Starfield review | You will have to forgive me for the rather long intro here, but there is a lot to unpack and talk about when it comes to Starfield. The media coverage around Starfield and its pressure to deliver has been crushing. After the disappointing performance and release around Redfall, all eyes now turn to Bethesda Game Studios to deliver a truly next-gen experience that fans all over the world have been waiting for. Bethesda is well known for its amazing world-building and tightly designed RPG elements that are found in games like Fallout and Skyrim. However, after the poor reception of Fallout 76, many have been worried that Starfield would suffer the same release states as Fallout 4, with its 20fps frame drops, janky animations, and glitches. Let’s not forget that Starfield has also been delayed a couple of times. I want to start off by saying that I have finished the main game in its entirety, and while I will do my best to not spoil it for everyone, there is just too much to cover. It’s important to note that Starfield is not a space-sim game, and anyone looking for that needs to look elsewhere. This is very much a typical Bethesda RPG, just set in space. Anyone familiar with the body of work by Bethesda Game Studios will absolutely love Starfield, what it offers, and the carefully constructed story that will surprise you right up until the end. Oh, and for the record, the main menu is perfectly fine.
|Developer||Bethesda Game Studios|
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer. Got unanswered questions about this game? Get in touch on Twitter!
What We Liked!
- Character Creator | This time around the character creator goes heavy on the customisations available to the player. While I am not personally someone who spends hours working on my character, I was impressed at the level of detail you can go into. Cheekbones, bone density, hair, shoulders, neck, legs, and more can all be tweaked to create some of the most life-like or un-lifelike characters I have ever seen. Honestly, you can go crazy with the character design while still retaining a graphically impressive look due to the model detail.
- Sound Design | Sound design is excellent. Each area in Starfield is carefully created to ensure the sound matches the environment you are in. In space, sounds are more muffled, with gunshots sounding more dampened and less impactful. This goes for the character dialogue, grunts and groans when taking damage, and ships coming in and out of orbit. When you are inside, or on a planet that has an atmosphere, sounds are realistic and sound great. Gunshots, sound perfect and fit well with the amazing animation work. Dialogue is clean and can be heard well since the camera will focus on the character speaking. Not only this, but the ambiance for each planet is unique and helps make each planet feel different from the last.
The music in Starfield is some of the best I have heard in a video game. The music is orchestral and really sells itself as an epic exploration game. Even in combat, the music prides itself on being an orchestral score which invokes that feeling of immersion and suspense. There are other pieces of music I came across in my time with Starfield that I really enjoyed such as the nightclub in Neon, which was dance-infused with synth, and the bar area onboard the Crimsom Fleet which was heavy metal. Again, this helps set each area apart by offering different styles of music with different styles of environments.
- Shopping | Who doesn’t like shopping? One of the best things to do in Starfield is to experience the shops that you will find scattered across the universe. The clothiers, Gunsmiths, and Medbays always have new and exclusive items to buy (or steal) if you are so inclined, and can be a great way to spend your time between missions. I found that kitting myself out with new suits, and apparel helped fight off certain conditions on planets that I needed to explore. For example, some of the colder planets can cause hyperthermia so making sure I had the right outfit to negate that was important. The same goes for weapons. A lot of the weapons can be found by exploring if you want to, but just being able to buy them in the store and get all of the ammo you need with them felt enough for me. There was something satisfying about preparing myself for each mission and kitting out my ship with weapons and ammo for any deep space travel I completed.
- Your Spacesuit | Something I wanted to quickly touch upon, but I haven’t really seen this mentioned anywhere yet, so I figured it would be good to mention. Your spacesuit isn’t just something that makes you look cool. Yes, different suits have different damage negation and can protect you better, but cooler than that, your suit will tell you your physical condition when you become afflicted by having little indicators inside the inventory and also on your compass on the bottom right. It’s a nice little detail, but learning and knowing these symbols is a great way to know what medicine to take to cure yourself of these conditions.
