Review: Starfield Is Bethesda's Best Game Since Fallout 3.
Image via Bethesda

Review: Starfield is Bethesda’s Best Game Since Fallout 3

Starfield is not only Bethesda’s best work in years, but after spending over 120 hours traveling across the game’s vast galaxies, I feel confident that it’s also one of the best sci-fi RPGs I’ve ever played. From its very opening moments, Starfield captures an atmosphere of awe and wonder as it swirls with orchestral music that could be right out of Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar. At its core, the space adventure is about exploration and diving headfirst into the unknown in the pursuit of knowledge. That sense of excitement and adventure never left me during my entire campaign.

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In the first few hours, you are given your very own ship and crew to explore space. While the RPG sets you up with a main plot that is anchored by an interesting mystery, you are actually free to take off and discover other planets and side quests instead. If, like me, you spent more time doing side quests rather than doing main plot missions in Bethesda’s 2006 fantasy RPG The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, then Starfield will feel right at home for you. It is filled to the brim with content to discover. Even after spending a hundred hours in the game, I still haven’t even touched half of the side quests.

Where the game really shines, though, are its main faction quests. In the opening act, you discover and can join a handful of these groups that are important to the world’s lore. Each of these factions has its own epic stories and missions that easily rival Starfield’s main plot line. In fact, my favorite story involved the Vanguard faction, which sent me on a journey involving space pirates, undercover spies, and political intrigue. Seriously, the side quest could have been its own standalone game and featured an intense storyline that had me struggling with my own morality.

Screenshot of a spaceport ship in Starfield.

Screenshot by Siliconera

Bethesda’s decision to give factions as much prominence as the main plot allows players to create their own story. As a result, two players could both be 40 hours into their campaign and have a completely different experience depending on which quests they decided to pursue. It should be pointed out, though, that Starfield doesn’t actually allow you to explore the entire galaxy freely. Like any good RPG, you will need to level up your ship’s grav engine first so that you can jump further into space. But this actually creates a great gameplay loop, as you really do feel a sense of progression when you are finally able to access galaxies that were once too far to reach.

An aspect that may be contentious for some players is that the game has many planets that don’t have people or quests on them. They are purely there for extracting materials and setting up outposts. However, Starfield has so many star systems with activities in them that I rarely found myself stumbling upon these empty areas. Planets that have quests are also usually marked or you will get a character interaction when arriving in a star system for the first time as well.

At the center of Starfield’s space travel is a grid map, where you need to jump to a specific star system first before you can continue to explore the further regions. I know this might let some fans down. But after putting countless hours into my adventure, I was actually grateful that Bethesda went with the streamlined fast-travel system. While hopping into your ship and physically flying into space is cool and all, it would quickly become extremely tedious if I had to do that for every single star system or planet I wanted to visit.

The weakest part of the game is combat. While a Starfield Skill, such as the Boost Pack, adds variety to your gameplay, I couldn’t help but feel that most of my combat exchanges eventually devolved into blindly spraying bullets at an enemy and spamming med packs to stay alive. Fallout’s infamous V.A.T.S. system allowed players to aim for specific objects or limbs strategically. And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had magic and bows, which really opened up combat in some interesting ways. Starfield does have stealth attacks, melee weapons, and even hand-to-hand combat, but in the end combat feels like it’s taken a backseat to the game’s focus on exploration instead. This becomes really apparent in boss fights, where the enemy pretty much just feels like a regular NPC, just with more health.

Screenshot of Star System menu in Starfield.

Screenshot by Siliconera

However, combat isn’t just about gunfights in Starfield, as a major part of the game involves epic spaceship fights. I was actually surprised at how robust the feature is. Most ships come with several gauges such as Missiles, Ballistic, Engines, and Shields. While locked in a tense showdown with another ship, you are responsible for balancing the energy of each of these gauges. Some fights literally come down to your last health point as you are having to make split-second decisions while trying to outmaneuver your foes. Starfield also lets you raid other pilots. If you take out enough of their health or shields, you can actually dock them and steal their spaceship.

Space fights go a long way to save Starfield’s combat and could, again, easily be its own game. If players wanted to, they could literally just fly around for hours, shooting down other ships to become the galaxy’s most nefarious pirate. Bethesda also went the extra step of creating a contraband system. In my playthrough, I was not only going around raiding other ships in space, but I was also sneaking in illegal items to planets to sell them at an underground market. To achieve this, though, I had to build my character with the right skills so that it was possible to sneak my contraband past security checkpoints. Starfield’s skill tree actually feels like it matters, as it really does open up many possibilities like special interactions in the overworld and access to new quests.

The spaceship system is also pretty extensive, as you are given the tools to customize your ship to your heart’s content. However, it really opens up later in the game when you are able to afford a bigger ship. While you can technically unlock companions with your base ship, they won’t actually fly around with you as it has a crew limit. As a result, they will just wait around on a planet. Once you upgrade to a higher-class ship, though, you can start to build up a bigger crew. Every planet and city has recruitable crewmembers at their local bar or spaceport, and each character has their own unique skills. So when I wanted to get an edge in a spaceship battle I couldn’t win, I would just fast travel back to Mars to recruit a Targeting System specialist. You can also hire crew members proficient in weapons to tag along with you if you find a certain planet is too difficult.

