Few games can capture the attention of an entire gaming generation. That being said, Bethesda has been able to do this with their previous titles, including The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4. While Fallout 76 didn’t quite go to plan, the company seems to be back on track after their much-hyped and long-awaited space opera, Starfield. A sprawling universe with tons of galaxies to explore and littered with planets that are full of missions ranging from exploration to all-out battles with a space cult.
While I managed to complete the main story during my 30 hours with Starfield, things have only just started to open up, showcasing an alarming amount of gameplay I have only scratched the surface of. To put it short, Starfield may be one of the best sci-fi exploration games ever made.
Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It
Your character starts the game unearthing a strange artefact from a planet you’re currently working on a mining project for. After touching it and experiencing some psychedelic alien visions, a group of explorers called Constellation recruit you to search the galaxy for more artifacts and uncover the meaning and mystery behind them. While this covers the main story, there are many, many, many more side quests and other missions to discover, with different groups amongst the galaxy trying to recruit you to their cause.
The further you get into the main storyline of the game, there are some really big mysteries that deliver some truly impactful surprise moments. Each is meticulously animated and with a big booming score behind it, there is no way not to get swept up in the emotion of what is happening. This is also reflected in the characters, you can choose your crew members and who accompanies you on each mission you accept. My mainstay was Sam, a ranger who follows the path of Frontier justice, he is accompanied by his daughter Cora and is always worth having around for a rowdy gunfight.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Initially, my disappointment with the game came from the very slow first few hours, which don’t really show you what you should be doing or offer much explanation about many of the controls and mechanics. There is a ton of dialogue to sit through as you are introduced to the state of the world and where the human race currently sits in the grand scheme of things. Ship controls were also confusing as you pinpoint where in the galaxy you need to go, confirm the planet, and then you have to pinpoint the landing area. It feels counter-intuitive and a bit like double handling. After being spoiled with No Man’s Sky and what it has become, having to sit through take-off and landing animated cut scenes feels extremely lacklustre.
Part of what makes this game so impactful, however, is the memorable score by Inon Zur, a sweeping orchestral symphony infused with low booming bass notes that combine with the ship’s sound effects during take-off and landing, which is incredibly cinematic. This is accompanied by the colourful visuals that turn this game into a true space epic. Character models are also detailed and unique, with a consistent look and feel to the NPCs that help populate this universe for a large sense of purpose and scale. That being said, there are times when the animations don’t go as expected and can bug out, making things look choppy and unfinished.
When it comes to combat, things are really hit-and-miss. Ammo is spread sporadically throughout the game, while you’ll usually need to choose the right moment to use it (and quite sparingly!) While it’s a minor inconvenience in the early parts of the game, it doesn’t improve the further you get and can really put you in a tough spot in the last few missions of the main story. This left me alone with a shotgun that was powerful enough to stop anyone in their tracks, but a letdown in terms of reload speed.
There is a skill tree that you can use to upgrade specific abilities and increase the size of the backpack you are carrying for items. You earn one ability point each time you level up through XP given when you complete missions. Your companion will judge your actions and conversations and this will either keep them happy with you or sometimes not so, so be careful who your companion is and their personality traits to be aware of this. While the ammo situation lingers, it usually makes up for it with the large variety of weapons available and the customisation of each one, which adds to the overall depth of choice and development.
The game offers a variety of things to do depending on what you feel like. Some days I didn’t want to interact with anyone and just flew around and explored planets, extending the reach of my spaceship and in turn opening up more missions. If I wanted human interaction, I would head down to New Atlantis or one of the many other cities and do busy work missions for residents and shopkeepers there. Plenty of battle options exist if you want to spend the day blasting various creatures and space hunters to increase your XP and level.
As a result, Starfield is easily the game of the year so far. With a compelling mystery for its main story and many more hours of exploration and missions to do long after the story is over, Bethesda has fused this with some truly jaw-dropping graphics that look spectacular on the Xbox Series X console. It’s also worth noting here that the intended 30fps target on the Series X might leave a little more to be desired, but admittedly runs at an even clip, infrequently dropping slightly only when things get a little chaotic in combat.
Starfield is the first Xbox Series X exclusive that feels like a system seller. Call it a big, brawling space opera with beautiful graphics, an intriguing story and addictive gameplay, but there’s no doubt that you’ll find yourself sinking a fair amount of time into its overall scope and exploration. While things only feel like they are just getting started, some added DLC is also headed for Starfield in the future. It offers something to say about the value of human life and our place in the universe, along with questions about our future that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled on the main story.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Gorgeous visuals; Engaging exploration and narrative
Lowlights: Low ammo and some bugs on character animations
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, PC
Review conducted on Xbox Series X with an early access code provided by the publisher.