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Starfield officially releases later this week, but many players have already taken to the skies and experienced Bethesda’s latest adventure thanks to early access.
Expectations have been high for Starfield. Not only is it Bethesda’s first single-player RPG since Fallout 4, but it’s also the studio’s first original IP in 25 years. As of writing, the game has a Metacritic score of 87 out of 54 reviews. There is still a wave of reviews to come, as several press outlets — including our sister site Eurogamer, The Guardian, Edge, Metro, and more — were not sent review codes.
While most critics were impressed with Starfield’s scope and Bethesda’s detailed approach to the wonders of space exploration, many were left wanting more.
In his 7/10 review for Gamespot, Michael Higham advised players to set aside their fascination with space in Starfield, as the game “follows a very familiar formula without meaningfully engaging with its setting or the gameplay systems therein.”
Higham doesn’t doubt the impressive scale of Starfield, noting the game’s seemingly infinite cosmos and the freedom that players have within it. “But once you start to see how all these big ideas are interconnected from a narrative perspective and technical standpoint, the illusion of a grand cosmic voyage shatters, and the veneer starts to wear thin,” he said. “I [soon] dropped the notion of finding that wondrous space adventure and accepted Starfield for what it is: a shooter-focused RPG in the traditional Bethesda framework that has its wild and fun moments but one that’s ultimately a mile wide and an inch deep.”
Polygon‘s Nicole Carpenter had similar sentiments, highlighting in her unrated review how “in these crucial early hours of the game, where it’s essential to hook a player, Starfield opts for the standard gameplay loop I can find in so many other places: Kill everything on sight, then collect whatever you can.”
“Starfield is Bethesda’s best attempt to marry satisfying action game mechanics to an open-ended adventure”Gene Park
But, as Gene Park noted in his four out of four stars review for The Washington Post, Bethesda games are notoriously hard to review because they “are barely games — [they are] closer to experiences.” To Park, Starfield is “a marvel of planning and engineering” that improved upon Fallout 4, where “conversations felt linear, the range of outcomes narrow,” he wrote. “Instead, it is the studio’s best attempt to marry satisfying action game mechanics to an open-ended adventure.”
Gaming Bible‘s Kate Harrold agreed, giving the game 10/10 stars and a Perfect score. She highlighted how “Bethesda crafted a captivating interstellar playground” with a “level of interactivity and choice [that] is unbounded, leading to an experience that is revolutionary.”
At its core, most critics agreed that Starfield is a game less about space and more about personal stories. But Carpenter noted that it felt as though Bethesda got so lost in creating a generation-defining experience that they overlooked what they’re best at: “telling deep, intricate tales grounded in humanity.”
“This is a game that started well before I finished the main story,” she explained, “in a fleeting interaction with a coffee-craving stranger; or during a heist on a space cruiser; or on an accidental foray into the lonely hallways of a ship whose generations of passengers thought that all was lost, only to find that humanity had survived.
“But Starfield buries these adventures so deep beneath layers of artificiality and behind stalled momentum that they’ve become lost in all of this ‘ultimate game.'”
Much of this criticism centers around a main story that “falls flat despite its lofty intentions,” as Higham put it.
“The wild goose chase that is the main quest lacks strong motivations from a narrative perspective, and the emission structure mostly relies on a predictable formula — whether that be shooting enemies or looting for fetch quests.
“There are occasional breaks in this process that lead to notable moments,” he countered, highlighting exploration of particular cities like the cyberpunk-infused Neon. “These kinds of moments highlight the illusion of choice, where supposed moral quandaries boil down to vague differences in philosophy,” Higham explained.
In contrast, Harrold framed Starfield’s main narrative as a “slow-burner,” but in a good way. “The story is paced in a way that you have to earn the significant developments,” she wrote. “It’s a tall order to craft a satisfying narrative that pays justice to a playable galaxy this large, but that’s exactly what Bethesda has done.”
Harrold said focusing on the main quest provides a “thought-provoking” experience that broaches “questions surrounding existence, belief, divine power, and what it is to be human.” But that’s not to say players should skip the side content, which is “just as enrapturing with many functioning as their own fully-fledged storylines,” she explained.
The consensus is that the side quests are Starfield’s most redeeming quality, as is “tradition with Bethesda games,” as Higham noted. These missions come in “varying degrees of quality” but are “the kinds of rabbit holes you want to fall down; they are what make Starfield worth unraveling, even if the process often feels like a checklist of objectives to blaze through.”
“Side missions are what make Starfield worth unraveling, even if the process feels like a checklist of objectives”Michael Higham
A common criticism of Starfield centered around one of its most important aspects — space travel. Reviewers found traversal to be tiresome and often bogged down by loading screens. “Presumably, for convenience’s sake, trekking across the galaxy is regulated to strings of fast travel points,” Higham noted. “There’s a lack of seamlessness since each step in the process is broken into multiple steps where you’re mostly pulling up menus, watching short scene transitions, and sitting through loading screens.
“All this creates the feeling that Starfield’s universe is rather small and, very quickly, I’d treat planets as a collection of fast travel points, disjointed stand-ins for individual towns and cities.”
Park had a similar experience, noting how having only one option to fast travel often broke their immersion. “It is jarring to find an ancient alien artifact deep within the core of a planet at the very edge of the galaxy, pull up a menu, click through to the main population hub of New Atlantis, and seconds later find myself in my character’s living room,” he said.
Polygon’s Carpenter felt the same. “It’s a real slog to jump from planet to planet via [the] menus, halted by jump limits, fuel levels, and all sorts of other numbers just trying to find a barren rock floating in space before doing it all over again,” she noted. “Space travel in Starfield is ultimately a series of loading screens.”
Despite Starfield’s shortcomings in space travel, most critics concurred that the game runs with a relatively small amount of bugs. Harrold and Park were impressed at how well the game ran on Xbox Series S “given so many developers have confessed to finding it a limited console,” Harrold wrote.
Park countered that “it’s also a game so big, it can account for only so much. It’s all a convincing illusion, yet it remains fascinating when that illusion breaks. It’s the tried-and-true dichotomy of living in a Bethesda game world.”
Higham noted that despite Bethesda’s RPGs having “a reputation for being buggy,” Starfield plays smoothly. “There are a ton of interconnected systems that make up Starfield’s overall gameplay experience, so in a way, it’s surprising to see how it comes together with relative polish,” he said.
“In trying to do everything, Starfield obfuscates its most compelling mysteries”Nicole Carpenter
Lack of bugs aside, most reviewers argued that despite its impressive scope, something about Starfield’s overall focus misses the mark. As Carpenter concluded, “Bethesda embraced the idea of more, and in turn, watered down parts of space exploration and discovery that are most compelling: how humans relate to it.”
She added: “With Starfield, Bethesda has put all of its efforts into exploring the dark, vast corners of outer space. In the process, it has drained a lot of the humanity I was hoping to find in its wake. In trying to do everything, Starfield obfuscates its most compelling mysteries.”
For Gamespot’s Higham, “Starfield is a game more concerned with quantity over quality and leaves the experience at the surface level.
“Accounting for all its ups and downs, the main thing I wrestle with is that Starfield is missing an overall sense of purpose… I can’t help but feel Starfield banked on the intrigue of space exploration and the vastness of the cosmos and forgot to create an identity beyond that.
“When you strip Starfield down to its essentials, it relies on a tried-and-true but well-tread formula while missing some of the depth of the games that came before it.”
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