STAFF REVIEW of Starfield (Xbox Series X)

Thursday, August 31, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Starfield Box art Bethesda Game Studios has a pedigree of creating fantastical worlds that have been absolutely revered in the past two decades. Best known for their Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, while they’ve had a few other titles, it’s the Fallout’s and Skyrim’s that generally garner the most attention from fans. The first new world from Bethesda in over 25 years, Starfield was announced back in 2018, and here we are five years later with the release finally upon us after a few warranted delays.

Bethesda games are generally vast open worlds where you can play basically however you wish, and while Starfield is no different at its core, it takes the core concepts from their previous games and expands them to a whole other level. Instead of a singular world you can freely explore, you’re given a whole universe as your playground, allowing you to play however you wish. If you want to be a pirate, you can loot and plunder other ships in the constellations. If you simply want to explore planets, you’re given the freedom to do so. Maybe you want to be a universally known chef and collect rare ingredients from planets far and wide, that’s also certainly a possibility should you wish. Create your character and head to the stars with unparalleled freedom as you embark on an epic journey that will play out differently for everyone.

Set in 2330, Earth is no longer humanity’s only home. People have ventured far to the stars, settling on many different planets across the galaxy and beyond. Like other Bethesda games, Starfield’s opening journey is a memorable one. Outside of this opening mission, I’ll be purposely vague and not really delve into much of the core story, as it’s quite an epic journey and I want to avoid any spoilers, best revealed on your own as it unfolds.

I’ll be honest, most other Bethesda games, while their worlds are fantastic to play in, I couldn’t tell you or recall what their main story was really about with much detail. Starfield though is different, with a narrative that sucked me in quickly and kept me wanting to find out what happens next. Sure I spent dozens of hours doing other things such as side missions, exploring and more, but I kept feeling compelled to go back to the main story to see what happens, especially after a dozen or so hours once it went in a direction I completely didn’t see coming.


Starfield opens with you about to embark down a mine shaft on Vectera, a moon of the planet Anselon, working as a miner simply referred to as a “Dusty”. This is where you’re given a brief tutorial about the basics and controls as you follow your crew down into the mine. You get a sense of how claustrophobic this place is, with other ‘Dusty’s’ working hard. You pick up a Cutter, a tool to extract resources from special nodes, the futuristic way of mining. As the crew busts through a wall with their massive equipment, you go ahead to explore only to find something you’ve never seen before, an Artifact. This floating piece of metal is clearly something unique, as it has patterns on it and doesn’t simply look like any typical junk debris. As you reach out to grab it you experience visions, something unknown that you can’t quite make out, only for you to awake later with your coworkers looking over you, making sure you’re alright.


You’ve given a tablet and asked “You know who you are? New recruit for Argos Extractors?”. This is the clever way Starfield then puts you into the character creator where you’ll no doubt spend a good amount of time customizing how you look down to the finest details. Once you’re happy with your appearance you’ll choose a Background (kind of a starting class with a few skills instantly unlocked), Skills, and Traits.

You’re not locked into your opening choices by any means, it’s more of a starting point that gives you a few basic skills to get you focused to play in a specific way. You can of course choose to spend your skill points however you like as you level up elsewhere if the opening choices don’t turn out to be what you end up enjoying as much as you expect. While there’s plenty of Backgrounds to start out with, I’ll just name a few to give you an idea:

Bounty Hunter – Starts with piloting and boost pack skills so you can easily hunt down your targets across the galaxy.

Chef – Maybe you simply want to explore, then this Background will support your culinary skills with extra recipes at the research lab and more scavenging abilities that will net you more materials as you hunt down prey.

Combat Medic – Self-explanatory, but proficient in pistols when combat is required and much more adept at healing yourself and others.

Cyber Runner – Maybe you want to be a stealthy hacker, then this is the Background for you, starting you out with hacking, stealth and pickpocketing abilities from the get-go.

Diplomat – This is the route I went, as I wanted to be able to talk my way out of (or into) a fight. Starting out with the Persuasion skill, I had an increase of speech challenges, eventually opening up whole new dialogue options as I unlocked more. Yeah I can fight and shoot with my blasters, but why should I if I can simply talk people into not fighting and agreeing with what I want?

