Starfield Review: Cosmic Desert



By: Jason Siu


9 min read

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Starfield offers a sprawling adventure, which might come across as desolate to certain players

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Quick Verdict

Starfield aims high but ends up as a “jack of all trades, ace of none.” While longtime fans of Bethesda franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls might find some appeal, I’m skeptical that Starfield can win over newcomers. The game promises a sprawling adventure, but for some, like me, it feels a tad empty or unengaging. There’s plenty to explore in the Starfield universe, but the experience lacks truly memorable moments.

My biggest issue with Starfield is that it doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. Whether it’s the worlds you traverse, the characters you encounter, or the quests you tackle, everything feels just… average. That said, very few games offer as much to do, even if some of the content feels bland.

It’s Just Another Galaxy

Starfield Review Gallery, FullCleared

Let me start by admitting that I’ve spent less than five hours in any modern Bethesda game. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is the only title from the developer I’ve invested real hours into. I have tried numerous times to play Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, as well as Oblivion and Skyrim, but have never gotten very far in any of those games. Given that Starfield is Bethesda’s first new universe in over 25 years and considering my deep love for sci-fi, I hoped this game would change my track record with Bethesda.

If you describe Starfield to me, you’re basically describing my perfect game. On paper, it’s basically No Man’s Sky with good combat, tiered gear, and role-playing elements including character interactions and a story campaign. The only thing that could possibly make that written description even better is if Starfield wore a Star Wars skin. Although I was excited for the game’s release, I kept my expectations low since I’ve never seriously engaged with a Bethesda game.

But oh, what a rocky start it was. To me, the most important part of any RPG is the game’s first two hours. The story and its characters must be engaging enough to convince you that it’s worth spending dozens, if not hundreds, of hours into the game. Given Bethesda’s reputation, the game’s lackluster opening took me by surprise. It’s easily the worst part of the game, including the characters you’re introduced to, except for Vasco. Like Claptrap from the Borderlands series, a robot somehow has more personality than most of the people you’ll meet in the game. It’s no exaggeration; the joy of crafting your character far outshines the opening hours of the game.

More Human Than Human

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The game truly shows its promise once Starfield sets you free. I found the following few hours after I got my ship to be the most exciting, as I familiarized myself with the game’s systems, including how to travel from planet to planet. My disappointment with Starfield began when I realized that traveling between planets was as simple as clicking on a destination, pressing a button, and choosing a landing spot. Once I realized the space exploration part of Starfield was very limited, especially when compared to No Man’s Sky, that excitement started to wear off. I soon realized that this wasn’t a game where I’d seamlessly fly my ship from space right down to a planet’s surface. It also meant I wasn’t going to be flying my ship from one corner of the planet to another from the surface.

Soon after, it dawned on me that my time in the ship and space would be minimal. Traveling from destination to destination isn’t much different than Mass Effect or even Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, where you just select a planet from a map and let the game handle the rest. This, to me, is a massive disappointment. And even though I said I went into the game with low expectations, I did think it was fair to believe I’d be able to personally fly my ship from space to the surface of a planet.

However, that wasn’t even my greatest letdown with Starfield. That honor goes to the fact that the entire universe in the game doesn’t have any intelligent alien species. I found it really hard to suspend my disbelief that only humans would exist in this giant universe, that did have alien species of animals and plant life. The absence of diverse intelligent life made exploring Starfield’s worlds feel bland, lacking the thrill of encountering and interacting with new species.

I Aim to Misbehave

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What I did really enjoy in Starfield was the game’s combat. The gunplay feels great, akin to Destiny 2, and the variety of guns is well done. Most of them feel very different to use, similar to what you’d expect from a Borderlands game. Juggling different ammo types was overwhelming at times, and inventory management became tedious, particularly when I wanted to experiment with every weapon. I did appreciate that anytime I felt like I found a gun I really enjoyed using, something else would take its place shortly after.

In Starfield, skills are divided into four tiers, each requiring a set number of skill points to unlock. The first tier is automatically available for each category, and you’ll have to spend four, eight, and 12 skill points to unlock the subsequent tiers. In addition, each skill has four ranks and to increase each rank, you’ll have to complete a specific challenge. For example, if you want to rank up your boost pack, you’ll have to boost jump 10 times while in combat. Some skills you’ll want to max out, while others you’ll find it sufficient to invest a single point in order to unlock the ability. Skills are broken down into the following categories: Physical, Social, Combat, Science, and Tech. There’s a great variety to choose from, based on your playstyle.

Overall, I enjoyed the itemization and the variety of weapons and armor choices you have. There are enough stats where you’ll have to make trade-offs and actual choices, instead of simply equipping the biggest number there is. Some passive abilities outweigh raw stats, which isn’t something you see done properly these days. Armor in Starfield is comprised of three slots: Helmet, Spacesuit, and Pack. What’s more, you can tailor every piece of your armor and weaponry to your preference. The in-depth system is impressive, but it isn’t required to complete the game. In fact, during my playthrough of the story campaign, I mostly ignored weapon and armor customization and didn’t have very many issues. A bit of fantasy did creep into Starfield’s armor design, since I did find a helmet that magically made the resources I’m carrying weigh less.