- Graphics | Starfield is a stunning-looking game. The lighting in particular is one of the best I have seen, with its superior use of post-processing allowing it to look great no matter the time of day. Speaking of time of day, Starfield has a simulated day and night cycle and dynamic weather system that can also affect the player in negative ways. Old Earth for example has extreme heat that can give you radiation sickness. More on this below. Bethesda still relies on its use of cube maps for its reflections however, and you will find no instances of ray tracing, or other methods of ray tracing in use across console or PC. This is the most effective way to get good-looking reflections without sacrificing performance, and the quality of the cube maps is great. They have clearly been lined up in relation to the world so that they actively report correct reflections. Something that most games that utilise this feature don’t do. Character models and items are all insanely detailed with things like individual switches on computers, keyboards, and plug sockets getting the utmost attention to detail.
- Animations | The Creation Engine hasn’t had the best history when it comes to its animations. Looking back at some of the NPC’s specifically in previous titles by Bethesda can make anyone understand why this needed to change. Thankfully, the latest iteration of Creation Engine shines in this area. While there is nothing ground-breaking or new, the animations for NPC’s and main characters are at an all-time high. The facial animations in Starfield are quite striking also. Characters feel alive. They show concern, grieve, and express happiness and joy based on your actions. The lip sync tech that goes alongside it really creates a level of detail never before seen in a Bethesda game, and I hope they continue to expand on this and bring it to future titles. At one point in space, I accidentally shot my laser at a friendly ship and Sarah scolded me. The level of concern she expressed was fantastic. The usual NPC’s you will see running around the many areas you will explore aren’t as high quality as this, but they do offer more animation detail than ever before and that needs to be commended.
- Gameplay Choices & Story | Like any good RPG, your choices matter, and Starfield is no exception. Everything you say and choose to do has consequences and your actions can cause your friends to become enemies, and vice-versa. There will be many instances where you will feel morally obligated to do one thing but will get pressured by your friends to do another. It’s a really good tactic to try and get you to feel for these people when playing because you don’t want to risk anything when making these decisions. The story does have some of the more difficult decisions to make for example, but there are more to experience in some of the side quests as well. Even outside of the choices you make, some of your actions you choose to make which may be anything from attacking a neutral ship, or dealing with bank robbers in an aggressive way to name a few, can lead to your friends straight up not wanting to talk to you and even refusing to come with you on your journey. Without giving away any of the story, it’s worth noting that anyone looking to do a “completionist” run should finish the main story first. I can’t say why exactly as that would be unfair to you, but New Game Plus isn’t your typical New Game Plus. It changes things so to speak, and you will just have to trust me. Rest assured, it is a fantastic story and when you get to the end and experience the twist, you will be surprised.
- The Combat | Combat has been overhauled compared to previous titles by Bethesda. The team actually worked closely with ID Software to bring a better combat experience to players by mainly helping with the technical aspects of combat. Overall, combat feels refreshing and punchy. There are some fantastic animations that go alongside shooting and reloading, and with so many guns to choose from, there are a ton of different animations to see. It’s really impressive work that the team has done. But it’s not just about shooting. Starfield offers powers available to players who are brave enough to go out searching for them. During the main campaign, you will unlock 1 power, which is a sort of gravitational disturbance that lifts enemies up into the air giving you some breathing room in order to unload on them. It’s a fantastic addition to changing up combat and making it a more unique experience. There are 24 powers to unlock in total, which will give you a lot of extra time on different planets exploring to find them.
On top of the combat, there are workbenches you can access that let you make weapon mods. These mods can be equipped onto your weapon that allows additional benefits such as sights, faster shooting, or additional elemental damage such as fire, poison, and cryogenics.
- Performance | Performance on Starfield is exactly as advertised. No matter what platform you decide to play, you will have a great time with it. Discussing consoles, Xbox Series X runs at an upscaled 4k from 1440p at a near-constant 30fps, while Series S runs at 1440p upscaled from 900p, again at a near-constant 30fps. This is thanks to AMD’s FSR technology and really helps narrow the gap at keeping performance and visuals across the two almost identical. Texture work is largely the same across both consoles with Series S, taking a slight knockback on the visuals mainly when it comes to draw distances. However, it is a small sacrifice to the visuals overall.