There’s a handful of more Backgrounds (classes) to choose from, but again, it’s simply a starting point and you’re not locked out of spending skill points into any others regardless of your choice. You then choose three Traits, offering you distinct bonuses, but will also have a negative to it as well. Maybe you choose the Dream Home trait which starts you out with an outpost home already built for you, but you’re locked into paying back the 50,000 credit mortgage weekly. Maybe you want to be an Empath, giving you bonuses in combat when you perform an action your companion likes, but the opposite if it’s something they don’t approve.

I of course chose Hero Worshipped as one of my traits. Remember that super annoying fan from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion? Well, he’s back and can be recruited as a companion that will give you gifts and constantly worship the ground you walk on and the air you breathe. The downside? Well, you’re going to have to listen to him constantly narrate how much he adores you and compliments you every time you land your ship astoundingly. There’s a handful of other Traits, and choosing one will not allow you to pick the opposite version. This made me think about how I wanted to play and what type of character I wanted to be.


Now that you’ve created the character you’re about to spend hundreds of hours as, it’s time to continue your journey after waking from touching the Artifact. While you were out, Lin, the supervisor of the mine, reports the discovery of the Artifact to Constellation, a group of space explorers seeking these rare artifacts. This is how you meet Barrett, member of Constellation, as he touches down topside of the mine. Well it seems that Barrett has had the Crimson Fleet chasing him, a band of space pirates, thrown into a battle without much explanation of what they might be after.

You of course win this battle and have a talk with Barrett. This is where you’re invited to become a member of Constellation, as you’re clearly special when he was surprised that you saw ‘the visions’. It’s here that Barrett gives you your Chronomark Watch. Showing more than just the time, it displays your stamina, planet name, local temperature, hazards, oxygen level, gravity and direction of nearby waypoints. Splurge for the Starfield Constellation Edition and you’ll get a real world version of this watch that apparently will link to the game and display the same information, giving you an extra level of immersion. Now that you’re a member of Constellation you make way to New Atlantis where their headquarters are, and thus your epic journey begins however you decide once you touch down in this massive city.


Starfield is massive. Not just in each world that you can explore, but as the universe as a whole. This is where you’ll become familiar with the Starmap, a way of getting the information you need of where you are and where you want to go. There are multiple layers and levels to the map system that takes a little getting used to, but is essentially looked at in three different ways.

Planet View – This is available for you to scan the planets or moons for what resources it has, and any notable markers or landing points on the planet.

System View – Back out once and you’ll then see the whole system. This will show its sun, planets and any moons in this whole area. You can see what factions control the system, allowing you decide if maybe it should be avoided for the time being if it’s patrolled by pirates.

Galaxy View – This is where you really start to get a feel for just how expansive Starfield really is. As you explore one moon or planet, you then have a whole system of planets you can land down on. This view goes one step further and shows you each of the galaxies that are light years apart, showing its system’s recommended level as well.


If you’ve ever played a Bethesda game before, things will feel very familiar from its onset when you realize you can pick up and take nearly anything you see. Want to collect forks and useless cups? Go for it. Want to scavenge every corner of every room for anything of value, go right ahead. If you’re like me, you’ll spend an obscene amount of time trying to find anything of value that can be taken (without stealing of course!) and sold for a profit elsewhere. Because I’m a serial hoarder picking up stuff, I eventually had to spend some skill points that granted me more carry weight. Thankfully your companions can be told to hold things for you, but they have their limits as well, as does your ship’s cargo hold, so you won’t be able to loot every single thing you see.

Maybe you’ll find extremely valuable items along your journey, but these high value objects are generally illegal contraband. Be careful though, as having contraband aboard your ship may be detected when you get scanned while orbiting a planet before landing. If this contraband is detected you’ll need to pay a hefty fine, surrender, or put up a fight. If you plan on wheeling and dealing with these high risk goods, make sure to invest in some appropriate skills that will help. Bounties also exists if you are caught stealing, smuggling or killing innocent people. Sure you can clear your bounty by paying a fee at specific Self-Service Bounty Clearance Terminals, but this can add up quickly if you’re not careful.

Even with companions and ships housing all my found loot, I learned quickly on you can only sell a limited amount of items at a time at most places. Trade Kiosks at most cities only have 5000 credits and take time to replenish, as do most vendors, so I had to offload what I could and then go search for other vendors and kiosks to unload my inventory of found weapons, space suits, booster packs, resources and miscellaneous items. This was a pain initially but once you find some vendors that have a bigger credit pool, you’re able to offload much more at once. You also need to take all the stuff your companion is carrying to sell it, as I wish they could simply be another tab to sell from.


