Starfield is a game that definitely had a lot of hype behind it; both as Bethesda's first new IP in 25 years, as well as a game Todd Howard has purportedly wanted to make for most of his life, inspired by early groundbreaking space-oriented games like Sundog: Frozen Legacy and Elite. Starfield definitely shows off its influences too, letting the player take on various randomized missions that have them delivering cargo (including contraband that can get them arrested), battling space pirates and purchasing and upgrading new ships. Gameplay still retains a heavy on-foot exploration element, having the player raid various outposts overtaken by pirates and hostile aliens in search of useful loot and equipment upgrades. Of course there is a main storyline too, having the player uncover the mystery of strange artifacts scattered throughout the galaxy. Somehow though, it just never quite grabbed me; standards for the role playing game genre have hit an all time high in 2023, but Bethesda's still seem to be where they were a decade ago, with a focus on sheer content volume over making any of it unique, deep or memorable. Starfield very much feels like a retread of Fallout 4's school of design, blending elements together from a half-dozen other popular games to try and cash in - a little Elite here, a little No Man's Sky there, a handful of Starflight, a touch of Fallout 4's gun customization and base raiding, a sprinkling of spaceship customization like... er, Kingdom Hearts? ...and Bethesda's usual dry characters, lore and plotting as the glue holding it all together, without giving any element of it a unique spin or adding any serious depth for fear of driving off that very lucrative casual audience. They also manage to suck all the joy and sense of wonder out of seeing new sights, which is a pretty grievous flaw in any game about exploring the final frontier. You're required to do story missions and read various books and logs to activate fast-travel waypoints if you ever want to see much of anything beyond empty hills and valleys, and there aren't even any land vehicles to make on-foot wandering faster; yeah, they still can't seem to make that oft-requested feature a reality, despite the existence of fan mods that add them in games like Fallout 4 (but then again, why put in the work yourself when fans will do it for free, right?). Heck, you can't even low-fly over the surface in your ship as you could in even the earliest release of No Man's Sky, so the whole game just boils down to activating a waypoint, going there, raiding generic bases, fighting a spaceship or two once in a while, rinse and repeat until you win or get bored, whichever comes first. I suppose if you want something to get lost in and shoot stuff and collect loot for a bit it reaches the plateau of being passable, but for those who enjoy character-based, story driven, mechanically innovative RPGs or more nuanced takes on space combat/exploration, Starfield has very little that several older games haven't already done better. Not to mention the experience only feels all the more blasé considering it came out in late 2023, a year that already brought us incredible titles like Sea of Stars, Baldur's Gate III and Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom; hell, even Sun Haven pulls off some of Bethesda's old progression-rewarding and world building tricks better than Starfield does! I did have some hope that Starfield would prove to be the start of a renaissance for spacefaring RPGs and allow Bethesda to finally break free of the same tired design tropes they've been retreading over and over again for decades, but alas, it's just another content dump that modders and casual gamers will have a good time with, but those in search of an enduring emotional journey will forget about pretty quickly...
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC, XBox Series