Starfield Review: A Stunning Bethesda RPG for the Ages

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Bethesda’s RPG exceeds expectations but also has the expected Jank that will eventually be fixed.

Starfield : The feeling of uncovering new things and the natural development in Starfield as you journey through it is unmatched, highlighting Bethesda's quarter-century of experience and their authentic mastery as one of the best to ever do it. You will literally be overflowing with things to do – or not do- in a universe is teeming with new planets to explore. A definitive masterpiece. Mario Vasquez

von 10

For all the pre-launch chatter and years of build-up, we can rest easy! Starfield is downright incredible. Starfield is the best thing Bethesda has ever done – even besting my favorite entry in the series, New Vegas. I loved Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, and especially Oblivion so I am a huge Bethesda RPG fan. This will be a mostly spoiler-free review, but we can say with confidence this is a stellar new franchise for Bethesda and a labor of love for the studio. The RPG elements are strong, the secrets are the most I have ever seen in a Bethesda game, and there is much to uncover even in the endgame. There is so much to do and fall deeply in love with.

Starfield will be released tomorrow September 1, 2023, in Starfield Early Access for players who have purchased the Starfield Premium Edition, Premium Edition Upgrade, or the Constellation Edition of Starfield.

For players who purchase the Starfield Standard Edition or subscribe to PC Game Pass, Starfield will be released on September 6, 2023.

That’s not to say that the game is without its flaws – combat can feel awkward, planet traversal is sorely lacking vehicles, and the occasional pop-in for conversations or weird interactions will be seen throughout your journey. The “Bethesda games are always buggy on release” mantra leading up to launch is flat-out wrong, however. I encountered bugs mostly with the conversations because I launched them quickly and my companion could not keep up. There were no game crashes or major bugs after more than 100 hours of playtime.

There are, however, some performance issues. Starfield is extremely CPU-heavy, and even with our RTX 4080, Ryzen 7800x3D build we saw some performance dips. Most egregious – there is no DLSS and this is another title that will exclusively feature AMD’s FSR and FSR2 technology. We will never agree with locking out alternative features, especially since I would have loved to have utilized DLSS 3 on my RTX 4080.

I can see why the game is locked at 30FPS for consoles. Even with 10 months of extra polish time on consoles, there are still some drops in performance. I had a few really hard FPS drops walking into some major cities on the Series S that felt bad, even if they were rare. Hopefully these can be fixed. With some patches, we are sure this will be better. I cannot wait for mods, my mind is racing with the possibilities!

Portable PCs, like the ALLY and Steam Deck
Bethesda explicitly noted not to use Asus’ ROG Ally or Steam Deck in our review as they are below recommended PC spec. I could not even get the ROG ALLY to launch the game due to some weirdness with the Xbox app on our Ally but Xbox/PC streaming worked flawlessly. I had to repair the download, and spam the launch button for it to work after about an hour of messing with updates and settings.

Once loaded, the ROG Ally did run the game decently on low to medium settings with FSR2 enabled while in 15W or 30W mode and it is 100% playable for those who have these portable PCs.

How much will Starfield cost?
Gaming only ever wants to get more expensive. The trend continues here, and if you want early access, you will need to pay $100 or the upgraded difference if you are a Game Pass subscriber. Microsoft has been raising the standard game price to $70 USD, Starfield included. Luckily, Starfield has been confirmed as a day-one addition to Game Pass, so most can experience it without any extra upfront cost.

Starfield is epic in scale – Some may not like this

Let me be clear: Starfield is a near-perfect Bethesda RPG with one of the best campaigns they have ever created. I was genuinely in awe in the latter half of the game, and with respect to Bethesda and your journey, we cannot discuss much that occurs in this portion. There is so much to explore but I did find myself mostly traveling within the major cities.

– 1,000 planets, with many that are mostly resource-gathering areas, but most have their main areas to explore and have fun in with hand crafted secret areas and wildlife to discover.
– Multiple faction quests.
– A plethora of side quests that keep spilling into your lap, begging you to explore and talk to as many NPCs as possible.
– A 40 to 50 hour main story quest.
– Excellent end-game activities to keep you busy including many things we cannot spoil. New Game + is also a warm welcome and a nice twist.

I often found myself drowning in activities (do not ignore these!) that became full-fledged amazing side quests, which I had ignored at first. My advice would be to slow down, and this is where Starfield may be an issue for some who have no patience. The game really and truly does not fully show off everything it has until way after 80-plus hours. I have to really emphasize that the scale is massive, and you will get to see so much more if you take your time and enjoy each individual planet first for all it has to offer.

But that’s the beauty of this game – your journey is going to be massively different from mine. For some, however, who want to unlock all the features or systems at once, they may not like having to invest 100 hours or more to get the game “going.”

