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KitGuru Games: Starfield absolutely lives up to the hype

Starfield is Bethesda Game Studios’ first brand-new IP in over two decades. Microsoft even went as far as to call it one of the ‘most important’ RPGs ever made at its summer showcase this year. Now that the game has finally arrived, it is time to see if it can possibly live up to the hype.

While this article primarily focuses on mechanics, there are some minor spoilers, particularly for the opening of the game. 

Getting started:

In early reviews, we heard that Starfield had a slow start, suggesting that it takes a while for the game to really grab you. This was not my experience. Starfield’s opening mission might not be as exciting as Skyrim’s dragon-attack opening, but it has everything you need to immediately be interested.

The game begins with you waking up on the way to a mining outpost. You quickly meet some of the people in charge of running the operation, before moving through a cave to discover your very first artifact, a mysterious chunk of rock that messes with gravity a little bit. Immediately upon touching it, you see a vision, although this isn’t a Mass Effect-style destruction of humanity vision, it is much more obscure than that, providing little to no information and leaving the mystery ahead wide open. From there, you quickly meet Barret, a member of The Constellation, a group actively seeking these artifacts to figure out what they are. He gives you a ship and you are off on your way to join your new gang of explorers.

Familiar mechanics expanded:

After waking up from touching the artifact, you get to the character creation screen. I was quite impressed with this. There are loads of options to get your character looking the way you want and some of the most dedicated fans have been sharing some very impressive results, including recreations of various celebrities and characters from other media.

Bethesda brings back some of the old-school RPG-feel here with the addition of character backgrounds, giving you a bunch of options to choose from, as well as a selection of character traits that will give you certain bonuses, or add entirely new gameplay moments. For instance, the Wanted trait will mean that you’ll have a squad of bounty hunters after you and they’ll often hunt you down while surveying new planets. I chose this for my playthrough as a way to earn some extra XP and spend a little more time shooting, although you can also bribe your way out of a combat encounter if you’re low on health packs and ammo.

This RPG-feel spreads to most points of the game. Without getting into too many spoilers, I have found that while doing side quests and main missions, there are usually multiple viable ways to approach things. Yes, you will have to shoot some people at times but for the most part, you can talk your way out of a lot of encounters through intimidation, bribery or with a level-headed diplomatic approach. In some cases, you’ll also be able to use sneaking and hacking to your advantage to avoid combat entirely by turning the enemy’s own robots and turrets against them.

How you approach certain scenarios may depend on which companion you have with you. Upon joining the Constellation you swiftly get access to a bunch of characters that you can bring along for missions. You can have multiple companions assigned to your ship, but you can only have one companion leave your ship alongside you. Each character has their own personality, so a decision that Sarah would like may not be the decision that Sam or Barret would approve of. If you are chasing romance subplots or companion loyalty quests, then you may want to tailor certain responses to whoever you’ve brought along with you.

The Starfield universe is absolutely massive, with a bunch of systems and planets to explore. There is plenty of reason to explore these areas too, because you can stumble across many chance encounters, either on new planets or in space. Other ships have the ability to communicate with you, sometimes they’ll need help, and other times they’ll give you information leading to an interesting side quest. If you see another ship landing on the planet near yours, it is also worth heading over to check out what’s going on. If you stumble across a few NPCs having a conversation, you should stick around to listen as oftentimes, this will unlock another quest. There is almost always something interesting to stumble across.

You’ve always had the ability to explore in previous Bethesda games but Starfield makes it more rewarding than any previous Elder Scrolls or Fallout game. On top of that, you don’t lose the best parts of previous Bethesda titles. You still have multiple major factions with massive quest lines. There are a few major cities with their own cultures to learn about and naturally, there is a ton of lore to discover.

The building mechanics from Fallout 4 return in new form, with the ability to set up outposts on planets and assign crew members to manage them, and the ability to completely customise and upgrade your ship. The shipbuilder isn’t something I have explored a ton yet but I have made a number of upgrades to my ship to improve weapon damage, shields and engine speed. While I haven’t built a ship myself, many other players have and they are quickly finding ways to build other classic Sci-Fi ships from franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, Mass Effect, The Expanse and more. Some of the original ship creations are looking amazing too. If nerding out over spaceships is your kind of thing, I highly recommend giving r/Starfieldships a look.

