it does feel like it took what it learned from the Creation Engine and from games like Skyrim and rolled those lessons into Starfield. Sure, it is a brand-new IP, but you can still hold reload to put away your weapon, inventory is handled in a similar way, and conversations are handled via a pretty similar interface. If you've been someplace before, you can fast-travel back from just about anywhere in the galaxy via familiar black-and-white icons.

That's also largely where that sentence ends its usefulness when it comes to comparing the two games. In Starfield, you start off on foot as a mere mine worker digging up space rocks, and that all changes when you find the objective of that particular dig. You find an alien artifact; it's an odd chunk of previously unknown metal in a curved shape, and it's broken in a way that signifies there's more. Upon touching it, you have a vision of the cosmos that overwhelms you and simultaneously puts you in the rare air of the very few people who have handled the artifacts and had such visions.

To pick up you and the artifact, a man named Barrett and a robot named Vasko arrive on their starship, the Frontier. No sooner do you get topside and make some basic introductions does the Crimson Fleet attack. After fending off the band of pirates, Barrett stays behind and you are the acting captain of the Frontier. You are tasked with returning to New Atlantis City in the Alpha Centauri system to meet up with the Constellation organization. They are a small group who's devoted to uncovering the mysteries of the universe and are already looking into these artifacts. You're soon named the proper captain of the Frontier and must continue tracking down the artifacts.

For the on-foot gameplay, the closest comparison is to imagine the gameplay and general shooting mechanics of Fallout 4 but improved in a few meaningful ways. I loved that game, but it often felt a little janky — in a lovable way. I suspect that was an example of the Creation Engine being stretched to its limits. Starfield is the first game to use the new version of that engine, which, to no one's real shock, is called the Creation Engine 2. The new engine movement and traversal feel a lot more fluid, and that's before you unlock the ability to boost around the environment. You no longer get stuck on geometry, and you can clamber over objects or boost into the air and fly over them.

You'd better believe that you can transfer that to a gunfight, too. Everyone has their own style, and if you liked hanging back in stealth and taking people out at range, you'll be happy to hear that most of the mechanics remain intact from previous Creation Engine games. The stealth mechanics are largely identical, but you can put more points into the skill, unlock damage modifiers for attacks, etc. It's a power trip to boost into the air in a low-gravity planet and put down three enemies with two different weapons before your boots even touch the ground.

Once it gets quiet again, it's time to loot the fallen and the immediate surroundings. For better or worse, the inventory system is quite familiar. Items are stored in categories such as "aid" or "weapons," and you can sort them based on metrics such as mass or value. As it was with past games, the inventory interface is lacking much in the way of useful options, such as the ability to see a weapons DPS potential or an item's value/mass. Because this is a Bethesda game, there's a mod for it — even though the mod kit isn't out yet — and if you liked the FallUI mod for Fallout 4, you'll be happy to know that the StarUI mod is ready to go.

I really like the way the development team implemented skills in Starfield. There are several skill categories, and each category has several tiers that the skills fall into. You get a skill point every time you level, and at first, you can only put points into the first tier of each skill category. Putting a point into a skill unlocks a challenge that must be completed before you can add another point. It's the kind of stuff you are likely already doing; for the pistol skill, you must kill more things using pistols, or for security, you need to pick more locks. Put enough points into any skill, and you unlock the next tier of skills within it. It doesn't even have to be the tier before the next one; if you wanted to, you could unlock most of a category by maxing out all of the first-tier skills.

What I really appreciate is how the "security" (read: lockpicking) and persuasion skills have become more involved in Starfield when compared to previous Creation Engine titles. Rather than twirling a lock to find a sweet spot that won't break your pick, picking locks is now a minigame where you fit various keys to complete the missing notches in successive circles. Novice locks have two circles and four keys, and two are used in each. Meanwhile, Master locks have four circles and a whole bunch of keys; some are outright useless for that particular lock. You have all the time in the world to feel things out and see how the keys might fit into the different layers before you commit to an action, so even with the most complex locks, there isn't an element of stress.

Persuasion used to basically be a stat check, but now it's a turn-based exchange in which you must succeed at gaining a varying number of persuasion points before the end of the third turn. It's handled very conversationally; it starts with the other person saying something and then you are presented with a few potential responses. Unlike a normal conversation, each response has an assigned value of points and is roughly color-coded in difficulty/chance of success. If you need six points to successfully persuade someone, you may pick an option that gets you four points in the first turn, but should you fail, it may be difficult to gain what you need in the remaining turns. The dialog options are entertaining, with lower-value options being reasonable and safe, and the higher-value ones are shooting for the moon and hoping you're convincing enough.