Here are a few highlights in my journey while trying to be as spoiler-free as possible:
– I stole over 10 ships and immediately went to jail when I went into orbit near a patrolled planet, not realizing those spacers had contraband onboard
– Got a DJ’s new music back from an overzealous fan.
– Saved a planet from trees’ massive vibrations.
– Spared a man’s life after I learned he only stole a certain thing because he was recently fired and had no other choice.
– Found the source of an anomaly and uncovered the mystery of an artifact.
– Stole a tea recipe so a barista could compete with a megacorp (my companion did not like that).

Missions, side quests, and exploration

There is so much to explore on those far-off planets, so much beckoning that you to hurry to them, that inner child screaming with joy to rush to the end to “power up and unlock it all.” Slow down! Starfield has many, many wild layers to uncover and explore, but I often found myself spending hours on a planet, taking it all in, hours on side quests, and talking to those in a town I just discovered. Then you lift off, steal a ship, fight some space pirates, gather resources, build your outpost, and find a new planet with another hour-long side quest. It’s epic and breathtaking.

I will try to avoid spoilers, so skip to the next paragraph if you wish to avoid a very light spoiler. A perfect example of a favorite moment of mine was running into a derelict ship in orbit – which no one can seem to hail as soon as you pull into the orbit of Paradiso (a paradise Resort planet). The wild quest that unfolds for the secrets inside once you finally board the ship were great. Another was finding a miners simple quest that became a 10+ step mission that was extremely engrossing in Cydonia.

You can easily jump from planet to planet- more on that in a bit. Each feels like its own mini Bethesda game. Want to experience the desert? Head to Akila. Want a cyberpunk planet? Head to Neon. Want to experience something akin to Mass Effects massive cities? Head to New Atlantis. Missions here and the people you run into are varied and fully scripted. It’s so hard to write this review without screaming for you to go explore (spoiler) and fight the legendary (spoiler).

Planet jumping is where I found the most dissapointment. Launching away from a planet or onto once is mostly a menu system. The landing and orbit cutscenes are great but the game loses some of its charm and it would have been amazing to be able to manually take off from a planet if I wanted to.

I am over 100 hours in and have barely scratched the surface of shipbuilding, crafting, modding, and building outposts. Companions are varied and wonderful, and there are many paths for romance or companions to bring along that each have their own conversational style to match your preferred journey. I am not bored, ever. I keep wanting to play because there’s always a different loop I can take. Do I want to finish some side quests, gather resources, or explore new planets? I can easily choose any with the best fast-travel system I have seen. Everything is easily fast-traveled to – with slight limitations during quests – but you can hop from place to place in the blink of an eye. The Series S did have some longer loading screens for me so keep that in mind.

I am very saddened at the fact that there are no land vehicles or ways to easily traverse the planet. I am exploring a planet for a quest that needs to me to survey 100% of the planet in order to complete it. I have been stuck at 98% for over 3 hours with no end in sight moving from location to location to find the missing fauna and it did become frustrating – until I realized I could simply open the world and fast travel across the globe to different physical locations…d’oh!
However, I am still stuck at 98% simply because I got sidetracked with so much to do and the lack of interest in returning to find that missing 2%.

Shipbuilding and space flying are a highlight

Shipbuilding in Starfield is a delightful adventure! It takes a little time to dive into, but once you’re there, it becomes an exhilarating activity as you refine designs, add rooms, balance engines, weight, cargo, and ship systems. I have a fondness for massive spacecraft, not for their power, but because I enjoy wandering around all the rooms and exploring the technology that makes them tick. Although I haven’t delved much into outpost building, it is efficiently designed, allowing you to create attractive bases with relative ease. There are still the same power issues from Fallout 4 but some great options to build and even transport from planet to planet. It’s just not my cup of tea, and the game doesn’t hinge on it except for mass resource collection which I have yet to need.

In the endgame, there is a much greater need to worry about this, so I would say when you first start the game, don’t worry so much about your outposts until maybe 50 hours in, when you begin to start getting overwhelmed with companions.

Space battles are simply one of the best systems Bethesda has ever built. I became quickly addicted even though I knew my ship was severely outclassed. There is nothing I have experienced quite like taking on five spacers at once and barely winning because I was able to knock out all their engines. I kept losing this battle coming into orbit on a planet that I gave up and decided to explore elsewhere – only to see a giant ship land in the distance. I quickly ran over, defeated the owners, made it my new home ship, and instantly got an upgraded ship that was more than the spacers could handle. What a rush!

