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Review: Starfield boldly goes where a few games have gone before

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Bethesda delivers everything you've come to expect, just bigger and bolder than before

It should surprise absolutely no one that Bethesda Game Studio's sci-fi space opera action role-playing game Starfield (Xbox Series X/S, PC) is rich, engaging, and effortlessly fun, given the publisher’s track record. Or that Starfield deserves its place in the pantheon of great space adventure games alongside the Mass Effect series and The Outer Worlds, as well as next to their own games Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on any list of great action-RPGs.

Starfield is, quite simply, a triumph in almost every way... almost.

The year is 2330, and it's your first day working the mines of a far-off planet. Upon touching a piece of an alien artifact, you are shown a mysterious vision, decide to quit your job and set out to learn what the artifact is, what the vision means, and where the rest of the object might be, even if it means exploring all known space.

For anyone who's played one of Bethesda's games before — or any action-RPG — Starfield delivers everything you've come to expect: story-driving missions, side quests, opportunities to improve yourself and your skills, challenging combat, deep customization and conversations, and the option to denigrate people you've just killed by stealing their stuff.

But Starfield is bigger and bolder than anything Bethesda's done before. You're not just exploring one world, you've exploring hundreds of varied ones (though none offer as much to do as, say, the Washington D.C. of Fallout 3 or the Tamriel of Skyrim).

The bigger and bolder paradigm rings most apparent in Starfield's leveling up system, which features 82 skills across five categories (Physical, Social, Combat, Science, and Tech); each skill can be upgraded once you fulfill certain conditions. For example, you will unlock the Ballistics skill under Combat and Ballistic weapons do 10% more damage. Furthermore, once you achieve killing 20 enemies with a ballistic weapon, you will use an upgrade point to do 20% more damage.

In terms of plotline, conversation has evolved beyond earlier RPG entries. You can now let your companion say something, while a risk/reward mechanic comes up when you want to persuade someone.

Starfield even improves the third-person camera, putting it much more in line with the recent remakes of Dead Space or Resident Evil 4.

More importantly, the combat in Starfield is an upgrade over how Bethesda presented it in Fallout 4. Gone is the V.A.T.S. targeting system; in Starfield, everything occurs in real-time. Whereas Fallout 4 needed V.A.T.S. to compensate for its rather loose aiming, here it's unnecessary, as the shooting is more accurate and fluid. Not quite Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II or Battlefield 2042, but more than enough to make this a solid shooter.

The new targeting system helps when gunfights happen outside, in part because those areas are so large that some battles are simultaneously up close and personal like in Call of Duty, and like playing game of cat & mouse with Nazi snipers in Sniper Elite 5.

That said, if you prefer melee combat, tough luck. In Starfield, you'd be bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Naturally, Starfield also adds space combat. When you’re thrusting through the galaxy visiting different planets, sometimes the welcoming committee includes pirates or bounty hunters. Lucky for you, your ship has upgradable engines and weapons systems, and you will discover that dogfighting is as intuitive and exciting as it was in Star Wars: Squadrons.

Starfield's visuals are also improved over what we saw in Fallout 4 and Skyrim, with more detail and better animations. In terms of an overall visual motif, the art takes an interesting approach of combining sci-fi influences; while some cities are white, clean, and neat like Star Trek and Mass Effect, others are wet and dirty like Blade Runner and Cyberpunk 2077, while outposts and ships have the industrial look of Alien and Dead Space.

It is unfortunate that the story isn't more unique; even though Starfield's take on the "alien artifact gave me a vision" trope plays out differently than it does in Mass Effect, it's still nothing we haven't seen before, especially if you've read a lot of sci-fi. You will recognize callouts to 2001, Firefly, The Expanse, and other sci-fi standbys as you move through the game.

Now, as I said at the beginning, Starfield is almost a triumph. Here’s where almost comes into play.

For starters, inventory management in Starfield feels annoyingly dated compared to such similarly loot-heavy games as Diablo IV and Outriders. Even when upgraded, you can't carry much, nor store much on your ship, which you'll probably use as home base (you can build a house somewhere if you like, but why bother when your ship is always nearby). You also can't scrap unwanted items into crafting resources or mark them as junk. Nor can you fast-travel to where there's a store unless you're on a planet that has one, and you wouldn’t have a quick way back even if you could. Thankfully, being overburdened doesn't reduce your foot speed to a crawl; instead, it drains your oxygen if you move faster than a jog, though you can always stop and catch your breath.

Finding a store can be frustrating, too. While there are cities in Starfield, city maps are woefully inadequate for locating anything other than a mission objective. And even this isn't easy; while your scanner draws a line of arrows on the ground telling you where to go, it turns off way well before you get there, requiring you to turn the scanner off and then on again.

But then, these issues with inventory management and navigation really only annoy me because of how I play games like Starfield: as deep action games with first-person shooting combat. And that's one of the other great things about this game (and, honestly, this genre of game): you have so much choice in what you do and how you do it that you might not be bothered by having overflowing pockets or being unable to find a store. Heck, bring a knife to a gunfight if you want. You do you. Me, I'll be exploring the stars, with a gun in my hand, a song in my heart, and a grin on my face.


  • Epic sci-fi space opera story

  • Engaging combat

  • Vivid mix of sci-fi influences

  • Endless possibilities


  • Inventory management feels dates.

  • Navigating big cities can be frustrating

  • Not the best story

Starfield review score: 9/10

Reviewer played on Xbox Series X

Starfield is available now on PC, and Xbox Series X/S

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