While on foot, you have access to a handy scanner tool, which scans the local flora and fauna and shows a path toward your quest objective. The scanner is a very useful tool because the maps are largely useless. While on a planet, the map consists of some icons against a backdrop that doesn't represent the landscape. It's more problematic when you're within a city; the map does not show a layout, and there are never any icons for discovered shops, etc.

On an alien planet, you can scan the local sunflower-faced cryptids to find that they can be harvested for toxins, and you might decide this is the place to set up an outpost. It'll be up to you, since the game never steers you in that direction, and it doesn't give a compelling reason to do it. There's little reason to mess around with outposts, aside from setting it up to automatically mine some harder-to-find resources. I didn't set up any in my first playthrough, and even dozens of hours in, I'm not really sure what the appeal is.

This is probably because my ship is my home, and Starfield did a pretty good job of delivering on the ability to operate and customize your starships. Every ship in the game is composed of the same modules that snap together, and usually it's done in a way that hides the fact that it's a bunch of building blocks. You can take the Frontier and continually upgrade it throughout the game, expanding it from the nimble A class vessel all the way into a large C class that's bristling with firepower and cargo capacity.

Maybe you want to add a hab to your ship to add workstations, but it's neat to walk around and find that the interior design has changed. You can swap out these parts (for a fee in credits), but I wish that there were more options to further customize the interior of each module. I also wish that every module were pre-populated with items to make it seem lived-in. You shouldn't get full copies of every loose item within your ship every time you change and save its layout. At one point, I sold nearly 200 pounds of crap notebooks, folders, and blenders that were clogging up my hold. Since it does this, it discourages you from manually placing items in the ship, since you know that it's all one configuration change away from being thrown into storage.

Ship combat is relatively simplistic, and most of the game is spent on foot. Ship-to-ship warfare feels like a treat that doesn't overstay its welcome. Certain weapons do more damage to shields versus a ship's hull, and once you get a target lock, you can launch missile-based weapons and enter targeting mode, which slows down time and lets you target specific systems of the enemy ship. Take the last enemy ship and blast their engines apart, and the game lets you dock to clear them out. At that point, you can loot their ship for valuables or claim their ship as your own. There's a particular power fantasy about wiping out a squadron of the Crimson Fleet before boarding their final ship and clearing it out with a shotgun that you really don't get in other games.

That isn't to say that everything regarding ships is awesome. A lot of it is kept between load screens and takes place in areas that feel coldly partitioned off. Want to get on your ship from walking around New Atlantis? That's a load screen. Get to the cockpit and want to take off? You see a short exterior sequence of the ship launching, and then there's a load screen. Once in orbit, it makes that area feel like a strangely separate "zone" because although you can see the planet, you can't simply fly toward it to land. It's all gatekept behind fast-travel and load screens, and while Starfield is a different game, I can't help but pine for how games like No Man's Sky, Star Citizen, and Elite Dangerous manage to better hide those transitions between otherwise compartmentalized areas.

I struggle with how I feel about fast-travel in Starfield. I like that if I've been anywhere, I can fast-travel back to it in an instant and skip everything involving a ship in between. However, it diminishes the importance of your ship if the only time you pilot it is in the orbit of a planet that you've never been to. There are times when fast-travel to a planet-side location is disabled, such as if you are carrying contraband and must submit to pesky scans while in orbit before landing. I'm not sure what the better balance is, but the feeling of taking your trusty starship across the cosmos is cheapened when you can skip every bit of it with abandon.

The game has been relatively bug-free. I can count on one hand how many significant bugs I've encountered during my time with the game, and all were fixed with a restart of the game. Frankly, I was happy when I got an enemy to clip into the hull of their ship and start ragdolling like the good old Bethesda days, and it hasn't happened again. Simply put, Starfield is one of Bethesda's more polished games at launch.

Creation Engine 2 is also capable of a lot of fine detail and has significantly improved graphical features. The new lighting and shadowing are particularly pretty, and you can go nuts with the game's Photo mode that lets you pause and take pictures with a camera that you can place just about anywhere. Blast enemy ships apart, and you'll see a shower of sparks and debris as their various modules break apart and form a debris field. Zoom in the camera on objects, and you'll find that the people who modeled them put an insane level of detail into a lot of them — often down to the millimeter.

Ultimately, Starfield is a very enjoyable game that takes the overall formula that Bethesda established in games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 and expands upon it. It is familiar in the ways that feel comfortable, but the game feels like an exciting new experience. It's unfair to compare it to games like No Man's Sky given the vast difference in scope, but at the same time, I wish that the ways the ships are handled didn't feel so compartmentalized with the reliance upon menu-driven fast-travel. Starfield really tries to be many things all at once, and although there are varying levels of success to that end, the game is a downright joy to play.

Score: 9.2/10

Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, 32 GB RAM, NVidia RTX 4070 Ti

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