Starfield is a flawed game, but an incredible one. For everything is does right, there are other things that make it boring or uninteresting. With mods, it can be made amazing, but at base, it's a bit of a mess (albeit fun). However, the lack of accessibility options is egregious, making this much-hyped game unplayable for millions.
Starfield is a Bethesda RPG. Solid skeleton on its own, better with mods. A bit overhyped until the inevitable turn, when people will start making video essays entitled “I was WRONG about Starfield” or “Starfield is an Absolute Nightmare.” It’s a game just about everyone (well, not everyone, but we will get to that) will play eventually, put tens or hundreds of hours into, and then agree that it’s “flawed, but fun.” Starfield, like all Bethesda RPGs, is a popcorn experience. Massive, buggy, just sharp enough and interesting enough to keep your attention, and — at the end of the day — just plain fun. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, if you ask me, but it is solid.
I’ll spoil something now: that’s a 7.5 game from me. But I’m not going to give Starfield a 7.5, because while I enjoyed it, not everyone else will. In fact, not everyone else can.
Starfield is a great achievement in many ways, a bog-standard Bethesda game in other ways, and a bizarre failure in other ways. If I was rating individual elements, my enjoyment would fluctuate rapidly between 10/10s for things that are truly amazing, 2/10 for things that are absolutely terrible, and 5/10s for things that are just… there. And I suspect everyone will interpret Starfield differently, giving different things different ratings. It’s a huge game, with so many systems meant to appeal to so many players (although maybe not enough players. Again, more on that later), that it is hard to get a bearing on it as a reviewer. But I’m going to try. Without further ado, let’s look at Starfield, and see each part so we can try to assess the sum of them.
Tutorials – In Need of a Kobayashi Maru
Before anything else, let’s discuss an ever-present issue through the game that seeps through everything (one of two such issues, but we are saving the other one for the end. It’ll be a real treat). Tutorials, or the lack thereof.
Starfield is an absolutely gargantuan game, and I don’t just mean in the amount of star systems you can visit or local wildlife you can gun down, but also in its systems. Starfield has dozens of interconnected game systems, each with their own depth and complexity. Some of those systems are very confusing, and require lots of system knowledge and practice to truly understand. And some are so obscure or obtuse that many players would never discover or understand them at all without help.
And yet, Starfield will often not be the one to provide that for you. What few pop-ups exist in Starfield to tell you about its systems are brief and often unhelpful, and more often than not, there is no explanation given for how to do something. Did you know that there is a cover system in the game? It took me a few dozen hours to realize that. The game doesn’t tell you. Or how about that you can sell things directly from your ship inventory? You’ve gotta figure that out on your own. Crafting has a brief pop up, but seems overwhelming at first. Ship building is even worse, with less help.
Trial and error can get you to something workable — you’ll be able to accomplish all the basics and go about exploring the universe with just a bit of brain power and elbow grease, but without a mentor in the shape of tutorials, you will be missing stuff, doing things inefficiently, or otherwise missing out. This can be made up for by using guides, or just by playing long enough, but it would’ve been a lot simpler for the player just to be taught these many mechanics using better tutorials. I get it, tutorials for a game like this would necessitate a couple of hours of boring “practice quests” to teach you everything and some more work on the developers’ parts to produce. But I think a boring 3 or 4 hours (something that is still a part of the game) would be worth it to make sure that it doesn’t “get good after 30 hours.” It would’ve been good after 3 or 4 if the game bothered telling you how to play it.
Exploration – Stunning Stars, Dull Treks
First of all, what Bethesda has done with their universe is incredible. Comparisons to No Man’s Sky don’t do Starfield justice — there are fewer worlds, but what is there is more… Amazing. More fun to explore, more full of varied life, more filled with little secrets and interesting moments. And on the scale of something essentially infinite, giving you the ability to land anywhere on any planet and explore it. See it’s life, it’s geology, and it’s human structures that have cropped up and collapsed over generations. Some of those structures are surprising too: procedurally generated, certainly, but with a level of polish and design that that randomness work. Mining stations are where mining stations should be. Planetary features blend in to the environment to seem like they’ve always been there. Wildlife behavior is naturalistic and well thought out. It is truly a joy to explore the planets in Starfield.
For the first half hour.
