Role Playing Games have seen a massive increase in numbers, especially in the last couple of gaming generations. You don’t have to look far to see some publishers and developers throwing out the term, interjecting RPG elements into games that otherwise feature no role playing mechanics, just to sell monetised components and capitalise on the RPG craze. Although when we think of the good parts of the genre, in my opinion, there’s no better kind of game when it comes to overall immersion, characterised story telling and the ability to blend gameplay with choice and consequence. And if you ask gaming fans to name their favourite RPGs, you certainly won’t have to wait long before you hit an entry from a Bethesda Game Studios franchise.
Starfield is the latest game by the aforementioned Bethesda Game Studios. Well known in the gaming space for their efforts in the Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series, this is their first new IP released in over 25 years. While their previous efforts have been all about creating a deep and engaging world to explore and play around in, Starfield aims to create galaxies of worlds to locate, travel to and explore. To say it’s been highly awaited would be an understatement, not only is it the latest BGS game, it has a great pitch too, because who isn’t interested in the mysteries of space and the thought of discovering what’s out there. And while BGS haven’t nailed every single thing they may have been going for, they have well and truly delivered on the promise of delivering a game that players can get lost in, and well and truly spend years fully exploring and replaying through.
As with most RPG games, in Starfield you begin the game by creating your own custom player character. Having the ability to fully tweak their body and face appearance, select their character background and player traits. This is the first time you’ll notice how much the tech powering the game has upgraded since the last entries in the Fallout series, with Starfield being a big step up when it comes to character rendering and facial animation. With the game being about creating a character and roleplaying, I liked the inclusion of the many background to pick from, which go on to change your starting skills and also the ability to use or not use particular traits. Don’t let these options, especially the background be too overwhelming, as it primarily influences the starting skills you begin the game with. You can still play the kind of character you wish and influence that based on your actions. Not taking the Beast Hunter background for example won’t stop you being able to take to the stars hunting down challenging and mythical creatures if you want to spec your character out in that way as you level up. I was a little disappointed that the character backgrounds and individual traits didn’t have much of an impact on many of the character interactions, dialogue options and consequences, as I feel this was a role playing element the team could have really pushed further after giving such a diverse array of options to make the character feel so unique.
Starfield features multiple skill trees, segmented by core aspects of your character that you can put your skill points into each time you level up so that you can have a constantly progressing and developing character. The skills don’t really act like specific character builds or classes, they act more as a way for you to tailor your character towards certain traits and prioritising increasing those preferred abilities and gameplay aspects that you personally lean towards. Allowing you to tweak individual components such as increased grav jump range, bonuses to weapon and suit effectiveness if travelling alone, higher proficiency in lockpicking, increasing the chances of persuading people etc. There are a massive amount of options that can result in completely different gameplay experiences. So I recommend reading through the skills available and using them as a plan to build out the character you want to play.
Without spoiling too much of the story. At the beginning of the game, you play as a miner tasked with extracting minerals from a planet. But before long you discover a mysterious artefact that forces visions upon you. You then find your way to an organisation known as Constellation, a group trying to find other artefacts like the one that affected you and are also committed to uncovering the mysteries of the galaxy. After being recruited into Constellation’s ranks, you find yourself travelling the galaxy assisting their mission, but also furthering your goals, meeting many companions and visiting many planets and cities along the way.
That’s a very high level look at the main quest line and set up of the game, but as with other Bethesda RPGs, the main quest line is just the beginning, and not the main draw and appeal of the game. The main quest line experience is quite linear and will offer a similar experience to all players outside of some specific choices, but where the game will offer a diverse experience will be in it’s side quest lines, the relationships you choose to form and the way in which you decide to play the game from a character perspective. The story and world is easy to get into, but it’s also deep and full of lore and history if you want to spend the time uncovering and understanding that part of the title. Starfield is a huge game and your experience will very much be your own. Much like Skyrim, I don’t think any 2 playthroughs of the game will be the same, as so much of it is able to change moment to moment based on who you come across, missions you’ve done, quest lines you’re still to find and of course who you’ve chosen or chosen not to align with. The side quests are really where the game comes into its own. Some of the quest line objectives are so interesting and had me distracted from the game’s main quest line for many, many hours and there is so much still left for me to stumble across and experience, I’m sure.
From a gameplay perspective though, Starfield doesn’t have the strongest of starts. It’s very tutorial heavy and slow in establishing some aspects of the characters and its world. But when it clicks, my gosh Starfield gets really great, and really addicting. And in the grand scheme of the hundreds of hours that can be spent exploring the galaxy as a part of Constellation, it seems fairly insignificant overall. It’s not a great thing that the start is a bit underwhelming, especially as it doesn’t feature a ground breaking moment like being set on the world of Skyrim or coming out from Vault 101 in Fallout 3, but for the players that stick with it, I’m sure they’ll find plenty to love here exploring the galaxies.
Piloting a ship also comes with its own learning curve too. It took me a while to be able to understand the mechanics of ship based movement. It’s not just accelerate and go and break to stop like we expect in most video game vehicles. In Starfield you’ll need to allocate the ship’s energy between lasers, ballistics, missiles, engines, shields and the grav drive all while managing the thrusters and turning of the ship. It was quite overwhelming to pick up at first, but found myself in no time feeling pretty fluent with managing everything I needed to traverse the starry skies. Getting more confident with using the ship made me more comfortable going after higher level enemies and engaging in ship vs ship dogfights instead of instantly fearing for my life whenever enemies approached when I was in the opening hours of the game.
