I want to preface this Starfield Xbox Series X review by saying that I am both an Xbox and Bethesda girl, through and through. I bleed green. That Bethesda jank is somehow comforting to me. The Elder Scrolls Online, Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout, hell, even Redfall, those games are my bread and butter. With that being said, whether or not you like Starfield is completely dependent on how you choose to play it, and I can see that, even as a huge fan.
Chances are, if you game, you know about Starfield. This game was nearly ten years in the making, and it has some serious gamers waiting with bated breath to take on the 1000+ planets Bethesda has promised. In just under two weeks where I’ve had to eat, sleep, and breathe Starfield, I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I would be shocked to find any reviews out there that claim they got the full experience.
Starfield is bigger than we could have imagined. This is a spoiler-free review because there are some things players will just have to experience for themselves. I am here to explain my personal experience with Starfield and how I think players can get the best experience they can out of their playthroughs because there are some options that I just wasn’t prepared for,
Take It Slow, Seriously.
Every player will have a completely different experience with Starfield, and this is especially true depending on the style of player you are. I started trying to power through the main storyline since it was predicted to be about 40 hours of gameplay, and I found myself getting destroyed in my ship.
Something Bethesda isn’t doing this time around is hand-holding. There is a lot to understand and truly so much that you can miss. I wish the tutorials were a little clearer on leveling and how the skill trees drastically affect what you can do. Between myself and a few other reviewers, we thought Bethesda forgot about space in Starfield until we realized that some skills are nearly unusable until you start feeding points into them. Your points are limited for a good portion of the game.
Starfield wants you to go off the beaten path. It wants you to explore, join factions, and build relationships. If you don’t, you’ll never earn enough XP to level, and the game will sometimes feel almost unplayable. In other Bethesda titles, like Skyrim, I found that skill points would enhance what you already have, but in Starfield, it feels more like they are required to begin moving down each path.
But, like I said, points are limited. They take time to earn. Do you want to master ship combat, research/surveying, sneaking, or gun combat? It’ll cost you, and there is no way you’ll master it all quickly. Plain and simple. Starfield will be your new “hundreds-of-hours” game; if you aren’t willing to make that commitment, it might not be the game for you.
I feel like saying that sounds like I am gatekeeping Starfield, but from my perspective, trying to see as much as I could in what would normally be a very generous review period just wasn’t enough time. I was often frustrated because I was trying to push through to get the most content for review. When really Starfield is just meant to be explored bit by bit, and that is where I found my own peace.
Instructions Not Included
If you’ve ever tried to jump into an MMO 10 expansions in, that is precisely how you will feel when jumping into Starfield. The menu systems are confusing because you’re just thrown in the deep end, left to sink or swim. This won’t be your standard RPG. This will be the kind that people play for years to come, much like Skyrim has been, but with even more content to immerse yourself in.
Thankfully, Bethesda included a helpful menu, and I highly recommend you give it a look when you start playing. Had I seen it right away, I would have saved myself some grief. Not everything is in there, however, and I’m sure we will be finding out new things about Starfield regularly now that the game is about to be released.
The map in Starfield is for space travel only and is three layers deep. You don’t fly from planet to planet directly. Instead, you can Grav jump to a new system and then essentially fast-travel to each planet or moon. You really only fly when you jump to a planet and fight other ships or land on the planet.
With the map system being space only, you won’t find directions around planets, cities, or any buildings or bunkers you find yourself in. That means it is all leg work, and you will get lost…a lot. Luckily, your scanner also lays a path on the ground to push you in the right direction. So many times, I ran in circles trying to find my way deeper into a base and ended up back at square one. Use this helpful feature. It will save you a lot of precious time!
Part of the Ship, Part of the Crew
There are factions like the Crimson Fleet, Ryujin Industries, Vanguard, and more. I went to look up the spelling of names and found several I haven’t even come across in my 40-plus hours of playing. Some are good guys, some definitely aren’t, and whoever you choose to join will affect your relationships. Like any good RPG, you make friends, enemies, and life partners.
Your experience can vary greatly depending on your choices, with myself and another reviewer having completely different outcomes for the main questline. Obviously, I already have my favorite crewmates, Heller and Adoring Fan, but I can bet there are plenty more to be found.
Each follower has a certain set of skills. Some may be better with weapons, and some might have skills that suit outposts. Who you take with you and where you place them will impact how helpful they are. I keep a few favorites on my ship, but I also have some, like Linn, on outposts.
