Starfield Review

Dan Webb

Bethesda Game Studios is probably the king of watercooler games. Its history in creating enormous, epic open-world RPGs with emergent gameplay has always provoked conversation about what you did, and what someone else did, marvelling at the different experiences that other people have had along the way. Starfield is the perfect watercooler game, in that respect. It feels like something noteworthy is always going on, whether that's ‘accidentally’ committing piracy on a GalBank delivery ship while in deep space, or finding a lone traveller singing songs over the airwaves as you’re out searching the stars. For me, stumbling on a note pointing to a secret outpost within the first few hours was certainly one way to kick off my experience, and my time at the watercooler!

In Starfield you play as a former miner, who reluctantly takes to the skies after an incident with a mysterious artefact, leading you to become the newest recruit in a plucky gang of explorers called Constellation. With around 100 star systems and over 1,000 planets to explore, the galaxy is at your fingertips as Bethesda takes you on a journey into the unknown. As far as narratives go, Starfield is a fairly gripping affair, boasting some of Bethesda’s best missions ever created, but it’s a game of contrasts. For everything that Bethesda knocks out of the park, it’s wide of the mark on a number of other things.

About two thirds of your way through the game’s critical path, Bethesda sets the finale up with aplomb, offering perhaps one of its most daring and brilliantly delivered set-piece missions in the studio’s entire history, only to fluff its lines on the game’s finale. Saying it fizzles out spectacularly is perhaps underselling the disappointment.

Space exploration doesn’t have to be a lonely affair either, and while Bethesda's interpersonal relationship and squad building has certainly improved since Fallout 4 and Skyrim, it's definitely nowhere near best-in-class - you’d probably categorise it as ‘competent’. Witcher studio CD Projekt and even Mass Effect maker BioWare (who hasn't put out a proper RPG since 2017) are still streets ahead in that respect. The same goes for character dialogue choices as well, which literally comprise either "Sir, yes sir!" responses or quippy comebacks that border on rude (invariably offending whoever you’re talking to) - a design choice that comes across as patently bizarre. And the fact that Starfield still has a silent protagonist in the year 2023 is pretty symptomatic of some of the game’s more archaic aspects.

When I say archaic aspects, I am of course talking about character animations and NPC interactions. It's been eight years since Fallout 4 graced our consoles, and yet, characters in Starfield still have to stop their animation cycle and turn around when you click on them to interact with them - while you stand there like a mug watching them. It’s as if everyone in the universe is a clockwork automaton or AI-controlled cyborg. It’s frankly quite surreal. Maybe that’s the charm of a Bethesda game, who knows? All I know is that it feels stuck in the past in that regard.

While Starfield is dated in many respects, it’s phenomenal and bordering on mind-blowing in others. Sure, Bethesda has most certainly upped its game in terms of its narrative and companions, but the developer still has a long way to go to be considered head and shoulders above its RPG peers. What makes Starfield such a brilliant game, though, is the emergent and random moments that you will always remember. The feeling that the universe is alive, and you’re just a speck of dust in it.

That’s the thing about Starfield: that it’s not so much about the story and the engine. It’s about the universe, and the emergent gameplay within it; truly something that is nothing short of sensational. Sure, a lot of the planets might be devoid of life or have identical structures to planets situated hundreds of light years away, but that makes it even more special when you stumble upon something that someone else could miss completely. Whether that’s an outpost, an AI ship floating in space pleading for your help, or even a bizarre lifeform in the craters of a desolate planet - this is what Starfield is all about. These moments are a perfect metaphor for the main themes of the game: exploration and discovery. And I know of no game that perfectly encapsulates that more.

The only jarring and immersion-breaking effect that comes from the game’s exploration is how you transition from world to world. I don’t think I’ve known a game with more load screens than Starfield. Sure, they don’t last too long, but they do shatter the illusion somewhat. It feels less intergalactic explorer, and more Internet Explorer. That said, it doesn’t really take away from the experience all too much when you get your head around it. When you’re on a planet, that planet is your oyster, and the freedom of exploration really kicks into high gear.

What’s perhaps more surprising, considering its experience with shooters is limited, is that the gunplay component of Starfield is pretty damn good. Everyone knows that Bethesda is adept at finely crafting RPG mechanics, and it’s done that with Starfield (especially with its fabulous Outpost building), but I’m not sure anyone expected the shooting to be this good.

Strip away all the RPG stuff, the exploration, the vast and fascinating open-world, and the shooting mechanics are as good as other dedicated shooters have been in recent years. And that’s the best bit of praise I can offer. Still, after over 100 hours, I can’t fathom why the first-person accuracy is a million times better than the third-person accuracy. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand that. Just like I’ll never understand why some of Starfield’s best mechanics are never explained, and you only stumble upon them by pure luck. Maybe that’s a metaphor for exploration too? Oh, Bethesda, you ol’ dog, you! On top of that, the ship combat is also pretty great, and being able to hail and even board random ships out on their own adventures is surely one of the game’s highlights.

There’s no denying Starfield’s brilliance. That’s there for all to see. What Bethesda has created is nothing short of astonishing. For sheer scale, scope and vision, Starfield should be applauded for what is a truly mind-blowing galaxy, brimming with opportunities to discover. It’s just a shame that while the world is truly staggering, that so many of the classic Bethesda foibles take the sheen off what is otherwise one of the most ambitious games of all-time.


Starfield is the perfect example of a video game that is equal parts brilliant, and equal parts flawed. Its open-world is nothing short of staggering, while its animations and dialogue are something best left in the past. Regardless of that, though, Starfield is truly an iconic experience, and will go down as an all-time great - of that I have no doubt.

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Inor Zur has absolutely smashed it out of the park once again with Starfield. An epic score with shades of Skyrim, it’s the perfect complement to a universe of insane possibilities.


While Starfield won’t win any prizes for best-looking game (though there are times when it does look truly gorgeous) it wins a lot of points for its ambition. Each major settlement is memorable and a joy to discover, too. It’s just a shame about the archaic animations and clunky conversation sequences.


Starfield, as far as shooter mechanics are concerned, is pretty damn good. While the space travel might slow the flow somewhat, the minute-to-minute gameplay is as good as most standalone shooters out there.


Starfield’s universe is beyond incredible, let down only by its copy-and-paste identical locations that can be immersion-breaking when you encounter them for a second and third time. That’s our only complaint, really, as otherwise, the vast universe, ripe for exploring, is up there with the best of the best. And while the voice acting is pretty solid, the less said about the quality of the dialogue, the better!


The achievements have no originality whatsoever. It’s basically: complete these missions, craft all this stuff, kill and collect all these things. Truly disappointing from one of Microsoft’s mega studios.

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