Screenshot of Space Combat in Starfield.

Screenshot by Siliconera

The companion system in Starfield is one of the biggest changes Bethesda has overhauled in their space RPG. Compared to previous games they’ve made, the romance feels more earned here. I genuinely started to tear up at my wedding ceremony (hey, don’t judge me) because of how emotional the dialogue was. But I also seriously cared about my partner, as Starfield does a great job getting you invested in your crew through special companion quests that reveal a lot about their background. The only downside is that I wish there weren’t such a strict crew limit on the early-game ships, as I really would have liked to have been able to travel more with everyone I met during my many adventures.

My favorite aspect of Starfield is how Bethesda has implemented side quests. Unlike other RPGs, you truly feel like you are organically finding these side stories by just exploring the world. The new “Activities” system allows you to stumble upon a random quest simply by walking by a group of NPCs and overhearing the conversation they are having. I even picked up one mission by listening to the radio and hearing an advertisement while walking around New Atlantis. Side quests unfold when you least expect it. For example, one of the most memorable storylines I experienced in Starfield was a completely unexpected moment I had at my wedding, which was at a tropical resort planet. What was supposed to be a beautiful honeymoon quickly veered off into a complicated showdown between a corporation and a mysterious spaceship that had been floating above the planet for months without communication. Without getting into spoilers, the optional mission had a surprisingly dark conclusion.

Starfield has some of Bethesda’s best writing in decades. From hilarious dialogue options to serious story moments, it very much feels like a classic Bethesda game in every sense. Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer was right when he said in a 2023 Gamescom interview that Starfield is closer to Oblivion than Skyrim. Like Oblivion, the game heavily leans into its side quests and has many complicated scenarios that have a dark sense of humor running through them. There were a handful of missions that genuinely had my jaw on the floor because of how absurd they were. While most quests have multiple-choice solutions that don’t impact your game too much, Starfield does have a decent amount of big story moments that have major ramifications on your save file and will change how you play the game. This is especially true if you unlock the game’s New Game Plus mode.

Screenshot of a planet in Starfield.

Screenshot by Siliconera

Starfield is the most polished game Bethesda has ever released. After a hundred hours of playing it on Xbox Series X, I only ran into a few minor visual bugs that were quickly fixed with a reload. And even after making over 300 save files, the game hasn’t slowed down a bit. I know the RPG’s fixed 30 FPS at launch caused a discourse among the gaming community, but Starfield looks gorgeous and runs smoothly without any major hiccups that interrupt gameplay. This also doesn’t just look like an improved Fallout or Elder Scrolls game, as it truly feels like the generational leap that Bethesda fans have wanted for years. Each planet is bursting with life with diverse biomes and beautiful colors. And the various star systems look breathtaking every time I explore them on my ship. Starfield’s development delays were absolutely worth it, as Bethesda absolutely knocked this game out of the park in terms of its performance.

In a lot of ways, Starfield is the game that I always wanted Mass Effect to be. It truly captures the awe-inspiring scope of space exploration while being packed with a galaxy full of unique characters and stories for players to uncover. Bethesda has not only created a sci-fi masterpiece but a genre-defining RPG that you will want to spend days getting lost in. The space adventure’s continuously unfolding story system also creates an exciting roleplaying environment where you will continue to discover new things even a hundred hours into your adventure when you least expect it. Starfield is Bethesda’s best game since Fallout 3 and is destined to be another classic like Skyrim.

Starfield will be available for the PC and Xbox Series X on August 31, 2023, as Early Access. Its full release is on September 6, 2023.

9
Starfield

Starfield is the first new universe in over 25 years from Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4. In this next generation role-playing game set amongst the stars, create any character you want and explore with unparalleled freedom as you embark on an epic journey to answer humanity’s greatest mystery. Xbox Series X version reviewed.

Starfield is a genre-defining space exploration RPG. With a vast galaxy of characters and stories to uncover, this is Bethesda's best work in years.

Food for thought:
  • The spaceship combat is a bit difficult at first, but becomes much more manageable once you've unlocked the Targeting System skill.
  • Bethesda should consider making more horror games, because Starfield has some of the most terrifying creatures I've ever seen.
  • Make sure to keep checking your Activities tab, as they often lead to major side quests.
  • Use your ship's cargo, as well as your companions Inventory to offload items if you are over-encumbered.
  • Although it already has an endless amount of content to discover, Starfield has so much potential with future DLC and mods.

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Author
Brent Koepp
Based in California, Brent is an Editor at Siliconera and has been a journalist since 2010. When he's not playing JRPGs or catching 'em all in Pokémon, you can find him spending time with his wife and two dogs.