You can use resources to build outposts, which, in turn, will gain you more resources. These are highly customizable and can be a lot of fun to build. However, this isn’t a part of the game that I dove too far into. I felt the same in Fallout 4; I don’t love building in my RPGs. But what’s great about Starfield is that there is so much to do that if there are parts you don’t love, you don’t have to take part. It hasn’t hindered my playthroughs at all, and I hope to gain more footing here in the future, maybe once I can throw some more skill points in.
Part of what I enjoyed about companions is just how many there are. Everywhere I turned, I could invite someone to join me, and if I didn’t find someone with a story, it was someone for hire. I’m eager to see how many more I can find as I continue my journey.
Like I said, for a minute there, I thought Starfield forgot about space. Thankfully, I started speccing into my ship, and combat and maneuvering got much easier. It’s still not easy, but easier. Part of what goes into that is designing your ship. At Spaceports, you can swap out parts of your ship and change what types of weapons you have, along with several other components. I feel that people who love to tinker will live here.
Additionally, you can hijack other people’s ships and take them as your own, register them, tinker with a whole new beast, and purchase other ships. Again, strangely enough, space was the part I cared about the least in Starfield, and this is something I can see myself doing more of further down the line, especially since I need more cargo storage—I can’t stop hoarding resources.
The combat in your ship improves as you put more points into that tree. Unlocking the target lock was a life changer. When you can focus fire to take out engines or shields, combat is a lot smoother, and there is nothing better than watching enemy ships turn to space trash in slow motion. Plus, then you get to loot!
A Completionist’s Dream, or Nightmare
If you’re a completionist and you heard about just how many planets there are in this game, you were either hyped or horrified. The completionist in me personally is very excited about the insane amount of exploration involved. I love the idea of going planet to planet, solar system to solar system, scanning resources, flora, and fauna. I can hop into the game and spend hours making zero quest progress, but still feel like I accomplished so much.
The difference between planets and even the main cities is amazing. Some are dull and dark, filled with snow. Others are bright, lush, and colorful. One main city, New Atlantis, feels futuristic and clean, whereas Neon City looks like something out of Cyberpunk 2077. Everywhere you go is a new experience, with many side quests, factions, and areas to explore.
It very much reminds me of my experiences with Skyrim and Fallout 4, where I’d barely touch the main quest because I got so lost exploring and side-questing. Without spoilers, however, I recommend you continue the main Constellation quest until a certain point—you’ll know when!
It’s Got Bethesda All Over It
There will be plenty of nods to past games for players of other popular Bethesda titles. They have already announced the Adoring Fan from Oblivion, a perk you can choose. I found Sweet Rolls in a locker and heard of other small callbacks, including voice actors and locations. As a fan, I love to see these small tidbits that consider the company’s history. For people who have not played a Bethesda game, you won’t be affected, which is the perfect Easter egg.
And with that Bethesda nod, you also get the Bethesda jank. I cannot explain what makes the bugs and glitches in Starfield so uniquely Bethesda, but they have their own special look. You can spot them a mile away. For me, it is often characters not turning around when I speak to them or getting oddly close or contorting.
You’ll find characters twitching in place or standing inside each other. You’ll have a conversation, and an NPC will continuously walk in front of the person you are speaking to. I occasionally would have to reload due to quest markers not loading correctly. But for me, not of the issues were ever game-breaking. Is it okay to forgive a game of this magnitude for having the same issues Oblivion had in 2006? Probably not. But will people, and will I? Absolutely. I should note there is a day-one patch that should also address some issues.
But in the end…
The ambition behind Starfield seemed unattainable when the game was being announced. Here we are, years later, and they have truly reached that magnitude. Once you get past the learning curves—which could be hours and hours into your game—you’re left with something spectacular that has incredible replay value and so much content to explore. The main story may not be entirely original, but Starfield fleshes out characters so that you care about their stories, you have favorites, and you want to continue on those journies with them.
It is those stories paired with the incredibly vast universe, diverse NPCs, and an enormous amount of content that will make Starfield a game players continue playing for years to come. I can see ports to every Xbox platform that releases in the future, much like Stardew Valley or Skyrim.
We can’t talk about a lot until players get their hands on the game. Starfield features a New Game + that I can’t speak on the details of, but there is gameplay after the main quest. I started Starfield a little salty, but as I write this, I am away on business and desperately want to get home to dive back in. Only time will tell how players react to Starfield, but I will be sinking plenty of hours into it for the foreseeable future.