Starfield Review: A Galactic Letdown

Here we are five months after the release of Starfield, but I just finished my review. This delay is because Starfield has been a significant slog to get through. Simply put, over my 100+ hours, there have been a handful of excellent moments mixed with a whole universe saturated by shallow and bland content. If you can’t tell already, this review isn’t going to be very favorable. Let’s begin the examination of what I dub ‘a galactic letdown.’

Doesn’t this look promising? Starfield usually looks fabulous in still images.
The Promise versus Reality

Starfield’s ‘elevator pitch’ sounds fantastic. You get a whole universe to explore, full of NPCs, quests, and more. There’s space travel and spaceship battles. You land on planets, explore, and even build outposts. You can recruit crew members, customize spaceships, and find legendary weapons. Who doesn’t want a game like this? Unfortunately, Starfield delivers on these promises only in a technical sense.

Yes, you can land on planets, but those planets are almost entirely procedurally generated. What’s worse, the discoverable locations on said planets are copy-and-paste jobs based on a handful of prefabricated designs. Get used to seeing cookie-cutter locations over and over, each almost always lacking any meaningful gameplay experiences. You can’t even fly your spaceship on the planets or manually land or fly away. Rather, you land via cutscene and then must drearily hoof it on foot.

Walking on planets is fun the first few times. After 200 times… it gets quite laborious.

Certainly, there are cities. These are a few of the truly unique and hand-designed areas. However, the populated zones are tiny and provide virtually no sense of scale. When visiting a supposed hub of civilization with a 200-year history, you expect more than a few walls, corridors, and houses.

This leads to another massive problem with Starfield: it breaks immersion constantly. Much has been said about the almost comical frequency of loading screens. To travel to a planet for a quest, you basically ‘navigate’ menus. The repeating environments, numerous loading screens, and atrocious menu interfaces make for a tedious experience.

Comparison: Starfield’s Achilles Heel

Here’s the thing: if Starfield was offering something unique, perhaps its many faults could be overlooked. However, it has little new to offer, and what is here is often low-quality. The NPCs are nearly all poorly written. Many will drone on and on in fully-voiced speech about the dullest details of their lives. What a waste to spend so many hours writing, recording, and implementing a bazillion lines of dialogue that are almost all forgettable.

Another great screenshot! Too bad the actual flying is mostly done in menus.

Perhaps the biggest reason to avoid Starfield is how inferior it is to so many of its competitors. Take any element. I promise you that other games have done that aspect better. In fact, much of my time spent playing gave me a very strong urge to revisit other vastly superior games. Skyrim’s world is so much more cohesive and compelling. Fallout 3 & 4 have oodles more personality.

Starfield tries for some ‘space sim’ elements, but games like Elite Dangerous make it look like child’s play. I don’t personally enjoy No Man’s Sky, but it does procedural space exploration much better. The space battles can’t hold a candle to Star Wars: Squadrons or even the original Tie Fighter.

You have to admit this ship is incredibly cool. Buying this one was a highlight of the whole game.

The comparisons to superior games never end. Cyberpunk 2077 does sci-fi way better. The Mass Effect Trilogy is lightyears ahead in storytelling and drama. The Deus Ex games are way cooler. Baldur’s Gate 3’s RPG elements are in a whole different league.

Even with Starfield’s competent shooting mechanics, there are so many better first-person shooters to choose from. The same goes for the loot system. I found a handful of truly interesting legendary-ranked guns during my playtime, but loot-based shooters like Borderlands have been doing this since 2009.

Dramatic landscapes are nice, but antiquated game mechanics dull the experience.
Starfield: Outdated & Too Unfun

And here’s the rub. Starfield feels about 10 to 15 years behind the curve of video game development. It just can’t compete. For instance, so many quests are just ‘go here, get this’ or ‘talk to X, return to Y.’ There are a few ‘faction’ questlines, but they are so weak that I am loathe to even compare them to what you would expect in Bethesda’s prior games. One chunk of quests about corporate espionage had me literally sitting in meetings multiple times. It reminded me of my time working for corporate America (not a good thing).

Why do so many quests involve sitting around tables, talking about boring things?

Another faction questline is all about being a ‘space ranger.’ That sounds cool, right? Well, the actual plot points are very basic and over too quickly. Indeed, after each major questline completed, I wondered, “Is that it?” Perhaps disappointment is Starfield’s true theme. Maybe it’s some meta-narrative about space: it’s bleak, dark, and often loses the plot.

Speaking of the plot, even the main story is bizarre. Starfield sets itself up to be a realistic game with a self-proclaimed ‘NASA-punk’ aesthetic. And yet, the main story (without spoiling it) veers into weird mysticism, despite every other thing in Starfield being firmly planted in real life. This is an example of how disjointed the whole game feels, as if ten inferior knock-offs of other games were crammed together with no cohesive design vision.

Look at how shiny and cool this ‘Ranger’ emblem is! The related quests aren’t nearly as polished.