Starfield is ‘near’ perfect, but there are some minor issues

Bethesda has made some curious decisions and even their refined gunplay from the preview trailer still feels a little off. Some of the game feels like the systems and tech in the Fallout series forced change in Starfield. The need to differentiate between the two “futuristic” franchises is obvious. In Starfield, you get a “watch” that severely lacks the character of the classic Pip-Boy, and some of that classic Bethesda RPG danger feels really off unless you are fighting enemies that over leveled from you. I found myself missing V.A.T.S especially since a version of it exists on your spaceship and things like the menus and radio stations in Fallout. The AI feels set on a path and not as dynamic as I would have hoped but gun fights did feel quite responsive.

No one really tries to flank you or outsmart you and they often get stuck being target practice at their default locations while your are exploring. Most quests and other activities felt better, and there is a “fight to the death” area you can find that is particularly challenging even at high levels. It’s a strange feeling of easily dispatched mobs or “difficult to even pop your head up” fights.

As mentioned earlier, often you will fast travel to a mission marker, which launches a Grav Drive into a planet’s orbit. But the planet is suddenly surrounded by 6 pirate ships that severely outclass you, so you end up in a death loop unless you load a previous autosave. Be prepared anywhere you decide to fly off to. There may be missions or ships that hail you for trades. You never know what you might be traveling to.

Still, the gun diversity, some secrets, boost packs, and looting are extremely well done here. The guns feel incredible at times, but some feel unbalanced – dealing massive damage with a shotgun for example made me quite over powered for a long period of time. I tried switching to the P90 “Grendel” model in the game and it barely scratched the enemies I would shoot. Most of this can be fixed with balance passes.

Basic skills like stealth or pickpocketing require unlocking the core ability, meaning you can’t perform these activities at all until you invest a point in the skill tree. You don’t NEED the skills to perform the actions or get sneak attacks but without the core skill unlocked it feels bad to have something like pickpocketing locked off.

I specifically unlocked the ‘stealth’ trait because, without it, stealth felt very bad, and I did not like the lack of visual feedback. While leveling up to progress is understandable, the complete denial of access to core systems like this is strange and the cost to unlock could have maybe been a part of the quest instead. Leveling takes some time as well and there are so many worthy skill trees begging to be unlocked for you to progress that it feels bad when you have to spend that precious point in what was a default unlock for Bethesda RPGs.

Additionally, with crafting, you can only track entire recipes, not individual ingredients, making encumbrance a constant issue. There are so many heavy items in this game – especially ship parts – to weigh you down and keep track of. Thankfully, your companion can hold things for you, and you can sell or craft using the inventory that is on your ship’s cargo, so no need to hold it all at once or jettison the precious cargo.

Despite these minor hiccups, everything functions smoothly and feels stable. Although there are occasional frame rate stutters and minor glitches, nothing catastrophic has occurred for me. I hovered around 60 to 70 FPS stable on 3440×1440 with an RTX 4080. Thank you, Bethesda, for providing wide-screen support at launch.- a easily added feature so many ignore!

Starfield is visually stunning, with intricately detailed cities and diverse landscapes. One memorable moment involved exploring a moon-like planet or first landing in Neon. Your jaw will be on the floor even on the Series S where the graphics are toned down. I suggest immediately opening your menu and turning off the over-tuned film grain, however.

Starfield is one of the best games of this generation

For me, Starfield is Bethesda’s masterpiece, the hit Xbox needed, and possibly the game of the generation for the Series consoles. This is a system seller that is also available on PC via Steam or the Xbox app and included in Game Pass. I suggest you try it, you will be happy you did. Tears of the Kingdom brought me joy and wonder this year, but there was nothing for me quite like exploring all the wild amount of dialogue and fun to be had in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, or walking into New Vegas for the first time. That feeling is hard to capture and explain – you just have to see for yourself what Bethesda can create.

The worlds Bethesda builds feature dense, lively worlds where every direction offers something new. Walking into an Oblivion gate for the first time or traveling to a new planet – this is what makes gaming great.

I remember first beating Oblivion‘s main quest at over 120 hours and immediately starting another run. Starfield is on a whole other level, with much left to see even after completing the main story. It’s simply a joy to play, and I cannot recommend it more to every gamer.

The feeling of uncovering new things and the natural development in Starfield as you journey through it is unmatched, highlighting Bethesda’s quarter-century of experience and their authentic mastery as one of the best to ever do it. You will literally be overflowing with things to do – or not do- in a universe is teeming with new planets to explore. A definitive masterpiece.

Familiar elements and combat awkwardness exist, but Starfield is completely new, and there are months ahead for me to explore and enjoy. I cannot wait to see the mods and community reaction. Have a blast, and don’t rush!
Starfield gets a 10/10 from BTR. Thank you to Bethesda for providing a review copy.