Companions are more than just someone who follows you around, they have a wealth of other benefits should you choose to use them. Sure you can simply use them as pack mules to carry more stuff, they have more versatility. In battle they will help as extra firepower, helping you kill anything that attacks you. Each companion also has their own skills as well, offering passive bonuses to your ship or outpost if assigned there. Certain companions may also have special quests they want you to help with, offering more insight into their background, and possibly opening up romance options if they are fond of you and your actions. While I chose to always have a companion by my side, you can play completely alone should you wish, even getting a bonus if you chose the corresponding Trait. Sometimes you'll even get prompts where you can choose for your companion to reply in certain ways during conversations if you don't want to answer as your explorer.


Starfield is a space exploration game, and you wouldn’t be able to get very far without your own ship. Luckily you’re given one in the beginning when you join Constellation, but like anyone’s first car, it’s just a starting point simply designed to get you from point A to point B, with maybe a few space battles in between. Your first ship is modest, allowing you to house two crew plus yourself, having decent stats for maneuverability and combat options. Later in the game once you’ve accrued a healthy amount of credits, you may want to look at either investing in a new ship or maybe upgrading the one if you have.

This is where the Ship Builder comes in. While it will take a good amount of credits, you’re given the tools to completely customize your ships however you like. Want something small and nimble that excels in space combat, you can build that. Want a massive C class ship that can carry a massive amount of resources, that’s an option too. You’re also able to build your ship how you want, so if you want a weird-looking phallic ship, it’s certainly a possibility.

Ship upgrades are probably where you’ll want to start, as it’s not as much of an upfront investment and can make for a decent improvement in your starter ship. The thing to keep in mind that Starfield lacks at outright explaining is that there are different classes of ships. You begin with an A class ship, able to upgrade to B and C classes later on if you have the appropriate piloting skill points spent. The higher classes of ships give you more options and can be made into massive weapons of destruction if you want. You can swap in new upgrades to your weaponry, Grav Drive, Engines, Shields, and more.

Then there’s the full-on Ship Builder mode. Here you can swap in any parts or build from scratch. This is a much heavier investment of credits but allows you to build the ship of your dreams. The controls to do so are quite simple, as each piece has a ‘snap’ point that attaches to other parts, and it won’t let you finish building your ship if it won’t work. For example, if you place all the components in a way where the crew can’t get to certain areas, it won’t allow you to complete the build. While it’s simple to use and figure out, I do wish there was more of a tutorial with the Ship Builder, as it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out why certain components wouldn’t attach or why I had errors in my ship creation.

Bigger ships will allow you to have more cargo space, more room for companions, and even crafting stations. Yes, crafting is possible in Starfield, and with the stations installed on your ship, you won’t have to constantly travel back to a city to do so. You can of course have multiple ships, using specific ones for certain tasks, able to swap out your ‘Home’ ship whenever at a Ship Services Technician at most major city docking points.

Flying the ships themselves feels great in the vastness of space, able to choose first or third person. Your main engine has a set amount of overall power it can use, and you’ll need to adjust where you want that power to go into your system. If you’re simply exploring space going from one system to another, you might want to take some power away from your weapons system and put it into your engine and Grav Drive for more maneuverability, whereas if you get attacked by pirates, you’ll maybe need to increase your shields and weaponry on the fly.


Now that you’ve got your ship the way you want, sure it’s a mode of transportation, but can also be used to survey planets to show what mining resources it contains. You did start out as a miner before this grand adventure remember? Planet scans will show its gravity, temperature, atmosphere, flora, fauna, water and more. Once you land on the planet you can use your scanner, acting like a detective vision of sorts, to highlight any special resources. This will show you what nodes you can mine, creatures, and flora. The more you scan objects the more you’ll learn about the planet, and maybe you’ll come across people that will pay handsomely for this scanned information.


Much like the Ship Building feature, there’s also an Outpost Builder where you can choose to spend a healthy amount of credits to create a home away from home. If a planet is hospitable, you’re able to lay down roots for an outpost that offers a ton of bonuses if you spend the time to set it up. Planets are rich in resources, so a resource extractor will passively mine these materials for you. Building a Crew Station will allow you to assign your crew to specific Outposts, and yes, you can have multiple across different planets. You really could design a home, complete with furnishings should you wish, though I’ll be honest, I’ve only dabbled in this feature so far. Again, there really could be a better and more comprehensive tutorial, as I was quite overwhelmed trying to figure this portion out through trial and error. There’s a ton of potential here to earn passive income and resources, it may just take a healthy investment upfront and some time to figure out how best to do so on your own.