Stellar Wasteland

Starfield Review Gallery, FullCleared

When it comes to designing and creating a game that offers as much diversity as Starfield, it’s understandable that not everything is packed with details. Starfield features over 1,000 planets, so as you can imagine, many of them will feel empty and ordinary. The problem is, there are so few planets full of life with noticeable points of interest, that you’re not very compelled to explore. It’s also not particularly rewarding to hop from planet to planet. Sure, you’ll run into some side quests here and there, but I personally didn’t experience anything memorable. I might have missed some standout quests, but discovering them felt like searching for a needle in a haystack.

The main characters in the story campaign aren’t much better. They all have somewhat unique personalities, but I didn’t find any one character unforgettable. Also, some dialogue options led to responses that felt jarringly unnatural. This was particularly true during Persuasion dialogue, where the NPC’s response was very generic and oftentimes immersion-breaking. I almost found it comical that with even multiple dialogue options, none of them were remotely close to how I wanted to respond. The game doesn’t do a great job at giving me the impression that there were really more than just one path. To avoid spoilers, I won’t talk much about the main story’s campaign, but I will say it’s serviceable. It’s engaging enough to keep you going, but it’s not a story you’ll be thinking about or talking about weeks after you finish the game. You might actually find it pretty generic, if you spend a lot of time watching various sci-fi television shows or movies.

Another gripe I had with Starfield was the incessant loading screens, including when I opened a door to enter a store in a city or town. I also spent more time than I should have wrestling with the game’s clunky menu screens. It didn’t get better after hours of playing either, as I ultimately found myself just opening up my quest log and fast traveling to whatever destination it had me going to. That was the path of least resistance and really took me out of the game. Rather than eagerly flying between planets, I found myself resorting to the map, hopping to the furthest point, and repeating this until I reached my destination.

The outpost building aspect of the game, to my surprise, turned out to be quite basic. I love base-building in games and really looked forward to setting up a sizable outpost for my crew in Starfield, but another clunky and unintuitive system led to frustration and one mess of a base on some distant planet.

All of This Has Happened Before. All of This Will Happen Again.

Starfield Review Gallery, FullCleared

It’s a bit ironic that Baldur’s Gate 3 more than likely moved up its PC release date in order to avoid Starfield’s release. This, of course, makes complete sense considering Baldur’s Gate 3 comes from Larian Studios and is a niche CRPG and Starfield is one of the most heavily anticipated games from one of the most established developers in gaming. However, I think the release of Baldur’s Gate 3 inadvertently put Starfield in a less favorable light by allowing players to draw comparisons. Yes, they’re vastly different games, but when you look at them from a character and story writing perspective, Starfield clearly has some issues.

This leads me to my final points. If you’re looking for a space RPG with well-written characters and stories, you’re better off playing the Mass Effect trilogy than Starfield. If you want to customize a ship and explore a wide variety of planets and biomes, No Man’s Sky is your better option. Hell, if you want to just shoot things and find loot, go play Destiny 2 or any of the Borderlands games. However, if you want a game that does all of these things, albeit on a less in-depth level, then Starfield really is your best choice.

It’s a Schrödinger’s situation with Starfield: in its unique niche, it shines, but when stacked against the broader gaming landscape, it dims.

Beyond the Horizon

Starfield Review Gallery, FullCleared

At its core, as with any Bethesda game, the experience you have with Starfield is truly what you make of it. This is why Bethesda games resonate with many but also disappoint others. While this could be said for many games, Bethesda has a distinct formula that sets its titles apart.

I will admit that I believe I didn’t play Starfield the way it was designed to be played. I mostly focused on the story campaign, only deviating and doing side quests when I had to if I got stuck in the campaign. Since I’ve finished the game, I’ve read other people’s stories and come away impressed by how different their experiences were compared to mine. There is a lot of game to unpack in Starfield and a single playthrough is barely scratching the surface. The issue is that after 60 hours, I’m not enticed to dive back in, even though the campaign’s end suggests another playthrough.

You’ll easily find a glowing review of Starfield from someone who thoroughly enjoys Bethesda games. If you’ve always desired a “No Man’s Skyrim” or “Fallout in Space,” Starfield might just meet your expectations. But if you’re like me, and have never spent a significant amount of time playing the Fallout or Elder Scrolls series, hopefully this review gave you a different perspective in understanding whether or not Starfield is a game for you.

Starfield may be the first Bethesda game I have ever completed, but it likely won’t be the last. However, the game didn’t do enough to convince me to go back and install Fallout 4 or Skyrim and give those another chance.

Starfield was released on September 6, 2023 on Xbox Series X|S and PC. This review is based on a purchased retail copy of the game on PC. While FullCleared has affiliate partnerships, these do not influence our editorial content. We may, however, earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.

Starfield Review Gallery (possible spoilers!)

*Windows Auto HDR affected the appearance of some of these screenshots

It Wouldn’t Be a Bethesda Game Without Experiencing an Entertaining Bug

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With over 20 years of online publishing experience, Jason Siu is currently the Content Director at VerticalScope and used to spend most of his time writing about cars. His work can be seen on websites such as AutoGuide, EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, and more. As the former co-founder of and West Coast Editor of Modified Magazine, he has also authored two books for CarTech Books. In his spare time, he founded FullCleared to indulge in his passion for writing about games. Although Jason is a variety gamer, he generally prefers RPGs.

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