Starfield from Bethesda Game Studios has finally arrived. Here's what we think after putting dozens of hours into the game.

Starfield: Impressions After 30 Hours

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Starfield is a surprisingly difficult game to find the right words for. It’s an RPG where after 30+ hours, I still feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface. I’ve explored dozens of different planets, looted every nook and cranny I could fit into, and fought hundreds of space pirates, cultists and weird alien lifeforms. I’ve committed crimes and been hunted down by bounty hunters, I’ve saved up enough money to buy a really cool spaceship, and of course, I’ve done dozens of quests and errands for people all over the galaxy.

It’s a game that I can’t put down, while also acknowledging that it can be “boring” at times too. Space travel isn’t as exciting as it feels like it should be, as the galaxy is set to scale, so without jumping from one place to the next, you’ll be traveling through a lot of nothingness for a very, very, long-time. I’m hoping the farther I get into the game, the more interesting that space itself becomes, but I’m a bit disappointed with what’s there so far.

There’s a lot of planets, but as many surmised from No Man’s Sky, they’re quite barren. And while people are screaming on Twitter about not being able to walk the entire circumference of a planet, (seriously, aside from the one moment of “wow”, who would want to actually do this for a month) I’m wishing the game was a bit more focused on creating more visually interesting and hand-crafted locations to explore rather than touting over 1000 different planets that are a mile wide and an inch deep.

But to Starfield’s credit, it’s the first time a space exploration game has truly allured me to wondering “what’s out there?” As I continue to make my way through the game and explore further and further throughout the galaxy, my curiosity is rewarded with weird planets, weird creatures, weird stories and locations I wasn’t expecting, and all the sweet, sweet loot I could ask for.

The limits of what Bethesda can achieve at this grand of a scale are apparent, but that hasn’t made the game any less interesting for me, and that’s a testament to their ability to constantly pull at your curiosity to explore just one more planet, one more derelict space station, or do one more quest before you log off for the evening. 

The main quest in Starfield focuses on the faction Constellation, and essentially has you running all around the galaxy to collect these special artifacts. For me, it’s been the least-interesting part of the game as the vast majority of quests boil down to you fast traveling to a location, doing the same puzzle over and over again, collecting your reward that I won’t spoil here, and then moving onto the next one. Not to mention that a character just outright tells you where these signals are, so there’s no real “discovery” aspect to them at all, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of, you know, exploring?

It’s been the weakest part of my experience so far in Starfield, as it highlights the limits of seamless exploration in this vast galaxy. The scale of what Bethesda has built gets in the way of their traditionally great exploration, where you’re rewarded for making the trek over that mountain in the distance and finding a new dungeon or point of interest. In Starfield, picking a landing zone, turning on your scanner for an icon, running over to the location, and then leaving isn’t exactly a rewarding experience. And it’s almost necessary that you play this way, as most of the planets I’ve been to are empty aside from some roaming wildlife and a few points of interest that you can see from your scanner or from your star map. Without those icons, you’d probably get lost or bored and just move on.

Thankfully, most everything else you do in Starfield really does hit the mark on delivering that sense of adventure and crafting your own story. I’ve found myself in more than one situation where I do what seems like a very inconsequential action in the galaxy that ends up leading to another story beginning that I wasn’t expecting. For example, I robbed a ship and from there I was pulled into an questline where I needed to essentially become an informant for one faction by infiltrating another. I was able to play both sides as the story progressed, and I used it as an opportunity to come away with a ton of credits for my own gain. In that same questline, I threw another member of one of the factions under the bus, and they vowed revenge and have been hunting me throughout the galaxy, appearing at random places and times to try and ambush me.

Outside of specific questlines, I’ve just been flying around the galaxy, looking for outposts to raid, taking on bounty hunter missions to collect on contracts, and continuing to raise money for the next ship I want to buy. When I can’t earn the credits the “official” way, I go to derelict systems looking for the Banker ships to kill their engines, board them, and steal their supplies. Oh, and also I discovered a space casino at one point, took out the bandits inhabiting it, and then stumbled upon the code to win the jackpot, so that was a fun little surprise that rewarded me for just exploring every inch of that place.

On one hand, Starfield is exactly what I was hoping for: Skyrim in space. I’m loving just existing in the galaxy that Bethesda has created, playing my role as a bounty hunter, getting involved in a bunch of different and interesting questlines, snooping around for all the credits I can muster up to buy the next big space ship, and just taking in the sights and sounds of distant worlds. Bethesda is at the top of its craft when it comes to their emergent gameplay systems in Starfield. And you know what? Microsoft wasn’t kidding when they said this was the most polished Bethesda game to date at launch. Playing on the Series X, I’ve experienced just one crash and just a handful of minor bugs in my 30+ hours of play.

On the other hand, I’m not as blown away by the scale of the game as I was hoping to be. Space travel especially, at least so far, is quite visually boring, and aside from dogfights, almost feels unnecessary when you just jump from location to location. With the amount of worlds on offer, the game is also missing that handcrafted feel that you get from exploring something like Skyrim or Boston from Fallout 4

This part of the game has been the most complicated to wrap my feelings around as I’m sure space itself is relatively boring. I mean, we’ve seen what the rovers are looking at on Mars, can’t say I’d have a lot of fun running around there for more than a few minutes. Maybe I’m just not far enough into the game yet to see the really weird stuff, but I was hoping the planets weren’t going to have that procedural feeling to them, and so far, they mostly do.

Either way though, Starfield is a hard game to put down once it gets its hooks in you, especially if you already like the style of games that Bethesda creates. My first 30 hours in the game went by like a blur despite my criticisms of the game, and I’m eager to stop writing this script and just get back into the game to keep exploring, and seeing what else is possible in Starfield.

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Nick Calandra
Nick Calandra has been covering video games for over 14 years, holds a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism and now leads the team at The Escapist. Previously Nick created and led teams at TitanReviews, Velocity Gamer, OnlySP and Gameumentary, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist in 2019. He has done everything from covering the smallest of indie games to creating documentaries on some of the most well-known video game franchises in the industry such as Darksiders, Divinity: Original Sin, EVE and more. While his favorite games right now include Rainbow Six Siege and Elden Ring, Nick is constantly experimenting with new genres to expand his gaming tastes and knowledge of the industry.