Before I explain, I want to go over some minor backlash Starfield faced just before and right after its release in Early Access: once upon a time, a ton of gamers got really, really mad that Todd Howard, head of Bethesda Game Studio, lied to them (shocker). The lie? That you could walk entirely around the planets in Starfield, unimpeded. But, when the game released, this was revealed to be untrue. Instead, after travelling for tens of minutes, you’d eventually be met with a boundary, preventing you from going further. The planets were tiles — separate from each other and with a hard limit. These tiles were massive, yes, but they were still tiles. Massive, disconnected pieces supposedly representing a whole, but actually just being a chunk (of varied quality).
There’s a metaphor there somewhere. But, you know, I don’t care so much about the disconnected nature of those tiles. They are plenty big, and there is plenty else to do, so I don’t mind that the game is created in tiles, generated when you land on a planet (and no, you cannot fly directly onto the planet from orbit, you just select a landing spot by clicking where you want on a planet). What I do mind, however, is the size. Simply put, Starfield really is too big.
You heard that right. Too big. Thousands of planets, incredibly expansive, but also sparsely populated, with little to do. Bethesda’s strength has always been its worldbuilding — specifically, in how it can use the environment to tell a story. A body in a bathtub, surrounded by rubber ducks. A group of slain hunters in a bear den, a poorly considered plan written down nearby. And Starfield has that, almost certainly more of it than in any of Bethesda’s previous games. Only it’s been spread across an entire galaxy, and no amount of writers, animators, quest designers, level designers, or any other creative professionals could possibly fill that order.
It’s spread across the entire galaxy, and meanwhile, you have no way to quickly traverse the ground — it’s all feet and jetpacks, bucko.
It’s spread across the entire galaxy, and meanwhile, your ship has to go through what feels like a dozen screens before you finally touch down on a new planet.
It’s spread across the entire galaxy, and meanwhile, you have no reason to visit most places, even the handcrafted ones. I don’t have time to go check out yet another “Abandoned Mining Camp,” to scan yet another eight “Hunting Beeblebugs,” or to go see what that newest “Natural” feature 1500 meters away might be. All having to be visited on foot, after minutes and minutes of walking, while dealing with the equivalent of a stamina meter (side note: why?).
I’m sure some of those have absolutely amazing bits of environmental storytelling. I’m sure there would be a story I could tell afterward about just how incredible what I found in some of those places was. That’s the Bethesda way. But, just as likely, I find an empty building, or another set of Spacers guarding lackluster loot, or another thing that hisses, spits, and claws. When you’ve seen one, you certainly haven’t seen them all, but you’ve seen probably 90% of them. And is it worth it taking tens of minutes going out of your way to hope you stumble across that worthwhile 10%? Up to you.
Combat – Experiencing Fallout
Alongside exploration, combat is one of the fundamental parts of the Starfield experience. And, to me, it pretty much just feels like Fallout 4 (in Spaaaaaace). I keep hearing people say how the combat has improved in Starfield, how it’s Bethesda’s best outing yet, how finally it is good… But I put 500 hours into Fallout 4. And that’s what it feels like. There are some slight improvements — fewer weapons means better balance, it’s a bit smoother, and the enemy AI has improved, but it doesn’t feel fundamentally different than what came before. And, listen, I actually really like Fallout 4’s combat. I think it has a nice feel to it, gives you some options. And so, I really like Starfield’s combat. Although… there are some bugbears I have.
Melee sucks. And I mean bad. Fallout 4 could make up for this with its VATS system and its greater weapon variety, but Starfield lacks. Melee feels dull and lifeless, like you’re striking with a pool noodle filled with red ink. What’s worse, getting in melee resigns you to be frozen in place, stunned, for several seconds in any given combat. Moments when you are just left to sit and wait for your character to recover. It’s just… annoying, and uninspired, like the rest of the melee combat system.
Thankfully, the focus of Starfield is absolutely on gunplay, which is much better. So long as you are alright with gunning down bullet-sponge humans with guns, you’ll have a good time. It’s fun to pluck away at health bars, or to try to fish for that sneak attack, or to go in guns blazing, but you’ll almost always be met with the same enemies: lots and lots of humans.
Oh, there is more enemy variety, don’t worry: there are also planet-side beasts. None of which that I fought were especially interesting, and all of which were optional anyway. But, at least, it’s something.
