Starfield is a highly anticipated game by Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of the über-popular games Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In fact, Starfield’s director went so far as to describe this new title as “Skyrim in space.”
That assessment is debatable, but this is unquestionably an immense, action-adventure examination of humanity’s potential future. It features a sprawling digital universe filled with detailed lore.
Gamers start their journey by creating a male, female or nonbinary character (complete with corresponding pronouns) that comes with a background story and a small set of skills and traits. Those initial choices matter because your capabilities going forward rely on exploiting small advantages your character can develop. You can guide your character through some 80 potential skill upgrades in Physical, Science, Social, Combat and Tech categories. Of course, you can’t do them all, but the choices you make will impact your gameplay in dramatic ways.
From there you start your tale in a space mining camp. You lay hands on an exotic alien artifact which sends your mind spiraling through a 2001: A Space Odyssey-like vision and which sets you up as a “Chosen One” who must seek out more of these scattered artifacts. Soon after, you get the keys to your first spaceship and membership to a club of explorers called the Constellation.
Then it’s off for an adventure filled with ship-to-ship battles as well as extensive planet exploration that feels like a blending of games such as Outer Wilds and The Outer Worlds. On those planets you have interactions (and potential romance) with companion characters; gun-blazing fights with deadly creatures and space pirates; scores and scores of linked-mission side quests; battles with an advanced (alien?) group; and a whole raft of crafting and resource management responsibilities.
This is a vast game that encourages replaying it. And it can last for hundreds of hours through all the quests. Gamers also have the option of switching between first-person and third person play, further diversifying the potential experience here.
The character writing and story interactions in Starfield are both immersive and entertaining. And the surrounding world and its characters are appealing to the eye. You can obtain or build a wide variety of spaceships as well.
The skill system shapes the gameplay quite a bit, which gives more depth to your choices and enhances future play. So, for example, deciding things such as whether to upgrade your sneaking skills or increasing your persuasion abilities (and other such upgrades) will compel you to take completely different story tacks.
The central storyline is fairly linear, but players do have the option to help others and give of themselves in humanitarian ways. The game, in turn, rewards players for doing so …
… on the other hand, players do have the option of playing things deceptively and hurting others for their own gain. You can, for instance, disable another ship, kill its crew and steal the ship and/or its contents. You can also choose to be out-and-out evil. For instance, players will at one point come upon a ship full of colonists; and at the behest of a greedy corporate third party, your character can choose to destroy their ship rather than help them find a new home.
Whatever your choices, however, the violence-focused side of gameplay is inescapable. A large part of the game’s reward system centers around obtaining new futuristic weapons—lasers, pistols, shotguns, axes, explosives, missile launchers, etc.—and upgrading your destructive capabilities.
Combat with creatures and people is often frenetic and explosive. The resulting bloodiness ranges from scenery spattering to gory pools. Explosions rip up the environment and characters cry out in pain. (And one central character whom you may have developed a close relationship with will die in one such bloody scene.)
Relationships with companion characters (other members of Constellation) can become romantic and eventually lead to marriage. We don’t see any physical interaction, but the (same-sex or opposite-sex) characters do sleep with each other, while clothed. And when arising, the companion will make joking and borderline crude comments about the sexual interactions that weren’t on display. You can also strip your character to his or her underwear as well. And one main character tells us that he was once married to another man.
Language can be messy from time to time, too. It’s not frequent, but there are exclamations of the s-word, “bulls–t,” “d–mit,” “h—” and “a–hole” in the mix. I also heard one f-word and several blendings of God’s name with “d–n.”
Religion plays a part in this sprawling interstellar world, with three main religious factions in play. One of those factions is a cult that worships a snake god. There’s also an illegal drug in the Starfield world called Aurora. And players can obtain, sell and use the narcotic. Using the drug results in a blurred screen and limited perception. Other medical drugs can also be ingested. Some alter your perception and physical reaction time. And some of those drugs can be addictive.
It should also be noted that the game has a very slow start, and the beginning hours can make you feel like your character is markedly underpowered in an overpowered world. And since much of the action is aimed at gathering resources and weapons, the fairly clunky resource management system can frustrate players.
After a decade-long wait, Bethesda’s next big game delivers much of what its developers have been promising. Gameplay can, and often does, however, wander down some darker space-going paths. Suffice it to say, Starfield’s M-rating doesn’t stand for Milky Way.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.