Fallout 4’s shooting was improved over Fallout 3 but it still wasn’t great. In Starfield, Bethesda has upped the ante once again with both physical and energy weapons providing a satisfying experience. Once you unlock your jet pack, combat gets even more fun thanks to the additional manoeuvrability.

In many ways, Starfield feels to me like the best game BGS has ever made. You might prefer the story or setting of a different one, but on a mechanical and technical level, Starfield takes what we loved about their previous single-player RPGs and raises it to new heights. As someone who didn’t care for Fallout 4’s main quest, I’m also happy to report that I have found Starfield’s main story to be highly intriguing, engaging and rewarding. I have already hit multiple key decision moments too, ones that will certainly be forcing me into a New Game+ playthrough to see other outcomes. The game just has so much to offer and like Skyrim, I could see people playing this for years and years.

The PC experience:

All of my time with Starfield has been spent on PC, with the Steam version. I’ve been playing ever since early access opened up last Friday. On a system with a Core i7-8700K, 16GB of DDR4 memory and an RTX 3070 Ti, I’ve managed to maintain 60FPS most of the time with high graphics settings and FSR2 on with resolution scaling at 80%. However, there are pain points – each major city in the game will see the frame rate drop into the 50s and I have been to some areas that have caused drops to the 45FPS range. These usually happen in areas where you are just walking and talking, so it hasn’t really bothered me much. Most of the game’s combat takes place in space, where the game runs absolutely fine, or in closed-off areas like buildings or ships, where the frame rate is often well above 60 and very smooth.

Could the game run better? Absolutely, and I suspect that we will get some performance improvements in future patches, or through mods to clean up some of the pain point areas. However, it is far from an unpleasant or unplayable experience in my mind. Unless you are playing on a HDD, this game is absolutely not designed for hard drives, the SSD recommendation should not be ignored.

I should also note that some users have reported issues with the Game Pass version of the game. The Xbox App on Windows is still far from perfect and these issues do tend to creep up every now and then. There are some workarounds being shared around already for certain crashes so be sure to keep an eye on Reddit and other forums.

A bug-free Bethesda game?

Now onto the subject of bugs. There were some bold claims that Starfield was a bug-free game. That’s not true. It does have the least amount of bugs I’ve seen in a Bethesda game at launch, but there are some lingering issues, some more annoying than others.

I have seen weird physics glitches, random AI errors where companions start running into walls or talking over the top of a quest NPC’s dialogue and in some instances, I’ve seen misplaced world objects on planets, such as trees hovering above the ground, although that is to be a little expected when procedural generation is used. I’ve also had the game crash one time in 30+ hours of game time after alt-tabbing while taking off from a planet. I had saved beforehand though, so no progress was lost.

None of it is game-breaking and more often than not, the bugs are funny rather than infuriating. However, it isn’t zero bugs and there are certainly a few things Bethesda should still fix – particularly the companion AI issues as we shouldn't have conflicting dialogue playing during important story conversations.

I would also appreciate it if Bethesda could add an option to match your walking speed with a quest NPC's. If you hit caps lock to walk in Starfield, you'll fall far behind the quest NPC you are trying to follow and if you go at normal speed, you'll be too fast and quickly overtake them. Other RPGs solved this issue years ago and I do think it is something that should be addressed here too.

Conclusion:

To sum up, I do believe Starfield lives up to the hype. The game doesn’t have No Man’s Sky levels of open-world freedom or Elite Dangerous levels of technical space travel, but it does have great locations, quests, characters, dialogue moments, rewarding exploration and all the Bethesda charm they could possibly muster.

If you were hoping that Starfield was going to be nothing like what Bethesda has produced in the past, then you may be disappointed. It is true that a lot of what we typically see in Bethesda games can also be found here, but I feel like they've done a lot to evolve without losing their signature style – a style that has garnered plenty of popularity over the years.

Visually, I do think Starfield looks great and clearly a lot of work has gone into improving the Creation Engine. Occasionally, you’ll see a bizarre looking NPC, or the lighting conditions will make a character’s face look a little weird but for the most part, I do think it is a great looking game and it is certainly a step above any other game BGS has developed in the past.

Starfield is a game I expect we’ll still be talking about years from now and I fully believe there are more surprises players have yet to discover. The modding scene is firing up too, with loads of submissions quickly hitting sites like Nexusmods, a good sign for the longevity of the game.

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KitGuru Says: Have you played much Starfield over the past week? What has your experience been like with the game so far?

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