There isn’t much more to say about combat in Starfield, though. It is more of the same for Bethesda. It plays like Fallout 4, with more polish and some rough edges. It’s well balanced, overall fun, but otherwise pretty unremarkable. People hyping this gunplay up with phrases like “Bethesda has finally done it!” don’t really get it. It’s an improvement, sure, but a slight one.
Resources and Loot – Logistical Nightmares
This section will be short, but I only have one thing to say about resources and loot in Starfield: it’s not good. None of it. Let’s just go down the list:
Inventory management sucks. Encumbrance in an annoying, fun-killing mechanic at the best of times, but it is especially awful here. By the time I left the first planet, I’d found myself overencumbered and having to play inventory accountant twice. By the time I left New Atlantis after the first string of quests in the Main Story, it had occurred twice more. As I progressed, I found better ways of dealing with it — tactically considered whether everything I picked up was worthwhile, wasting skill points just to reach a baseline I was okay with, hunting for equipment that would help me reduce load — but it never really alleviated.
Other Bethesda games have suffered this problem before, but never quite like Starfield, wherein I found myself over encumbered all the time and having to take fun away from myself to manage it. And it is a problem; I don’t buy the idea that a game practically built on looting and dungeon-clearing should be so severely limited player inventory. I shouldn’t be finding a piece of legendary gear and thinking “ugh, now I have to squeeze that in.” It’s dreadful, and the game would’ve been better without encumbrance at all. Damn realism, give me fun.
And yet, despite always feeling full-up, I was constantly low on everything until I was very far into the game. Ammo burned into spongey bodies at a rate far faster than I could find or purchase it (at least for the guns I enjoyed using). Med packs were harder to find than something interesting on Starfield’s Earth. Resources like copper and silver came so slowly that I would’ve had a faster time mining them myself.
In short, Starfield has a big resource problem, stemming from a desire to make the game more challenging and make things take longer. But all they accomplished, for me, was making me sigh every time I had to go on another shopping or mining trip to grab up ammo, med packs, or building resources. Sure, I’m sure you could automate all of those and generate a metric trillion of each using the lackluster Outpost system, but I don’t have the time to play hours and hours of Factorio or Satisfactory in my Starfield (and if I did, I’d be playing Factorio or Satisfactory).
Writing – Quality and Quantity
Amidst myriad complex systems and living within Starfield’s truly insane lore is a surprisingly simple story. After being rescued/recruited by while working as a miner, your character ends up working for Constellation, a tight-knit league of adventurers whose primary goals seem to simply be discovery and knowledge. Quaint, simple, and effective.
And what are they looking for? Mysterious alien artifacts, perhaps from a long-gone civilization, which give visions to the first person to touch them. They are collecting them in order to simply see what they do. And this means that they (and, therefore, you) must embark on expeditions to strange and unknown planets in order to uncover their mysteries and find their artifacts.
Without going into spoilers, that’s it. There are a couple twists, some neat revelations, and an overall game-changing ending, but the story never deviates too far from a stock, slightly-pulpy, “hard sci-fi” structure. It’s more than serviceable, but not by much. It’s inoffensive, but engaging. Simply put: the main story in Starfield is good, but isn’t going to be the thing people talk about in the future. The same is true of most of its characters, with a few exceptions (Sam Coe is great).
But, what people might talk about in the future is Starfield’s quest design and dialog writing. Listen, we are one month out from Baldur’s Gate 3 (one of the best written and quest-designed games ever made) when I’m writing this, so I think people aren’t really giving Starfield a far shake, but the quests here, when considered in context of the massive world and scale, are pretty dang good. Sure, a lot of them amount to either “go get this,” “go press this button,” or “go kill this,” in Bethesda fashion, but everything around that makes it, overall, engaging and worthwhile (and, honestly, what else are you going to be doing in this massive universe? Scanning bushes?)
Immediately, one thing must be said: thank goodness Bethesda got tons of high-quality voice actors to record what must be a gargantuan script. Instead of hearing the same few voice actors over and over, good as some of them were, each character feels fresh, unique, and interesting in their own way. Despite the amount of NPCs there are in Starfield, all of them are worthwhile, and the quests they send you on enhance and use their unique personalities, goals, and voice acting just right. Especially when you get the treat of engaging with the dynamic “Persuade” system which, if anything, doesn’t come up often enough.
