After a 15-hour intro and dozens upon dozens of hours exploring a vast open-world galaxy, Starfield is likely one of the most uninspired games I have played in a while. I spent the majority of my time watching black screens as I loaded from objective to objective, sorting through my inventory and lockpicking objects using an excruciatingly painful mechanic.
But Starfield doesn’t only suffer from some of the worst pacing issues I have seen in games, it is also just a dull and tedious experience. While Bethesda’s other games relied on this immense sense of exploration, Starfield has the entire universe in its pocket and even with that, it fails to deliver any sort of excitement that had me longing to boot up the game on a daily basis.
One of Starfield’s biggest issues is its failure to modernize its gameplay for, you know, 2023. Much of the game still plays like a sci-fi Skyrim and feels incredibly dated. Combat is still the same old shooting pew-pew as Fallout and you can go the melee route which then lets you cut and bash enemies around. But where Skyrim had vast cave systems to explore and gorgeous lands to trek through, Starfield’s worlds are dull and uninspired.
So much so that I never wanted to explore space less in my life than after playing Starfield. If those are the planets we’re in for one day when we get to leave this horrible rock behind, I think I’ll skip that trip.
Bethesda has tried to explore the lore behind space and everything going on in the universe. Side quests just popped up in my inventory as I ran past someone talking about some random event. Did I want this quest? Definitely not but they added it to my list anyway.
If you do end up doing everything, Starfield does explore a lot of history on the colonized space as humanity left Earth and set up shop across the universe. There’s a lot of backstory to the three factions in the game and the wars that took place before the events of the game. Does this matter and will you care? Probably not. That’s because Starfield doesn’t care either.
There are heaps and heaps of information to sort through but none of it feels detrimental to the overarching story. Nor does this make any sort of impact on the gameplay progression and how you decide to play the game in the first place. It is all so disjointed.
The main story, on the other hand, takes an interesting approach. While the cast members are painfully stiff and the voice acting is bland and emotionless, the treasure hunt approach forced me to get excited about space. The story isn’t wildly imaginative but it kept me interested a lot more than anything else Starfield had to offer.
Like other Bethesda games, some dialogue options let me persuade a character to do something in order to save me time. I could also choose to shoot up people to get my way. It is as cookie-cutter as ever and again, feels like a dated take on RPG mechanics.
For every “selling feature” we had in Fallout and Skyrim, there is an alternative one in Starfield. I picked up contraband and had to trek all the way across the galaxy to sell it. I could sneak around and steal items which also had to be sold elsewhere. Not to mention flirting with people, upsetting them by choosing a negative voice dialogue option and other mechanics are all there. There’s a definite checklist of stuff on offer here but again, the game didn’t push this enough to make me care.
I didn’t want to go all the way to The Den to sell my contraband so I just dropped it on the floor. I didn’t care who I romanced because the entire cast lacked personality and annoyed me.
The same goes for exploration. Starfield relies on fast travelling. You can spend your life running to your ship and taking off each time. You can also fly from one planet to the other if you have a few hours to waste. But for the most part, travelling is just faster. While it saves time, it also adds to this constant disconnection I had in the game. There was never one of those “Oh look at that over there” moments because the planets are all horribly shallow and featureless.
In Fallout and Skyrim, walking about almost always resulted in a side-tracked journey to some cool-looking building. A few days later you would remember what you were doing in the first place and hopefully, pick up where you left off. Starfield doesn’t do this ever. Sure, some cities have received more love than others and include layers and layers of areas to explore but being a lively city, it doesn’t encourage going off the beaten path. You won’t find anything exciting.
The whole system ruins the little good the story has going for it in Starfield. Don’t get me wrong, planets are there and most can be explored but apart from some flower-looking spiders, an output copied and pasted a few times across other planets and a cave or two, there isn’t anything worth landing there for.
To make matters worse, Starfield has no maps. So the planet you land on is usually a square area with different locations scattered across the surface. However, the map just shows a blue blur with icons I discovered. Even in cities, this same empty map with icons ‘helped’ me get around. When I say “helped” I mean just annoyed me as it showed nothing at all.
I also feel like the lack of a map contributed to my lack of interest in exploring. There’s no fog wall to unlock, no strange marking to investigate… Just nothing. So what’s the point?
To make everything worse, the general gameplay in Starfield doesn’t go anywhere either. Sure, there are different weapon types to invest skills into and loads of perks to unlock. However, the game doesn’t just let you go into a specific tree unless you work for it. I had to run around with maxed-out inventory and run out of oxygen 25 times to only be able to unlock an extra carry limit increase.
It would have been more compelling to have these skills available so we could maybe just enjoy the game without being forced to complete useless challenges before levelling up.
Of course, inventory management is its own pain in the terrormorph backside too. I spent hours transferring items to and from my companions to hold as I picked up more gear and junk. But being at max weight isn’t the main issue, it is sorting through the nonsense that makes the whole experience a chore. Mainly because you can’t see both item tabs at once so I was just chucking in random stuff until it was full.
Instead of having a better, seamless inventory system, Bethesda wanted you to look at a tiny tab on the left and a 3D model of the object on the right. Because you know, they “obsess over the little things”. It was nice to have this at first but hours into the game I couldn’t care less what the gun looked like, I just wanted to sort out my inventory.
Starfield is a shooter and as such, you’ll shoot a lot. That doesn’t mean it is a good shooter. Gunplay feels solid but there’s isn’t enough in the game to make it compelling. Sure, boosting with my jetpack into an enemy and tapping them with a shotgun was fun for the 100th time but it all gets very old very quickly. A theme throughout Starfield.
Enemies do get tough and pack a punch but they are the same thing over and over again. There is very little variety here that forced me to take a separate approach for a separate enemy.
Weapons and gear try to mix things up with modifiers that add different damage types and even some that cause enemies to burst into flames. Will I spend an hour hunting down a gun as I did a magic staff in Skyrim? That would be a no.
There are also space battles where I could have dogfights in space against other ships. These play out as you would expect. Later ship weapons let me use different types of damage and I was forced to rebuild by ship to survive the onslaught of space pirates. Again nothing “wow” about flying around and putting a reticle in a circle while pressing a button.
I wouldn’t say Starfield is a bad game but it definitely isn’t a fun game either. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed my time with it as much as other Bethesda games. It feels overly ambitious for its own good and the result is a mix of familiar features that all struggle to feel compelling.
This Starfield review is based on a PC code sent to us by Bethesda. The game is available now on PC and Xbox. If you want to purchase it, you can grab it for R1,399.
Starfield claims to be the biggest Bethesda game made but it feels a lot smaller and uninspired. From its dated combat to its dull and tedious exploration, there’s little fun to be had in space which is something I never thought I would ever write.