In 1994, Bethesda Softworks launched The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The title was one of the first entries in the “first-person RPG genre” and garnered many sequels until 2011 with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In 2008, Bethesda built off of the strategy RPG and created Fallout 3. The post-apocalyptic franchise garnered several awards, a massive fanbase, and even a TV show adaptation set to release in 2024.
After fifteen years, Bethesda has created another new franchise: Starfield. Creative director Todd Howard has wanted to make this game for years, always bringing it up in meetings as the space game. In 2023, the game was finally released. Here are my impressions of Starfield after over a week since its release and fifteen-plus hours on the Xbox Series S.
What is Starfield?
To begin talking about Starfield, I must first elaborate on what exactly the new game is for those out of the loop. Starfield is Bethesda’s newest first-person RPG since Fallout 4 in 2014. The game allows you to create your character, explore the far reaches of space, and create meaningful connections with its inhabitants. Bethesda released the game on the Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam on September 6. The game is also available through the Xbox Game Pass service. Here’s an overview of Starfield’s story via Steam:
In the year 2330, humanity has ventured beyond our solar system, settling on new planets and living as a spacefaring people. You will join Constellation – the last group of space explorers seeking rare artifacts throughout the galaxy – and navigate the vast expanse of space in Bethesda Game Studios’ biggest and most ambitious game.
The title promised infinite possibilities and exploration potential. It has also been hailed as the most polished Bethesda game in years. Yet after I completed over half the story missions, several questlines, and even triggered one of the game’s few romances, I still found myself disappointed at parts. Before I explain why, let me first say what I adored about the game.
Starfield‘s Performance on the Xbox Series S
Despite the game running on “lesser hardware,” the game looks gorgeous on the Xbox Series S. The sense of scale in locations such as New Atlantis, Akila City, and Neon is genuinely something to behold. I often found myself wandering the different areas in each city, panning my camera around as I observed the galaxy’s many cityscapes.
Additionally, the game runs at a reasonably smooth framerate. While it is a shame the game only runs at 30 frames per second, there weren’t many moments where the frames dropped lower. The resolution also looks excellent, although there were some texture glitches and moments when everything wouldn’t load in. At times, my immersion was broken slightly by these moments, but they were few and far between.
Character Customization (Starfield Impressions)
As usual, Bethesda’s character creators are among the most robust in the industry. With Starfield, though, they’ve genuinely upped the ante. There are dozens of hair, skin tone, and even gender options. It makes it more possible to truly represent yourself in-game, no matter who you are and where you come from.
Further, the game allows you to pick your background and three traits. The background is precisely what you think it is: you get to choose your character’s back story. Whether they are a former assassin turned ronin, a soldier, or even a chef, each background leads to unique dialogue options and perks. For example, I picked the Ronin background. One character said they betted on which “big wig” I assassinated. The game automatically gave me enhanced stealth and melee perks, which made me prioritize one-handed weapons and sneaking around bases.
The traits are other unique qualities you can pick for your character. These traits allow for each playthrough to be different from the last. In one, you can choose the “Adoring Fan” trait, where an NPC obsessed with you will follow you around and even join you on missions. In another, you can pick the “Kid Stuff” trait, which gives you parental figures to whom you must send money, but you can visit them and they can occasionally give you gifts.
Every option in the character creator allows the player to pick the playstyle and narrative approach that suits them. The choices they make also inform the game’s many side quests.
First Impressions on the Gameplay and Side Missions in Starfield
In traditional Bethesda fashion, where Starfield shines is in the game’s many side quests. You can join forces with the galactic peacekeeping group known as the UC Vanguard, work with the galaxy’s sheriffs called the Freestar Collective, or even join up with a corporation called Ryujin Industries. Each faction will take you to many different corners of the galaxies and force you to make choices and choose sides that will change the universe forever. My early impressions of the side quests in Starfield are positive, as the UC Vanguard and Freestar Collective missions had a lot of very interesting characters and narrative implications.
As you navigate these quests, you enjoy the game’s many systems. Whether it be adjusting your ship’s engines, shields, warp drive, and missiles like you’re a captain of the USS Enterprise or flying around on a jetpack and shooting enemies below you. There are so many unique mechanics and systems that make Starfield a joy to play. However, with so many systems, several mechanics are frequently neglected, and this is where the problems begin.
A Limited Experience (Starfield Impressions)
For one, in a game filled with so many mechanics, there were a few features I never ended up using. Halfway through the game, I never built an outpost, crafted any items, or cooked food. On the one hand, having dozens of unique systems allows for unique playstyles; with how many modern RPGs feature a crafting mechanic, it feels reductive at points.
On comparing it to other RPGs, you’d expect several essential quality-of-life updates in the genre that are not present in Starfield. When you’re required to follow an NPC, your character must follow their slow pace. Games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Ghost of Tsushima, and even Cyberpunk 2077 will have the NPCs match the player’s pace so that the game moves faster. Yet, in Starfield, that is not a feature. The game has hundreds of barren moons and planets with miles of open space. Yet no vehicle can take you across the land; you have to sprint and run until you make it to your destination. Even its narrative is lacking compared to its counterparts.
NPCs will talk over each other, textures glitch out, and voice lines will randomly cut out here and there. My game crashed several times, and I even experienced a full soft lock that prevented me from making more progress unless I erased six hours of playtime. All of this brings me to my main issue and the one thing holding me back from enjoying Starfield to its fullest: it is good by Bethesda standards, but the moment you compare it to other entries in the genre, you often wish you were playing something else.
Starfield is Classic Bethesda, For Better and For Worse
Over the last twenty years, Bethesda has been infamous for delivering half-finished experiences. Games like Fallout 4, Skyrim, and Fallout 76 have been filled to the brim with dozens, if not hundreds, of game-breaking glitches and bugs that grind the entire experience to a halt. Before its launch, many critics considered Starfield to be better based on the standards of other Bethesda games in the past. It’s true, too: if you play a game like Fallout 4 versus Starfield, you’ll notice far fewer glitches in the latter compared to the former.
Yet when you compare Starfield to the standards of the genre at large, as most fans and critics have, it quickly falls apart for me. Over the years, I’ve played many open-world RPGs, from Ghost of Tsushima to Cyberpunk 2077 to even Bethesda’s own immersive sim set in space, Prey. Each game has had something that brought me back. Even Cyberpunk, with its dozens of flaws and glitches, had me invested because of its narrative and gameplay mechanics.
In other games where I’ve lost hours of progress, I’ve been willing to take the plunge because the game’s story, mechanics, gameplay, and visuals were enough to retread old ground. However, with its overwhelming mechanics, lack of story, and frequent visual and internal glitches, I did not want to return to Starfield and retread six hours of progress in the latest open-world adventure from Bethesda.
For now, then, Starfield joins my backlog. One day, I’ll get back to it, eager to continue exploring the far reaches of space. Maybe by that time, I’ll have forgotten my initial impressions of Starfield. Until then, I’ll have to take part in the long-running tradition with Bethesda games and wait for the game’s next patch.