The dialog isn’t perfect, and neither are the quest narratives, but for the amount of them there are? These are pretty good, and easily help turn Starfield into the genuine time-sink it is. You’ll spend most of your time engaging with quests for NPCs, so it is a damn good thing that Bethesda put the effort in to writing good-quality (and sometimes great-quality) stories and dialog in order to help get you through that. It’s what kept me going, and will keep me playing for a long time, despite my gripes. Good job, Bethesda.
Visuals – I’ve Seen This Before… Just Not This Clearly
Starfield is gorgeous. From a technical standpoint, some of what Bethesda has crafted here is flooring. There is a reason the game’s PC specs are so high, and that is because it needs it in order to lovingly render everything. From cityscape to alien vista to cramped spaceship hallway, Starfield looks amazing. And the art direction — the slightly over the top character-designs, the lovingly rendered “science bits”, the creatures — also look great.
But, it isn’t particularly original, even if it is the prettiest version of things that have been done before. No Man’s Sky, Star Citizen, Mass Effect, Outer Wilds — Starfield borrowed some from a lot of other games, to mention nothing of movies and shows. And, because of that, it is left with some incredible scenes that are more visually stunning than anything from most of those inspirations… but have been run through the copier enough times that something has seeped out.
I wouldn’t call the graphics in Starfield lifeless. Indeed, this is the most life-full product Bethesda has yet created. It’s vibrant and amazing. But it is just a bit… stagnant. A beautiful but barren world is just what No Man’s Sky had, and here we have it again. Twice as beautiful, just as barren. Planets teeming with activity and bustle was a Mass Effect staple, but here has been rendered all a bit still and same-y. I could go on, but suffice to say, the visuals in Starfield took from so much that the game forgot to forge anything itself. I’ve seen everything here before: this is just an HD re-release of every piece of hard sci-fi I’ve seen before. The detail is immaculate, but the whole just isn’t exciting anymore.
Bugs and Glitches – They’re In The Walls!
It’s a Bethesda game.
Mods – Thank God for Mods
It is worth noting that, while I will not be rating Starfield with mods, this is a Bethesda game, meaning the modding community for it will transform it from what it is into something truly amazing (and filled with a lot more naked people, which might mean the same thing to some of you). Already, there are mods that eliminate some of the worst issues I’ve talked about here, mods that add new content that expand upon what is lacking, and mods that make the high points — like the visuals — shine even brighter.
Taken without mods, Starfield is a genuinely impressive piece of popcorn fun that has tons of rough edges and baffling choices. With mods (especially a month or two down the line), Starfield will be a stellar, must-play experience — of that I have little doubt. What makes Bethesda games truly great is that mod support, giving the games lives well beyond that of almost any others. While I will be rating the game for what it is unaltered, do keep in mind that, with mods, this game’s rating almost certainly improves.
There is something to be said about Bethesda’s “Mods will fix it” attitude towards issued in their games, but that is a topic for another time. For now, just know that anything I complain about here can (and probably already had) be at least improved, if not outright fixed, with a good combination of mods and console commands. Whatever happens, Starfield will live on through the modding community.
Accessibility – No Handicap Parking on the Landing Pad
And now we finish with the single worst part of the game, the thing that seeps throughout and taints the whole thing. Something that makes the game unplayable for millions. Something that locks tons of excited fans out of this often-flawed-but-truly-amazing game. The thing that goes from “questionable design decision” straight into “morally objectionable” (while also being a questionable design decision).
I’m talking about accessibility. Or the lack of it.
Behold, Starfield’s accessibility screen: 5 options. Five. That’s it. Not even some of ones that would be considered bog-standard in even indie games at this point, like color blindness options or UI backdrop opacity. Oh, but they made sure to move “Toggle Ironsights” from “Controls” to “Accessibility” to pad the numbers, and they still only ended up with 5 options, which wouldn’t even reach bare-minimum standards for developers a tenth Bethesda’s size.
That is not only disappointing, but it’s also disgusting, if you ask me. And it is such a critical flaw with the game, that it makes everything the game does right turn sour for me, and everything the game does wrong turn repugnant. Let me say this before I get deep into any grand screed: Bethesda chose quick money and laziness over the ability for millions of its fans to play their game. They did a cost benefit analysis (or several) somewhere down the line that said that the cost of including accessibility features would cost more than the sales to disabled played would make up for.
