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Starfield Review (Xbox Series X)

September 22, 2023 | Posted by Stewart Lange
Starfield Image Credit: Bethesda Game Studios
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Starfield Review (Xbox Series X)  

After 10 years and multiple re-releases, Bethesda finally release a new single player experience that isn’t called Skyrim in their sci-fi epic Starfield. With so much hype behind it and the divisive nature of it being exclusive to Xbox and PC, the internet has been flooded with a number of extremely varied reviews and the inevitable Metacritic review bombs. I wanted to make sure my review was fair and not rushed so while I apologise in being a little sluggish in getting this onto 411mania, I did also want to make sure I had played enough of the game to ensure a fair and unbiased opinion, especially as I’d put both Fallout 3, New Vegas and Skyrim firmly into my all time top 10 list. So after approxomately 60 hours I know I’ve not seen everything the game has to offer but I’m also confident I’ve seen enough to be happy to cover this.

I want to cut fairly quickly to the chase, though. Starfield isn’t perfect. I reviewed it on the Xbox Series X and over my time only had 1 full crash to dash and didn’t really notice too much in the way of the standard Bethesda bugs/features. The odd bits of clipping kept cropping up, most regularly a horrifying elevator bug that would regularly have me spawning inside my companion with their eyes in my line of sight. I’ve been gaming since the early 90’s though and these bugs don’t really bother me though, especially given the thousands of hours I’ve put into Bethesda games over the years. I’d almost have marked it down if it was too polished. It’s not these issues that make it less than perfect though. Starfield is exceptionally fun when it’s in full flow but now and again there are bits of missions that just involve constant fast travelling which in turn involves multiple loading screens and that really just slows things down. Again, loading screens don’t bother me at all, but if you have to go through a slow door animation, a loading screen, a walk to your ship, a space loading screen, a docking loading screen, another slow door animation to get from point a to point b it really sucks the fun out of the in moment experience.

This is made more frustrating by the fact that when Starfield is firing, it really fires hard. The main quest line has maybe 4 or 5 genuinely phenomenal moments thorughout it. One particular mission (SPOILER: on the NASA station on Earth) is one of my favourite in recent gaming memory and most importantly, I feel like it actually lends itself to the side quests and exploration that normally doens’t make so much sense in an RPG. Take Fallout 4, for example. Now, I like Fallout 4 a lot, but it doesn’t make a bit of sense that you’re stopping to build a tree fort at a gas station when you’re meant to be rushing to find your “infant” son. While there is urgency to the quest line, the option of exploration is given to you as part of the journey making these massive detours fit in with the canon and actual logic of the main story. There are plenty of fun and memorable side quests too, with the usual factions with their own views and ideologies but also the odd throwaway one off missions that are always good fun within these universes. The only thing that doesn’t really fit is role playing as an absolute bad guy, with the shooting and looting not really going along with the mood of the Constellation (the main faction within the main quest) however being a baddie is good fun and space piracy is excellent as well.

The space combat itself is both basic and probably more complex than it really needs to be in equal measure. While not a full on space flight sim like Elite or No Man Sky, there are thousands of options for upgrading your ship as well as in flight options around routing power between the shields, engines and weapons systems. Stat upgrades introduce a targetting mode (similar to Fallout 4’s VATs system, where the game slows rather than pauses) which makes the space battles a little less frantic if you need, while the ship designer ability allows you to make some truly unique craft. The actual space travel is like a mix between the Mass Effect map system and the aformentioned titles, with the game pushing you to fast travel between systems and if required, engage in any skirmishes once you’ve completed the grav jump. While it seems possible to do the flights manually, I can’t say I felt a draw to do that and would probably say I found myself spending less and less time flying, I do think the additional flight options will scratch the itch of people wanting a space sim while it remaining accessible to people who’d rather get on with the RPG side of things like myself.