As soon as you come out of the mine at the beginning of your adventure, you’ll get your first taste of combat. Armed with a pistol and rifle, you can choose first or third person depending on your preference. I’ll admit, at first I felt the combat was a little awkward for whatever reason, but eventually became accustomed to it after tweaking a few settings. You’ll find a variety of different weapons along your journey, from shotguns, lasers, pistols, experimental weapons and more, and while you’re not locked to a single type of weapon, I’d suggest choosing one or two to be the most proficient in for when combat is necessary.

You’ll find a variety of different foods and medical supplies along the way, able to each to replenish your health or cure status inflictions. Jump off a high ledge and you might break a bone, or maybe you’ll suffer from burns, poison or a variety of other conditions. Eating food will heal a small amount of health, but using that to cook better dishes will heal more and possibly add some bonuses.


Every time you level up you’ll earn a skill point that you can then use to spend on a number of abilities. Each skill has four different ranks, becoming more powerful the higher the tier, but there’s a really interesting caveat. Once a skill is unlocked you can’t simply spend another point in it to rank up until you’ve fulfilled certain conditions. For example, under my Persuasion skill, I had to successfully complete 10 speech challenges before I could spend another point and unlock rank two. To improve my health in another skill I had to run a specific distance with a certain amount of weight in my inventory. These skill challenges were fun to work on, as I had to get a certain amount of pistol kills before I could rank up my pistol efficiency bonuses. Simply completing the challenge itself doesn’t unlock the new tank of a skill, it simply allows it to be purchased with a skill point afterwards.

Your beginning choices give you a starting point, but you’re free to add new skills along the way whenever you like. Eventually I added Piloting skills because I wanted better B and C class ships, also adding a few points into Lockpicking so I could get into some safes and weapon caches I normally wouldn’t be able to. While I don’t believe there’s a level cap that I’ve seen, you could in theory have every skill with enough dedication.


I’ll be honest, it’s a bit of a running joke that Bethesda games launch in quite buggy states, and I’d be lying if I didn’t expect the same from Starfield’s launch, especially playing before the official launch. I’m more than impressed though, as Starfield is without a doubt Bethesda’s most polished launch, as there have been some minor bugs here and there, nothing a quick game relaunch didn’t fix. There’s been a large patch since just before launch, which has addressed most of these small issues, but I was quite impressed with the overall quality given the scope of Starfield and how many mechanics are simultaneously in play.

Even though it’s currently locked to 30FPS, Starfield visually impresses with its amazing vistas. More than a handful of times I utilized the photo mode to take some stunning screenshots with the starry night or planets in the background along the horizon. The city of NEON in particular stands out, as it feels alive with citizens and gives a cyberpunk vibe with all the neon lighted advertising. With over 1000 planets able to be explored, there’s no shortage of gorgeous backdrops, weird fauna and caves to explore. While there’s a little stiffness to some of the facial movements, it’s got that signature Bethesda look to it we’ve come to expect over the years in their previous games.

Audio is equally impressive, with every character and NPC being voiced aside from you. I can only imagine how much time and effort went into creating all the lines of dialogue for every character and then having it recorded. The clever writing is only enhanced by a fantastic cast of voice actors that did an amazing job at realistic and believable performances across the board. While I have my favorites, and not so favorites, for characters and companions, they were all certainly memorable in their own way. The subtle soundtrack somehow also suits the vastness of space and exploring a new system and planet, unsure what to expect on the next planet.


While I’ve been a massive Elder Scrolls fan, I’ve never been big into Fallout, so I was unsure how I was going to take to Starfield given that it’s clearly an amalgamation of what Bethesda’s learned over the decades of game development. Even with a review this lengthy, there are portions I’ve not touched on due to spoilers, but suffice to say, there’s a near endless amount of content for you to feast upon. Even more than fifty hours already spent exploring Starfield’s universe, I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. The main narrative is compelling and quite mind blowing when you reach a certain point, but even some of the more minor quests were quite memorable and just as enjoyable. I’ve never even remotely come close to exploring every planet and all of their secrets, and fully expect to put hundreds of hours into Starfield’s universe just as I did with their other games. Bethesda has not only crafted a new compelling and wondrous universe to explore where you can play in any way you desire, they’ve created one of the most important games of this generation and prove once again they’re the best at what they do.

**Starfield was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 10.0 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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