And that is unacceptable, nasty, and frustrating. And not enough people are talking about it. People are too busy complaining about boundaries, funny mouth animations, or barren worlds (hell, so am I), but they aren’t talking about the true biggest issue with Starfield. Maybe that’s because those who it affects just cannot play it. Bethesda has, with this, said that they don’t care enough to make sure people can play their games. Zero effort. Zero care. Zero compassion for people who were thrilled to get to explore their janky piece of the universe, who now can’t because Bethesda couldn’t be bothered to put in some color filters or UI elements, to say nothing of audio narration, simplifying controls, high contrast display, or — stars forbid — actual visual guidance cues.
When games like God of War Ragnarök and Control have accessibility options that stretch on for pages in their menus, the lack of it here is especially frustrating. Games have become, by-and-large, so much more accessible. So many more people get to enjoy games, and that should mean a larger consumer base (not to mention free positive press). The world is made better when it is made accessible. What Bethesda has done, instead, is regress, and present less accessibility options than games from half a decade (or more) ago.
Two of my closest friends, not to mention another half dozen people I know well, are either unable to play Starfield, or will struggle severely to do so, possibly to the point of pain. All of them were excited to play this. All of them were able to, through mods, fall in love with Fallout and/or Elder Scrolls because of what Bethesda is capable of. And now, years later, as they release a new game into the modern world, and have had practically limitless resources to create it, they’ve chosen to leave those with disabilities with the short stick.
Sorry, the sci-fi RPG with mass appeal isn’t for you if you’re disabled. That spaceship just isn’t handicap accessible.
Conclusion – There Are Stars. There Are Fields. I Hope You Can Reach Them.
Realistically, Bethesda’s Starfield should get a 7.5 from me. I liked it, but didn’t love it. For everything it does incredibly, like its quest design, its visuals, its overall feel, there are another set of things it does poorly, like exploration, inventory management, and originality. Not to mention all the things it does “well enough” like combat and story. Starfield is a truly massive game, so to sum up all its disparate parts into a single conclusion, much less a single score, is a bit futile. But, based on how much I enjoyed it, and how I feel about all its successes and missteps, it is a solid 7.5. I might even go as far as to say it’s the only 7.5 that everyone should play. It’s great, even if it is deeply flawed. Mods might even get it up to a 9 or 9.5.
But, I can’t give it a 7.5. I might be able to play it, and therefore enjoy it, but there are too many who can’t. Too many players who want to enjoy Starfield, but who won’t be able to. Enough players that it has to bring the aggregate down. If I think average players would roughly enjoy Starfield, and some of those average players can’t play it? Well, I can hardly say they’d rate it as highly. Taking that into consideration, I have to rank this game based on the experience I think people have while playing it, and for some people, that will only be frustration and disappointment.
And so, I’m judging the game as it is, not the game as it will be once people make mods for it. This game is unplayable for many (perhaps most) with disabilities, unoptimized for many without a NASA computer, and unenjoyable for those who can run it. There are fun moments, and there is some impressive tech, and there are even some innovative systems that, taken alone, are pretty incredible. However, since Bethesda has seen fit to rely on modders to make the game optimized, enjoyable, and playable, I see fit to judge this base product for what it is: a massive, shoddy playbox. And, what’s more, an exclusionary playbox, unusable by some people who would enjoy it most.
If Bethesda ever decides to support people with disabilities, and give them the keys to the starship, then I shall adjust my review. But for now, I have to dock points: an unplayable game (especially from a company with Bethesda’s resources and time) cannot be a good one. Sometimes, we have to make some exceptions — not everything can be made for every disability — but the complete rejection to do anything for so many people? That’s a level of callousness we cannot stand for. For now, Starfield gets a 5/10 from me. If the accessibility changes in the future, that might go up, but I’m not holding my breath.
Accessibility is not an optional feature, it’s a requirement.
Edit: Since this review was published, Starfield has since received an FOV Slider and Brightness controls. It’s a small step toward accessibility, but it is important, and so we have increased our score for Starfield by half a point, to 5.5/10.
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Graves is an avid writer, web designer, and gamer, with more ideas than he could hope to achieve in a lifetime. But, armed with a mug of coffee and an overactive imagination, he’ll try. When he isn’t working on a creative project, he is painting miniatures, reading cheesy sci-fi novels, or making music.