Cover photo

Review: Starfield (2023)

It hurts.

THE BAD:

There are a lot of problems. A LOT of problems. For a game that is essentially an Elder Scrolls or Fallout title with a different setting and backstory, the level of bugs and glitches is just ridiculous.

I was pretty forgiving of Cyberpunk 2077, because it was a brand new type of game from CD Projekt Red, and an extremely ambitious one. This game is buggier than I ever saw Cyberpunk, even pretty close to launch when I first played it.

Bethesda Game Studios, on the other hand, has made games that are basically Starfield for 20 years. Oblivion is roughly equal to Skyrim, and Fallout 3, and Fallout 4. They all have the same clunky mechanics, but in this regard Starfield is a step BACKWARDS.

There have always been loading screens when entering or leaving a building or cave in a TES or Fallout game from Bethesda. That problem is greatly exacerbated and becomes much less forgivable when you drastically increase the number of times this interferes in your gameplay experience.

I can walk from one side of Skyrim to the other without a loading screen. This is full of beautiful, sweeping landscapes and unbroken immersion that I will always think of fondly.

The NPC pathing could use a little work.

If I want to go anywhere in Starfield, it's a whole series of immersion-breaking screens. Especially if you want to roleplay and go through the steps. I'll just get onto my ship LOAD go to my captain's chair CUTSCENE and then liftoff to orbit CUTSCENE then get out of my chair CUTSCENE then go to the navigator's table SLOW, POORLY DESIGNED MENU then warp to a new system CUTSCENE then sit back down at my captain's chair CUTSCENE...etc, etc, etc. Doing basic things is a chore. Yes, you can skip a lot of those steps with map traveling, but it feels like a chore even if you take every expeditious step available to you.

This same level of clunkiness applies to the narrative delivery. Why does no one communicate over long distances in this game? Everything is ship-to-ship comms across a few thousand meters, or face-to-face conversations. This is a game about space, but everyone acts like they don't even have a cell phone. The quests could basically be from an Elder Scrolls game. Why? If this is how the game world works, then you are telling me that humans have settlements across the stars, and to share the good news they flew back to where they came from and then turned in their quest to an NPC back home. The use of technology is not literally zero--I do remember doing a quest to place a sensor on a tower on Mars--but then I had to walk back to the person who gave it to me.

Inventory management is just as bad as it has ever been. If you want to play a game throws thousands of pounds of loot at you per hour , so you have to either ignore it all or spend huge amounts of time managing it...this is the game for you! The first console code I used to make the game playable was to set my character's carrying capacity so that my spacesuit became a Bag of Infinite Holding.

This mercenary was slain instantly by a sneak attack. However, he remained standing up and just entered a sleeping animation. Trapped in a cursed Bethesda slumber, forever.

Speaking of repetitive tasks, there is a particular planetary outpost with a cave beneath it that you explore during the course of the main storyline. It's fine, but the problem is that it was copy and pasted to another planet that you also must complete as part of the main story. Placement of enemies, location of loot, all of it...exactly the same.

Exploring empty planets on foot can feel like Mass Effect 1, only slower. People hated the Mako vehicle from that game, but at least it sped things up!

Icons and text displaying over one another is a frequent irritation when "exploring" the galaxy.

The UI problems are not limited to the galaxy map, either. The inventory system shows BGS learned absolutely nothing from Skyrim and Fallout. Check this out: Your character can get various negative health effects, such as fractured bones, sprains, lacerations, and so forth. Specific items can help these conditions. The only explanation of which items do this are on the descriptions of the items themselves.

Okay, fine. You could argue that this encourages exploration, by prompting you to check vendors for what the various items do. However, all food, drink medical items, and so forth go into the same category in your inventory: Aid. If you have very many aid items (and this was a problem before I used console commands!) then I sure hope you memorized all of the useful item names. If not, be prepared to sift through your list of Aid items for 10 minutes. Why is there not an easy way to find specific things in this game?

I also cannot stress enough that there is NO LOCAL MAP OF ANY LOCATION IN THIS GAME. It's a spacefaring civilization, and I don't have a map of the city I'm standing in. Why? WHY?

Much of this is part of a larger trend I picked up on after a while: The game's "length" is buffered at every turn by the fact that everything just TAKES FOREVER TO DO, for no reason. Walking to turn in quests, the horrible way that quests are displayed on your HUD, the god-awful inventory management UI, the slow zooming in and out between levels of the galaxy map, the fact that everyone has universally agreed to only do business from 5ft away, (and this list could go on forever) it all reeks of just trying to make the game feel longer than it is.

I amn't crazy!

The final area that I'll highlight here is just so emblematic of this overall design attitude of the game. When I level up, I earn a Skill Point. SP can be spent to level up Perks, and each Perk has 4 Ranks. The first rank is unlocked with 1 SP. In order to get Rank 2 and beyond, however, you must first complete a challenge--no matter how many SP you have accumulated. For example, the Piloting perk at Rank 5 allows you to use the biggest class of ships in the game: Class C. However, in order to get to Rank 4 I need to destroy 30 enemy ships. Rank 3 requires 15 ships, and Rank 2 requires 5 ships. That means I need to blow up 50 enemy ships--which are not exactly easy to find--just to fly the biggest ships.

This is from part of the main story questline. It's a scripted sequence that will happen for every player. This ship lands with a third of its wing just clipped into the dirt, and it looks ridiculous.

