Starfield – PC Review

Starfield – PC Review
Lord Crocosquirrel
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Genre: Open-word space RPG
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: September 5th, 2023
Edited by AlexKnight2005

It’s been at least a couple of hundred hours since Starfield released, and before I get back to it I should probably do a bit of writing. After a massive hype train finally reached the station, as all such are wont to do, derailed and exploded in the most spectacular of fashions.

In this ARPG, you play “generic Protagonist no. 42,420,187,132. Who they are now, who they have been, and what they will become is entirely in the hands of the Player. If this sounds familiar, it should— it’s standard-issue Bethesda, as well as many other RPGs. It’s up to you to determine how this character will develop going forward. There is an array of choices to make, people to annoy (or hire), and a pile of possible companions to wander around with… a small few of which may succumb to your advances. The story begins down a mine, in a spacesuit on a moon without a breathable atmosphere. Which I suppose would save on breathing problems later in life. You certainly wouldn’t want to be wearing one in a breathable atmosphere wearing one, would you? There’ll be more on that later.

Supervisor Lin will tear into a couple of folks on your way to the first deposits (and you gather your first few resources), before taking you off that detail minutes later to wander in deeper to check out a strange gravity reading. When you get there and pull the thing out… Everything goes sideways, landing you in the character creator. Thus begins your journey, and more than enough weirdness to go around several times over. The Main Story involves the thing you dug up on that moon, and a whole lot of its closest friends, getting some new powers, and ultimately confronting a whole new leap forward. Oh, and a new game plus mechanic. It’s… strange.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first—if you put this game on a mechanical hard drive, you’re in for a few problems. This is the first game I’ve seen in which reading the system requirements will save you some huge headaches. Bethesda went out of its way to tell you, and if you didn’t listen, they would have no sympathy. In both the minimum and recommended specs, it says that an SSD is required, because the game is massive. Clocking in at 116+ GB, you’ll see a lot of stuttering (sometimes a minute or more) as it tries to catch up on a slow drive), while the game processes the things it needs to be doing in your absence. This results in several things that can happen, from frustrating to hilarious. In conversations, it can lead to what I like to think of as “The Kaiju Effect,” in which you see their lips move and a few seconds later hear what they have to say. Although initially disconcerting, you can get into the frame of mind of super-bad dubbing, and just snark at it for hours. When it happens wandering about a safe-ish place, just heave a sigh and move on with your day. In combat, however, it can easily get you killed. I encourage Todd and the gang over at Bethesda to implement a “Kaiju mode” we can toggle on and off to add a bit of levity to the experience. Just because.

After all that, it does have the usual raft of “Bethesda Bugs” that they leave for the modding community to take care of (they’re working on it now), and in a rare thing indeed, Bethesda itself is working on at least some of them. You still get the occasional graphical glitch or misplaced NPC, and so forth, but they’re trying, and that’s not a Bad Thing in my book. It’s improved since launch, but I still think they’ve over-nerfed Stealth the same way they did in the previous games. There are ways to fix that, but one must be cautious. Or not be worried about achievements.

Depending on your level of tolerance for legwork, the game can be a joy to behold or a standout bore. Longtime Bethesda fans (I count myself among them), After an hour or two of the main story to get your feet wet, you can run off into the Blackest Sea and do whatever you like—adventure will find you. The Main Story isn’t the ultimate in brilliant, a bit over-trope-y, but they managed to pull it together without too many plot holes. I got through it about a hundred hours in, but on the first playthrough, it can be done in less than half that if you pursue it to the exclusion of all else. Doing that, though, you will miss upwards of ninety percent of what Starfield has to offer. Corporate espionage, flying (and investigation) with the Freestar Rangers and/or the UC Vanguard, and even a stint of piracy with the Crimson Fleet are all on offer and can be interesting in their ways. That’s just the major factions—there are others. Some are short, the others very long, but all come together to tell the tale of Humanity’s spread amongst the stars. The universe we have to work with is tiny beyond words—don’t expect to be hopping galaxies here. The entire playfield is roughly a hundred and twenty light-years long, by sixty or wide. Not entirely sure how deep it is, but you’re also not making the jump to Sagittarius A*. You’re not getting out of the Inner Orion Spur. They talk about the galaxy in grandiose terms, but ultimately they’ve only been at this for the last two hundred years or so (a bit less, actually). It’s taking a minute to settle into new places.

For me, one of the best things (aside from all the little stories to go with the big ones) for the game is the soundscape. Little bits of sound that are adjusted for the environments, tension music as combat approaches, silence when sneaking about (which I tend to do a lot of), and the list goes on. Sometimes to the point where you forget about it until it changes to give you gameplay cues.

The controls… work. I don’t have any issues with the mouse and keyboard, but the controller gave me a headache quickly. There are some things one can do with a keypress or a mouse click that take some coordination with the controller, and being able to fire and adjust your power distribution simultaneously can be a challenge. I managed it on mouse and keyboard, but doing the same on my handy-dandy XBone controller proved an exercise in futility. If you’re used to playing some of the more control-heavy games on your controller, then you won’t have to deal with some of the issues I had. I recommend the keyboard, but your mileage may vary. On the flip side, the game appears to be set up so it’s easier to get to some things, and they don’t go into detail about the keybindings that make up the shortcuts to various bits. A quick peruse through the keybindings will help, or you can poke keys until you find out what does what. For me, it was playing other Bethesda games of the same ilk and finding that Starfield can be played mostly via muscle memory from there.

For people that played some of the earlier Bethesda games, they’ll look back fondly on leveling up by raising your skills—not this time. Now you get levels from straight XP, and “skill points” from which you can buy skill perks, more than thirty of them in five categories each of which has four levels with increasing benefits. However, to level up the skills, you have to grind out a set number of things/actions before it’ll let you. If you want Stealth 4, you’d better be prepared to do lots of sneak attacks. Security requires you to play the Digipick minigame often, and so forth. It can be a royal pain in the butt to grind some of these (especially Security and Piloting) if you make choices that don’t take you into the situations that would get you into those specific types of trouble.

Last, but not least—is inventory control. You can carry a limited amount of stuff on your person before taking on serious consequences, and more on your ship (which you can change albeit with consequences of its own), and a couple of places in the game where you can keep unlimited amounts of booty. That said, you need to have all the things you need to make, research, and/or build on your person at the time you need it, rather than have it in a nearby cargo hold or some such. That’s especially true of the player homes and outposts that you can obtain and/or build. You can make it through the game without these things, but it does tend to make your life easier in a few ways.

End of the week, and I will have to give Starfield a recommendation. For old hands with Bethesda titles of this type, there’s a lot that’s familiar. Run around, do things, meet weird monsters, kill them, take a laser cutter to bits of the terrain, make things (and outposts), get weighed down by all the extraneous crap lying about… You know the drill. For newcomers, it takes a while to get going, but the payoff might just be worth it.

Pros:

  • Intertwining stories support a trope-y Main Story
  • Soundscape supports, rather than hindering it
  • Keyboard controls are solid
  • Lots of different stories, all of which are accessible in one playthrough
  • New and interesting aliens to shred
  • Starships!

Cons:

  • Standard-issue Bethesda Bugs
  • Uncommon hardware requirements
  • Skill system institutes grinding, even if you can see how much you have to do
  • Feels like a semi-retread of places we’ve been before

Lord Crocosquirrel gives Starfield a Drastik Measure of 6.9 out of 10.0 (69)