Starfield's timing couldn't have been worse.
At a time where console tribalism, media bias, and MetaCritic mania are each at their worst, it's clear that Starfield launched during a wildly contentious era of gaming.
With such hostility, controversy, and delusion plaguing gaming discourse these days, Starfield hasn't been allowed to be, well... Starfield.
Sadly, Starfield has spent more time being weaponized for fanboy feuds and hate-clicks than accepted for what it is.
And it's all because Starfield isn't perfect.
That's right. The infallible, flawless, and seamless Starfield of our dreams is not what we got in reality. Instead, Starfield's arrival on Xbox Series X|S and PC is no different than any other launch. It has pros and cons, highs and lows, brilliance and blunders, and so on.
Starfield is also an evolution of the award-winning 'Bethesda RPG' mold seen in Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. It's a design choice that was quite obvious from the moment Starfield was first revealed. But, the goalposts grav-jumped light years beyond what Bethesda ever desired to achieve.
Thankfully, despite being woefully misunderstood by many, Starfield still manages to provide a comprehensive sci-fi experience that successfully advances Bethesda's signature formula.
Starfield's narrative wastes no time sewing seeds of sci-fi intrigue as players set off on a quest to solve the meaning of mysterious artifacts scattered throughout the universe, culminating in some neat revelations and cool discoveries worth seeing.
The same goes for Starfield's side content, which often steals the show thanks to a bevy of enjoyable side stories waiting around every bend. However, there are times when Starfield's writing falls a bit flat – resulting in a somewhat underwhelming cast of characters that lack charisma and presence, along with somewhat lethargic acting during pivotal story beats.
Starfield is unquestionably the best-playing Bethesda RPG to date. With vastly improved shooting mechanics, rewarding skill-tree progression, eerie planetary exploration, outpost development, and ship management, there's no shortage of engaging activities in Starfield. It's a jack of all trades and a master of many.
Unfortunately, a few aspects of Starfield's gameplay loop feel slightly stilted, dated, or lacking – particularly with its enemy AI, map system, and melee combat. However, these drawbacks don't overshadow Starfield's impressive strengths, as they feel more like minor annoyances than show-stopping hindrances.
Whether it's the breathtaking vastness of space, a bustling city, or the gorgeous analog NASA-punk aesthetic, almost every corner of Starfield is teeming with carefully crafted artistry. While its faded filmic visual style might not suit everyone, Starfield's impressive use of color and contrast makes every location feel distinct and enigmatic.
Regarding character models, Bethesda has made huge strides compared to their older titles. Proportions, facial structure, hairstyles, and lip-synching are greatly improved. However, characters still move and emote robotically, which can look odd during story moments.
When it comes to sci-fi multimedia, it takes more than beeps, boops, and synthesizers to make a sci-fi setting believable. Fortunately, Starfield's sound design impresses. Whether it's the swooping score, city chatter, or the ambient hum of a starship, Bethesda has taken great care to make Starfield sound believable and immersive.
Additionally, Starfield's voice acting could be Bethesda's best yet, as each character comes across naturally – despite the occasional awkward line or two. Unfortunately, Starfield lacks any form of 3D audio, which is rare given that Microsoft's most recent Xbox first-party exclusives are all supposed to be standardized for Dolby Atmos support.
Bethesda's reputation for bug-ridden launches is far less evident with Starfield, which is unequivocally their most polished game to date.
Although bugs, glitches, and crashes are still possible, Starfield's launch state is stable overall – with post-release patches already smoothing out its rough edges. In terms of performance, Starfield reaches its 30fps target more often than not, but frame-sensitive players should be aware that drops are customary during combat or in colonies.
As Bethesda's largest and most open-ended game, Starfield boasts plenty of memorable locations, factions, and vistas as you explore the universe.
Starfield's main story and side content are also equally memorable. Unraveling the mysteries of the artifacts leads to many unique revelations and a cool twist on New Game+ that should be hard to forget. Plus, faction quests are often show-stealers as they unfold. Starfield's only significant drawback is its meandering Constellation crew and quest-giving NPCs, which occasionally fall short of their fullest potential due to a lack of depth and nuance.
Between quests, outposts, starship customization, and hundreds of planets to explore, Starfield offers a wide array of activities at players' disposal to keep things fun and engaging without ever feeling tied down for too long.
Even better, Starfield's New Game+ adds some interesting replay value to what's already a long and sprawling experience – even if most quests lack enough branching paths to justify playing them again to experience them differently.
Final Score: 8.4
Starfield might be a divisive game to some; but in general, Bethesda's pedigree of producing well-made Western RPGs has not fallen by the starside with Starfield.
What it lacks in impactful storytelling and player choice, it more than makes up for with its jaw-dropping scale, combat, quest variety, and replayability. With a few quality-of-life updates and mod support, Starfield should give players plenty of great reasons to stay in its orbit.