Now the map system is probably my biggest criticism of the game. While I said it’s reminicsent of Mass Effect, I mean more like the original game. You find the intended galaxy, point and jump but it isn’t intuitive in any way and after 60 hours I was merely “used to it.” Now, I don’t feel used to it is good enough here. Something less ambitious would have worked absolutely fine but after however many years in development and testing I can’t believe this is the best they can come up with. The UI isn’t great either. It’s relatively intuitive if you’re used to Bethesda, especially when trading, but there seems to be a lot the game doesn’t tell you that would be really helpful. Or things that would be really helpful that just don’t exist, like a way to transfer to your ship without having to fast travel or walk back to it. Likewise the crafting could be refined. While totally optional from what I’ve found, it is a fun part of these games but at no point does it become apparent what the more helpful crafting resources are. I got Fallout 4 PTSD and wound up with a lot of storage tape and not a lot of uses for it, let alone being able to use it on your guns.

Image Credit: Bethesda Game Studios

The gunplay is really good throughout and I actually found myself switching between weapon types rather than focusing on one like I normally would in a Bethesda game. I’m not sure if this is down to the massive differences between weapons or the amount of ammo the game throws at you for each kind but I found myself settling on 7 different weapons rather than my usual 2 or 3. The one part of the combat I didn’t enjoy was the melee build. Normally a go-to for me, expecially in Fallout 3 and Skyrim, I didn’t find the environments lent themselves to this here. While not exactly a cover shooter, I found the Leeroy Jenkins approach to combat the worst in terms of survival chances, especially against higher level enemies. A few enemies are worth keeping a melee weapons in the inventory for, as (either a feature or a bug) I found I was frozen by some and unable to reload at points but slashing away helped massively for these small sections. While you do get (SPOILER) some powers fairly early in the main quest, I didn’t find myself using these with much regularity. I did discover a couple of helpful ones later in my playthrough but I wouldn’t have said I missed not having them either.

Now, the graphics are where Starfield seems to be taking a beating online but overall I really think it’s a good looking game. Some of the planet vistas and environments are stunning. Certain cities (Neon especially is what Cyberpunk 2077 should have looked like) are spectacular and on the Series X the draw distance and detail is amazing. What seems to be the issue is that on console, the game is capped at 30fps. Now as I said above, I’ve been gaming a long time and FPS isn’t something that bothers me in any way- I actually tend to favour fidelity over framerate, especially in slower paced games- but I did notice it drop a lot. The game would pick odd times for this to happen, too. I could be in the middle of a massive firefight and it be running as smooth as butter despite the chaos, but if I hit my jetpack button over a body of water it struggles. For me, it’s not game breaking but it needs addressed, especially as it’s important to so many people, but personally I’ve not been let down graphically at all. There is the odd bit of Bethesda “jank” but honestly, I’d have maybe scored it down for being too polished.

Overall, Starfield plays out more like what I wanted the Outer Worlds to have been, rather than the full on “Space Skyrim” that we all wanted, but it’s still an extremely good game and if you can look past the few annoyances like the galaxy map and the odd quests that seem to be more travelling and loading screens than gameplay then you’ll have an even better time. It’s exactly what I expected from a Bethesda single player game, but I will say it’s at the lower end of that scale, more in line with Fallout 4 for me. It’s still a game I expect to put another 50 or 60 hours into despite finishing the main quest, but will I still be playing it in 10+ years like the games I mentioned at the top? Right now, I can’t imagine that I will but given the promise of ongoing support and guarantee of additional content, I think there’s absolutely going to be a jump back in to the galaxy down the line for this adventurer.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Starfield is a fantastic game and should hopefully provide exactly what people want from it, but a bit of a lack of seamless depth and a menu system that doesn't really work for how much you need to use it just prevent it from being quite to the level many of dreamt of it being. That said, it's still an easy 100+ hour game with nothing feeling like needless sandbox padding after 60 hours. On the Bethesda scale I rate this between Fallout 4 and Skyrim.

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Starfield, Stewart Lange