I’ve already been lost in space for 60+ hours of Starfield and, no, I don’t want that time back.
Starfield has more to offer than just being No Man’s Skyrim
After 60+ hours of Starfield, it feels weird to say I’m done. For now. Like any game teeming with addictive potential at launch—Rainbow Six Siege, Everspace 2, Sons of the Forest (to name a few)—Starfield is one of those games that I feel will haunt my precious SSD storage space for years to come.
Why? Because even though I’ve finished the game, bested every main faction questline I could find and completed dozens of side activities, I’m not yet 100% done with the game. For those who dubbed Starfield “No Man’s Skyrim”, they’re right and they’re wrong. It has some of the scope and hints of freedom of No Man’s Sky, and it’s absolutely as addictive an experience as I had with Skyrim 12 years ago.
But that colloquial rename doesn’t ring completely true. Those expecting the expansive planetary exploration and seamless ability to shift from planet to space (or vice versa) from No Man’s Sky should curb those expectations. Similarly, even after 60+ hours, I didn’t feel as though I’d come anywhere near plumbing the depths of some of Starfield’s systems but I didn’t feel that way in Skyrim.
In Starfield, the ship builder was too intimidating, building outposts gave me none-too-positive flashbacks to a similar mechanic in Fallout 4, and you earn experience points at such a glacial rate relative to the number of available abilities that you might glance at my upgrades screen and think I was fibbing about my playtime.
Starfield takes its time at the start. You play as a miner who encounters a mysterious artefact that makes you a target for soon-to-be allies, enemies and out-of-this-world threats alike. Things look a lot better with the welcome upgrade to Creation Engine 2, particularly maxed out at 4K resolution on a high-end PC. There are times Starfield will take your breath away, and others where it’s more reminiscent of Bethesda Game Studios titles of old. Still, the PC devotee in me misses some of the finer points like an FOV slider or benchmarks. I yearn for a way to tweak the in-game user interface without having to lean on mods.
The modding community has already addressed so many of the larger issues — performance, FOV, inventory management, and others — but there are loads of little frustrations that rear up when you’ve played far too many hours like I have. I don’t mind so much that I can’t fly from space to a planetary surface and fast travelling is absolutely a speedy workaround with M.2 storage. That said, fast travel is inconsistent with when it will allow you to do it, far too specific with where it drops you in sometimes inconvenient ways and, ultimately, illustrative of some of the less-inspired missions and activities that are thinly veiled fetch quests.
Overall, I enjoyed Starfield’s main story, satisfied with my impact on a game world that felt personalised in discussions with fellow Starfield addicts. It certainly does a good job of increasing the stakes and tapping into some meatier pop-culture topics. At its best, the storytelling effortlessly drifts between heartfelt and humorous, but if you want to tick off all the branches of the main quest, get used to a very repetitive formula for accessing new powers. For the record, I only unlocked a handful and was obsessed with one particular ability that complemented my stealth build.
But like The Witcher 3, Starfield’s better stories are off the beaten path. For me, the more memorable ones were the faction missions: multi-hour adventures that almost always demanded my attention as soon as they appeared. And that’s when Starfield is at its Skyrim-y best. Renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin simplifies a great story into ‘intention and obstacle’, while great Bethesda Game Studios titles are more akin to ‘intention and temptation’.
Most hours-long sessions would start with a strong idea of what I wanted to do, but I had the most immersion and the most fun when I was pleasantly distracted. And I frequently was. This intention/temptation was the foundation of my gameplay addiction for most of my time with Starfield, tarnished sometimes when I doggedly attempted to finish missions that explored gameplay features that I have little interest in (surveying planets is a slog).
I’d describe both planet-based and space-based combat as serviceable, albeit more enjoyable once you start to spec in a particular way. Enemies felt bullet spongey in the opening hours, so I pivoted to a stealth build, which became more satisfying the more points I invested in it. Conversely, space combat felt punishing until I unlocked some basic abilities and spent more time wrapping my head around the fundamentals. Still, I wish I’d learnt from the get-go that sleeping offers a temporary 10% experience boost.
I could harp on about the little immersion denters—menu busywork, buggy side quests I can’t complete, a lack of planetary transportation, and others—but the truth is Starfield is exactly what I wanted it to be. Had it ‘just’ been Skyrim in space, that would’ve been enough for me. But Bethesda Game Studios has done enough to ensure Starfield carves out its own space-based identity, distinct from Fallout and Elder Scrolls albeit with a familiarly addictive spirit.