If I am at Rank 1 and blow up 5 ships, I need to go into the perks menu and click on Rank 2 before any more ships will count towards these challenges. If you are in a dogfight with 3 ships but only needed 1 to rank up, you actually need to pause the game, click the next rank, and then unpause to finish the fight...otherwise the other two don't count. As if that wasn't bad enough, the only indicator in the Perk menu that you are ready to rank up is an occasional shimmer on the little "badge" icon. I got into the habit of opening my perk menu every few minutes and just staring at each of the 5 perk categories to see if I noticed a glint of light on a badge.

Who the hell approved this design decision? How hard would it be to add some kind of outline to a Perk that is ready to rank up? Why does every single task in this game take extra time?

THE GOOD:

Thankfully, there are some silver linings that are worth mentioning. While many of the sidequests and faction quests were very dull and uninteresting, the main plot did grow on me. The back half had me actually wanting to play to see what would happen next, despite all of the complains above. It's far from the greatest story a game has ever told, but it became more compelling than the "Space Elder Scrolls" opening would have you believe. In this regard, it actually outshines some of BGS' other titles.

I became so frustrated with this game that I uninstalled it. I only saw the story to the end thanks to console commands that disabled achievements, but overall I'm glad I did it. The idea of replayability strongly encouraged, too--and I mean that in more than the usual way. (That's a spoiler-free way of saying "the game has a surprise for you!")

There are some memorable sidequests out there too, of course. I'm particularly fond of the story attached to the Juno probe, for example, but the delivery was severely hindered by all of the implementation factors that plague the game as a whole.

After the Juno probe quest, these two guys stood directly behind my captain's chair and smiled at me, forever. I completed the quest to take them back to their home planet, but they didn't actually leave. I had to change ships to get rid of them.

Graphically, the game can be stunning at times. Particular areas at particular times of day would find me stopping the endless stack of quests to admire the beauty. Many of the models are richly detailed, and there are some beautiful set pieces. I'm sure there are far more starry vistas to be found for dedicated players, and some of the various planets' subterranean spaces can be impressive as well. However, there is also a flipside: 99% of everything is more-or-less flat, boring terrain. The breathtaking is the exception and not the rule--of course, that gives you even more cause to drink in the view when everything lines up just right.

Probably the most interesting structure in the entire game.

As for the soundtrack, Inon Zur brought his best to the table here. I'm a sucker for a good soundtrack, and this was a treat--perhaps even the best part of the game!

THE MEH:

Combat is...fine. Weapons are varied, but there's not a lot of excitement there. No alt fires or anything like that. Clunky movements and questionable AI decisions make the whole thing feel like a gallery shooter more than an immersive experience. I didn't hate it. There's just nothing in particular to praise about the combat. If you've played Fallout 4's combat, you've already played Starfield's. (Though, notably, Starfield does not have power armor.)

Crafting is back, if you're into that. It's perfectly fine for what it is.

Basebuilding makes a return too, and it frustrated me so much I only ever made two outposts.

The game as a whole seems to pull from BGS's other franchises, and then strip out a lot of what makes those games have a diehard following.

One day, I had an issue where random creatures on planets would get this handshake icon over them, and I couldn't find a way to remove it or divine its purpose. This is still an unsolved mystery. Maybe it's a glitch?

Let's talk about factions: The Freestar Rangers just feel like Fallout: New Vegas somehow exists in Starfield. The Ryujin Industries faction is about as on-the-nose with the "big, evil corporation" trope as it's possible to be. There's references to NASA to be had, but that's a real-world thing. Nothing mystical about it. The UC Vanguard are the hoorah, home team, hardworking military just trying to help the public.

Where's the Brotherhood of Steel, with its code of honor, memorable one-liners, and power armor that you want from the first instant you lay eyes on it? Where's the Fighters Guild story from Skyrim, with its opportunity for physical transformation?

Nothing quite as relaxing as the space in front of a chair. Lovely.

I didn't spend as much time on the factions as I could have, but that's really my point: what did Starfield show me to make me WANT to do these quests? Nothing!

Megaman X did a better job giving me a carrot to chase in 1994 with 16-bit graphics. Zero, the ultimate futuristic warrior, shows up in level 1, displays incredible power and finesse, and then tells you that you can have power like his if you persevere through the challenges ahead.

The UC Vanguard questline starts by sending you through a museum so it can dump exposition on you, and your point of contact for new quests tells you how many years it will take before you can earn UC citizenship. None of the benefits of citizenship even sound exciting. Megaman X, this ain't.

I'm wondering that too.

IN SUMMARY:

Starfield has memorable moments if you are willing to deal with some significant hurdles. I found myself saying, "Why would you do this?!" out loud to the game probably a hundred times before I finished.

There are a lot of problems, even a seasoned Bethesda Game Studios veteran like myself. By cutting out everything except progressing the main story, abusing console commands to remove as many of the things I despised, and overall just treating the experience like there was not side content...I ended up enjoying myself by the end.

There is good here, and your mileage will certainly vary. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

I'm telling you, though...If I could get the ear of Bethesda for just a moment, I would tell them this: stop wasting my time with your design decisions. One or two of these problems are forgivable. All of these together suggest a conscious effort to squeeze playtime out of a sub-par experience. If you are going to go the way of Blizzard, I won't play Elder Scrolls 6 even if it's included for free with computer hardware like Starfield was.

(This review was originally posted on Steam and Facebook. The date has been adjusted to match the original.)

Right Man in the Wrong Place logo
Subscribe to Right Man in the Wrong Place and never miss a post.
#starfield#gaming#review
  • Loading comments...