After realizing the Starfield Premium Edition was not only 5 days early access, but includes the future Shattered Space DLC, I pulled the trigger. The fact early release date was right before the long, holiday weekend sweetened the deal. After logging a healthy 21hrs in game, it’s clear it’s my Game of the Year and might end up my favorite of all time. It’s not without faults, but this game is special in spite of them.
Into the Starfield … Drama
As Starfield approached release, the drama surrounding it intensified. Leakers crying about facial animations that are dated, invisible barriers after running for 10 mins straight (lol who does that?), loading screens and more. Actual reviewers found those issues, but most agree it’s overblown, or overshadowed by the game’s great moments.
There were also a bunch of weirdos obsessed that the game dares let you choose your pronouns. How dare they be woke!? I can almost hear those same people mouthing “the election was stolen!”. I almost feel sorry for those sad people, almost.
The console warriors fought over the Metacritic review score dropping below the coveted 90s “Must Play” badge. Scores range from 7 out of 10 to 10 out of 10. I can say that the first few hours and various parts of the game can near those 7 scores. Once, you find the mechanics and missions that interest you though, it’s nearing 10s.
Pulling the Trigger on Starfield Early Access
When the FOMO pushed me to finally buy early access, I had to decide between Steam or Game Pass. Hoping they can optimize Starfield enough to play on the Steam Deck, I opted for the Steam Premium Edition ($100 instead of the $35 Game Pass upgrade price).
For sure the game is not ready for the Steam Deck. It runs and is decent in closed buildings. In wide open spaces, though, the FPS dips to teens with the resolution looking blurry or smeared. I still find it useful for ship building, inventory management and conversations though. Nice to pick up to manage the smaller things I didn’t want to do while I was playing on my Gaming PC OLED monitor.
Once the Early Access period unlocked, I had to exit and restart Steam to play (if you wait for it to refresh itself for launch times, you are gonna have a bad time). When I saw that menu screen after all this time waiting, I knew something special was in front of me.
That said, the intro hours are possibly the games weakest. It worried me that the 7 scores started to make sense. Starting off as a miner, I dealt with a slow walk to the artifact that starts off the main story. Playing on PC, it was odd having to tap the W key intermittently to keep pace with the NPCs. I don’t know if I missed a pop up telling me that Caps Lock was walk, but it was a bit annoying to start.
By now, everyone knows the whole main story revolves around touching an artifact and receiving a vision. That moment was actually a decent transition over to waking up in a Med bay, where another miner handed my character a chart to start the character creator.
The Starfield Character Creator is Great
The character creator is pretty detailed. I play in first person view, so I cruised through setting up my character, but there were so many options to entice OCD players. What I did mull over quite a bit was the Background options and Traits. Those all provide various benefits and unique text options later on.
For Traits, I thought about Diplomat, Professor or Xenobiologist. I finally settled on Cyberneticist, because I wanted to manipulate robots. My Background unlocked Medicine, Lasers and Security skills. The others are obvious, but Security unlocks digital lock picking which is a fun minigame. Come to think of it, I love all the skills my Background provides.
Moving onto Traits, I was less sure about what I wanted. Did I want to grow up as following a certain religion? or grow up in one of the cities? What I ended up with was Neon Street Rat where Neon is the “Cyberpunk” city in the game. I also chose Introvert for bonuses when going it alone and Terra Firma for bonuses while planet side.
Stepping Out into the Starfield
With my character created and named Gabriel (I know, shocker), it was onto another Bethesda step out moment. It’s weird because people refer to this part of the game as slow, but in ways it’s a bit fast. Within less than an hour, I met Barrett and his robot Vasco, fight pirates, borrow Barrett’s ship, fight pirates in space, land near a pirate outpost, clear the outpost, land near New Atlantis then join Constellation. I think slow is not the right word, but it was a bit weaker compared to the hours that followed.
The initial ground fight was quick to the point where I think I missed instructions on various key binds. Looked up the menu and found what I needed. V is melee and setting up weapon favorites is done via each weapon in inventory (B button will let you choose which key shortcut to use for the weapon). Beyond those minor annoyances, combat is just as great as they showed of in the Starfield Direct deep dive.
Off to Space
Once it was time for me to get onto the Barrett’s ship, it was a bit jarring to see a loading screen to go up the ladder. I could walk around inside the ship without any other load screens, but taking off into orbit triggered a cut scene. Traveling to another planet in the system triggers a cut screen too. Same with Grav jumping to another system.
So yes, the criticism about plenty of load screens is valid. You will see a load screen or cutscene when: getting onto the ship, taking off, traveling to another location, landing, getting off the ship and getting into some larger buildings. Granted it’s only a few seconds with my NVME SSD, but that is a lot.
After the initial hours, I don’t even care about them anymore. In a weird way, I almost look forward to them now because it’s loading the next part of my adventure. Something about a tiny bit of anticipation. Besides they are only there so people can load up their cockpits with 20,000 potatoes. No really, someone did that.