The PC side of things lets you tweak the resolution, FSR settings, graphical quality, and even the frame rate. Yes, Starfield can be played over 120fps if you have the means to do it. With my setup, RTX 3090, 32GB RAM, and Ryzen 9 3900X, I was able to get just under this in native 4K without the use of FSR, which is truly impressive. PC is definitely the way to play, and thankfully there are no physics issues with the higher frame rates. Everything just feels smoother and reacting to the fighting in combat was a lot easier for me. Using spec below this should be easy enough to get 60fps for those who want to achieve it. The best part is, being a game pass title, if you have Ultimate, you can try out the PC version too.
Steam Deck performance on the other hand is playable, but some extra tweaks are needed. Since the game wasn’t available for me to play natively on Steam, using the Xbox app and installing Starfield from there was the only way to go. Starfield does default to the Steam Deck’s native resolution of 800p which was a good start, but for this to run in a playable state, I did need to drop the resolution down to 720p. Using the inbuilt Steam Deck overlays, I was able to get around 25-30fps using the low settings. This isn’t really noticeable considering the great use of FSR and motion blur. A quick side note about the Steam Deck performance, and how this will be getting better over time for those who are interested, the new tech that AMD just announced is available for the Deck, and as a result will boost performance in most games, including Starfield since it already uses that technology.
- Unique Side Missions | One of Starfield’s greatest features is the randomness of its side missions. One minute you can be walking through the city streets of Neon and overhear someone talking about help that they need, and then be flying across the galaxy delivering a much-needed item to help someone in need, or fighting huge nests of monsters on the frozen planet of Luna. There really is so much to see and do here and you will get immersed and sidetracked at every turn. This isn’t a bad thing either. For each mission you do, it will rank you up, allow you to acquire new skills, and even find new loot to take with you into the next mission. The world literally is your oyster, and the power and freedom to choose what and where you go is up to you.
- Skills & Abilities | As in usual RPG fashion, Starfield grants you skill points which can be spent on unlocking abilities under specific categories. The player category allows you to upgrade things like health, damage resistance, and carrying more items, with other categories like tech letting you gain access to skills such as picking higher-skilled locks. When you unlock an ability it also unlocks a challenge associated with that skill. Complete that challenge and you can then unlock the next level of that ability.
- Your Ship | When it comes to your ship, there is a lot to go through. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming at times. With that in mind, let me start by talking about how the ship is intended as a hub of sorts. The ship is not just used to get you from point A to point B, it is where you can research new tech and items, cook new foods, and even house your Unity artifacts when the time comes. To do these things, you will need to find the appropriate material and items needed to conduct the research. Once found, simply going to the research station on your ship will allow you to start compiling the items to make them. The same goes for cooking. As in previous Bethesda games, cooking food and using food items is a way of buffing and healing your character.
The real star of the show though is the customisations available to you through the ship builder. At most civilisation outposts, you will gain access to ship services. This allows you to edit each aspect of your ship, from each individual module to the engine, all the way through to the cabin. I’ve seen some crazy ships built during my daily Twitter scrolls. Millenium Falcon replicas, X-wings, and even the Normandy from Mass Effect. Honestly, the only limitation here is your imagination, and I can honestly see people spending tens of hours creating all sorts of amazing ship designs to show off.
Flying your ship is intuitive with only a small handful of things to remember. On the left is your power allocation which you can distribute towards weapons, engine, shield, and grav drive. The grav drive is what allows you to jump from planet to planet and must have at least 1 allocation point towards it to work. Allocating more will allow you to jump quicker, and there isn’t much point having more than 1 allocated to it since you can’t jump when in combat anyway. Shields are based on a sort of health meter which is numbered out of 100. The more you allocate to this, the closer to 100 it gets, and can ultimately withstand more damage. You can repair your ship’s hull by clicking down RS on your controller if your ship loses all shield power, but you will need ship parts in order for this to work. Firing missiles are handled using the Y button, with lasers and ballistics being handled with LT and RT. Steering your ship is done with the left stick and right stick, and that’s pretty much all there is.