The game also features a fully fleshed out ship building tool that allows you to tweak just about every aspect of your ship. Allowing you to create a story and playstyle for how you want to adventure through the skies, just as much as you can when you’re on planets. With the ability to increase various types of damage output, the cargo capacity, weapons, defences, cockpits, bays, fuel capacity, the list really goes on. It’s a really deep part of the game that is open to so much customisation if you want to spend the time there tweaking things. Otherwise you can always just steal an enemy ship when you like the look of what they have and call it a day.
Levelling up your skills and the components of the ship will also change how things play out when you’re travelling from system to system in space. I ended up speccing myself so that I could disable enemy ship components in combat, dock with their ship and board them and then take out their crew with gun combat. By the end of the game, I started to play more as a smuggler pirate that enjoyed crippling enemy ships, boarding them and taking down most or all of their crew before taking off with any valuable loot, intel or items I could come across. But as with many aspects of Starfield, you can engage with these systems in the way you see fit or even not at all, outside of the times where quests force you to. So if you don’t like space dogfights for example, then just focus your time into other parts of the game. This is exactly what I did when it came to a lot of the resource hunting and mining aspects of the game. I didn’t particularly enjoy navigating to mostly uninhabited and desolate planets just to document them and mine their resources so I mostly left that part of the game alone, but I know there will definitely be players out there that will enjoy role playing that part of being a member of Constellation. And who knows? Perhaps in future updates, this part of the game may get overhauled or expanded on in a way that will make me want to jump in and have a whole slew of new things to see and do too.
While many of the planets are mostly uninhabited, and to be honest, not that fun to be on from a gameplay perspective, there are a good portion though that are incredible worlds of their own, full of life, established histories and plenty of interesting things to see and do. A personal favourite of mine was the brightly lit, cyberpunk inspired city of Neon. There is always a real sense of wonder when it comes to adventuring to a new planet you haven’t visited before though, as you really don’t know what you’re going to find, and that sense of wonder always gets me curious and excited.
An RPG game would be nothing without some great characters to help build up and develop the world and the overall experience. And Starfield is thankfully full of them. Writing great characters and interactions has been a long time strength of the team at BGS have hit it out of the park again. There are absolutely some characters that are written better than others but the voice performances, along with the improved facial animations system really help sell the characters and helps them be believable and really relatable.
Companion characters are deep and interesting too, each with their own backstories to uncover and motivations and goals they’re working towards. Choosing who to bring with you on missions not only allows you to get to know them better and enjoy additional interactions, they can also change the context of some missions and the outcomes, especially when their individual skill set can bypass some complications or sometimes even cause them. Especially if you happen to stumble across a faction of people that said companion may have wronged in the past. And for those familiar with Fallout 4, Bethesda have also brought back the ability for your robot companion to actually say your name which continues to be a nice touch they’re apparently including in their games now.
Starfield is built upon the latest iteration of Bethesda’s internal Creation Engine, and the improvements are really noticeable. I’ve mentioned the character faces and animations a couple of times, but I was also really impressed with just how much the overall visual fidelity and technical rendering has come, but even more so by the game’s shooting mechanics. Outside of flying your ships and talking to characters, Starfield is pretty much a first person shooter, and it’s now a solid one, thanks to the improvements to the engine and the gunplay. I was a bit worried about this going in as it’s not an area that they really excelled in with the Fallout games but I was pleasantly surprised with just how nice the guns feel to use in the game and just how varied many of the weapons operate. I did miss the VATS system from Fallout a bit, just because there were times where I really would have loved to have been able to slow down time and be a little more strategic with how I wanted to approach some encounters and the gunplay still isn’t incredible when playing in 3rd person mode but overall, I have to commend the effort the combat team put in, because Starfield is leagues above the Fallout games when it comes to being a first person shooter.
When it comes to the performance of the game. Overall, it’s been pretty great. Which is probably a nice surprise for anyone that’s experienced previous BGS titles, especially at launch. Sure, I have encountered the occasional bug and some funny physics issues but there definitely hasn’t been anything game breaking and no issue that hasn’t been resolved by just reloading the game from the last autosave. They promised it before launch, and it’s turned out to be true. Starfield is the most stable and bug free experience BGS have ever launched.
Overall, I’ve had an incredible time with Starfield. The game is very much what you make it, and choosing what you want to do, what systems you want to interact with or completely ignore makes for a really rewarding and diverse experience that most people are going to love. The opening act doesn’t do the best of jobs when it comes to hooking you in, but once I was past that, I reached a point where the game clicked and it had me incredibly addicted to it’s systems, it’s characters and it’s many worlds. The game also features a New Game+ mode, a first for Bethesda Game Studios and there seems to be so much more out there to still explore and has gameplay reasons to jump back in and keep going. So try not to have that spoiled for you.
Bethesda RPGs are a spectacle for a reason, and Starfield succeeds at most of what it’s attempting to do. I can’t wait to see how this game evolves over the years to come. It’s just a shame it’s probably going to be another 5+ years before we get to see anything else from this incredibly talented team of developers.
A Review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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