Space Combat is Fun if you Want it to Be
Space combat was also a part of that early tutorial mission, but was a bit meh. Movement was just forward/backward, then point with the mouse the direction to go and Shift key to boost. Standard arcade stuff. A bit too simple for my liking, so I was happy that spending a point on the Piloting skill really matters.
That skill unlocked the ability to use thrusters for true 6 degrees of freedom. Now I can roll, go left/right, pitch up/down, side to side and straight up or down. Later upgrades to that skill increases maneuverability and unlocks the ability to pilot higher tier ships. If someone wants to focus on being the best pilot, those skill upgrades will help.
To start out for weapons, there’s Lasers to wear down shields, Ballistics to then damage the exposed hull and Missiles to finish things off. They were simple to use in that order to take down early ships. There’s also other weapons to add later like Particle Beams for a balanced approach or EMP weapons to disable ships. Each weapon type has their own skills to upgrade.
Disabling Engines and Boarding Enemy Vessels
Later on though, I unlocked the Targeting Control Systems skill to add more complexity to weapons. I could lock onto a ship, then choose which of their system to target.
Taking out an enemy ships engines allows me to dock and board their ship. Despite the necessary load screen to board their ship, it just feels great to get on there and engage in a fire fight. Do enough damage before hand and gravity won’t work. Zero G ship boarding is great, but to be clear you can’t go outside of a ship (no space walking).
There’s even a whole system power distribution mechanic. I could move bars of energy from one system to another. Depending on parts installed, there’s a limit to how many power bars each system can take. It’s a nice touch to move bars from engine to lose a bit of thrust to put that power to use for weapons or shields.
There’s even a mission later on to teach how to run silent by removing energy from weapons and shields, while keeping engine energy at minimum. It’s thrilling to just drift past enemy ships. So yeah, that meh in the beginning can get quite good if you want to spend the skill points to get there and use the provided complexity.
Fallout in Space with Vasco
After the initial fire fight on the ground and in space, the game sent me to a Crimson Fleet (pirates) outpost. So not only did the beginning throw those fights and starship at me, but now I’m going to assault a base with just Vasco the robot. Vasco is great though.
Exiting the ship on a new planet was another step out moment. Which is why I laugh when some gaming sites say the Bethesda step out moment is weak in Starfield, maybe because there’s so many!
The little trip from the ship to the base served as the tutorial for the scanner mechanic. Some not so subtly placed alien creatures and ore to mine. It all works well and there’s a whole skill tied to that, but man there are so many planets to survey. There’s also so many resources to mine which get heavy.
Give me all the Things
Where the game really started to click for me was when I entered that first pirate outpost. I remember my love of collecting stuff in Fallout 4. There’s plenty to pickup, audio tablets to listen to and computers to review for background info. The outpost looked and “felt” great right along with the combat with pirates there.
After my miner turned soldier cleared out that base, a Crimson Fleet leader confronted me with his goons out front. I used the Persuasion system to convince them to let me go. Reminded them I already took out everyone else and there’s no treasure for them to make that up.
I just couldn’t resist throwing a mine at them while their backs was turned. Next thing I knew, a ship landed and more pirates came looking for a fight. Now I’ll wonder what would have happened if I just left them alone. Maybe when I do a pirate character, I’ll see if I can join them.
Starfield will be a Game of Stories People Tell
After my 21hrs, there’s already so many stories to tell that I can’t possibly cover in this post. I haven’t even talked about joining Constellation and the places those missions take me. I’ve even started tackling some side content that is fantastic. I could do a whole post about rebuilding my ship and adding crew members too. There’s so much to do, but it’s important to not feel pressure to do it all.
Where Starfield really puts is hooks into you is when you find what you want to do. Then figure out the types of skills you want to play with and missions you want to pursue. My biggest tip for new players is start playing the Constellation (main) missions first. It will take you to interesting places where there are interesting people. As soon as you find some other path to that interests you, then do it until you get bored and repeat the process.
Regardless of what Metacritic says, I feel like Starfield will be GOTY just on the power of all the varying stories it will generate. Streamers can live off this game for a long time, too. I’ve talked more about this game with my son and coworkers than any before it. They have even more stories of their playthroughs than I do.
One More Story for the Road
Before I go back to playing, I’ll share one last story from my last play session. I landed on planet to investigate a distress beacon I heard while in orbit. An interesting looking ship landed not too far from mine. I investigated and ended up in a firefight with mercenaries. After I dispatched them, I boarded their ship to loot and then steal it.
Upon entering the ship, I heard the roar of the ship’s engines. The pilot was still alive and launched us into space. I crept up to the cockpit and put him out of his misery. Once I took over the pilot’s seat, the ship I saw outside starting attacking and destroyed me. It was Spacers, a rival faction.
Upon loading up from the last save, I took my own upgraded ship to look for the Spacers. I found them and took out their engines before boarding them. Thing is, I did so much damage that gravity was off and they were all dead. Floating around those suspended dead bodies, I remembered to test ballistics and shooting did push me back.
Now that ship is mine and that’s just an example of many stories to come. This game is wild.