You can allocate your friends and crew you pick up along the way to various aspects of your ship, and each person brings their own unique benefit to the table. For example, one of the later missions “Entangled” sees you rescue someone from an alternate universe. If you allocate them to the ship, you will gain better repairability to the damage you receive. Sarah is good on guns and adds a buff to your lasers.
- Very Segmented | Starfield is a huge game. The scope of vision that the team at Bethesda set out to create is truly mind-blowing. To help them achieve their goal, and to ensure frame rates are stable, along with meeting resolution targets, Bethesda had to implement a simulation of an open world. With over 1000 planets to explore, cities to get lost in, and landscapes to traverse, it was decided that many of these areas would have to be separated by loading screens. Believe me, there is a lot. If anything takes you out of the immersion of Starfield, it is the loading screens. Going to your ship? Loading screen. Going to space? Loading screen. Entering the next area of the city? Loading screen. You get the picture. While the loading times aren’t super long (up to 30 seconds in some cases) the sheer amount of them can be off-putting.
- Third-Person Mode | A weird thing to note is how off third-person mode was in Starfield. While it isn’t broken or anything like that, the animations look a little weird and as a result, seem to be mismatched with the rest of the game. It’s a personal preference at the end of the day, so I will leave it up to you to decide what you prefer. An example of this is when in third-person mode the camera is still quite close to the character and is offset to the left-hand side a little. This may be an FOV thing which is why there is also a second layer to the third-person mode which then gives you full body positioning of your character. Comparing it to the NPC animations is probably what is making it look off since your character is more fluid in their movement.
- Restricted Space Exploration | As you have probably heard by now, the space exploration aspect of Starfield is restricted in a few ways. Starting with navigating space in general, you will be spending a lot of time inside your Star Map. This allows you to choose what planet to jump to. After reaching your destination you will be set within that solar system and can explore however many planets are in that section by traveling to them via the Star Map, without the need to jump. Landing on each planet is done by a cut-scene and no actual player input is required to land. It is a little disappointing at first but I didn’t mind it too much in the end given how long and drawn out it became in No Man’s Sky. So I understand why this was implemented.
Before landing though, you are thrown into a sort of arena with the main planet facing you. You can fly your ship around as I mentioned before, but you will never get anywhere. This section is purely for hailing other ships, and ship fights. This coincides with the segmentation I mentioned above in order to keep things consistent. On land isn’t much different. The thought of running around the entire planet is nice in practice, but eventually, you will be presented with an on-screen pop-up asking you to return to your ship to explore new areas, or dismiss it and turn around. It is a little jarring at first but with most of the planets being desolate, there isn’t much to see or do anyway.
What we Disliked
- Lack of options on Console | This is literally the only thing that Starfield I feel needs to improve on in regards to the console offerings. Both Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, have 3 options to choose from. Film Grain, Motion Blur, and Brightness. Starfield would have greatly benefitted from a FOV slider as the default FOV is a little bit much. There is a workaround for this but it is only for PC users. Creating your own.ini file inside the games install directory and adding the line of code FOV=True and then adding the value from 1-90 will allow this to be set in the game. No idea why this wasn’t an option built in, but it will help players for the time being if they need it.
Here are just some of the few pictures I took during my time with Starfield. Why not show us yours and tag us @life_is_Xbox on Twitter?
How long to beat the story | Main story is 15-20 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 200+ hours
You’ll love this game if you like these | Fallout 4, Skyrim
Starfield has completely captivated me on multiple levels with its stunning graphics, solid combat, engaging storyline, and immersive characters. Even with its restrictions on exploration, Starfield is one of the best RPGs on the market that will satisfy you for hundreds of hours to come. This may just be my game of the year. I highly recommend anyone to try Starfield for themselves.
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Gaming is in my blood. Be it handheld games, Xbox, PC, Switch or Playstation, I am all over it.
I make my own games as part of my profession and love playing co op games with friends in my spare time. Avid dog lover and camper van enthusiast.