Overall, it seems like nobody at Bethesda stopped to ask, “Is the play experience fun, interesting, or innovative?” I imagine they wasted years of development time on things players don’t care about. Bethesda even admitted they modeled space gravity, physics, planetary survival conditions, and more only to scrap much of that because it all didn’t create a compelling game. I could have told you that from the start.

What About the Good Points?

Surely, there’s something good about Starfield, right? Well, I’ll hand it to the art team. This is a truly beautiful game at times, and the environmental and clutter art is impressive. It’s almost ridiculous how detailed some of the chairs, tables, computers, and furniture are. As someone who spent years making a Skyrim mod to improve the appearance of that game’s 3D models, I wholly endorse Starfield’s gloriously detailed clutter.

Look at the attention to detail! I truly LOVE this 3D modeling and lighting. For real.

Still, I can’t help but laugh at the juxtaposition of such incredible art and such shallow gameplay. This is truly the most gorgeous mediocre game you can play.

But truly, Starfield did provide me with some enjoyment. The spaceship dogfights are great for the short few minutes that they last. The gunplay is solid. Clearing the repeating labs, outposts, and other locations has a sort of repetitive rhythm to it. Buying and customizing fancy starships was satisfying. Playing the hero and helping others always makes me feel good. Plus, there are a couple of story twists that I didn’t see coming, and a few NPCs are memorable.

I also commend Bethesda for trying something new. They spent a lot of time trying to create a backstory and lore. It doesn’t come together, but I believe that the developers tried hard to make this into something interesting.

Just another picture showing off the great lighting and visuals. Nothing more to see here.

The game is relatively bug-free compared to prior Bethesda games. It virtually never crashed, and with the recent implementation of DLSS2/3, I get good performance (around 70+ FPS) on my RTX 3070. The musical score is solid. It’s not on the Oblivion or Skyrim level, but it’s adequate. And that’s how I feel about Starfield: it is certainly a video game that you can load up and play. There’s always something to do; it’s just usually a bit contrived, sort of like a ‘paint-by-numbers’ space adventure.

Can you spot the magazine in this picture? Each magazine you find grants permanent bonuses.

Nevertheless, over these last months, I’ve come to find my own fun in Starfield (in small doses). I boot it up, do a few quests, fly (using menus) to a few planets, and call that good. There are glimmers of greatness, but it absolutely should have been so much more. It’s like the friend that occasionally is so fun to hang out with but then reverts to a dreadful bore. “No, give me more of the good stuff,” I shout at Starfield. In reply, it offers me yet another procedurally generated planet with repeating locations and a fetch quest. “Bad Starfield, go to your room! … and STOP with the procedural generation! Sheesh.”

Other Bad Design Decisions

There are no in-game maps (especially annoying in cities). Bethesda promises to add maps in a future update. The idea that a game releases without in-game maps… wow.

Not being able to fly your ship on planets is bad. There are also no vehicles for moving across planets quickly. A hover-bike or some other cool flying device would be great when you want to quickly move about. Bethesda has promised to add ‘alternate transportation’ at some point…

This image has no special meaning. I just thought these pipes looked really cool. Move along!

The UI is also terrible. On PC, there are some mods to fix this. Still, it’s sad that we must spend our time downloading mods to counter the developer’s poor decisions.

Granted, Bethesda has released some patches in the last five months, but there have been very few meaningful changes. Official modding support comes this month, February, and they have promised to eventually deliver on big requests like in-game maps and vehicles. Still, when you compare the rate of updates to other recent games, it’s tough to call Bethesda’s efforts anything other than lackluster.

These NPCs are upset that Bethesda has been so slow to improve Starfield. Aren’t we all.

Starfield also suffers from political correctness. For instance, there are no male/female bathrooms in the game. All are co-ed (including shower facilities, yikes!). Even worse, there isn’t a single urinal in Starfield. As a man, I take offense at the removal of all urinals from the universe. Resist such a dystopian future!


Starfield is a game that millions have played simply because it seemed like it *HAD* to be good. Many of us kept at it because we thought it *MUST* get better. Sadly, it never gets better. The weak writing, unimpactful quest design, procedural planets, and menu-based space travel drag it way down.

Thus, I can’t recommend Starfield to others, especially for the asking price. Even after official modding support comes out, there are just far too many bad design decisions. I know Bethesda put in years of work, but it seems they’ve lost their creative edge since the golden era of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. After months of pushing through the Starfield slog, I must conclude that it isn’t worth playing. Not now, not later, not ever.

Starfield is like this broken-down mech. Dreams ruined, glory days gone, vapid, shallow. *Cries.*

  • Excellent art & lighting
  • Good shooter combat
  • Decent space battles
  • Solid soundtrack
  • Certainly many quests
  • All NPCs fully voiced
  • A few okay story locations
  • Some plot twists
  • Easy power-fantasy
  • Not too many glitches

  • Forgettable quests
  • Weak writing/dialogue
  • Very limited roleplaying
  • Lame procedural generation
  • Copy/Pasted locations
  • No planetary vehicles
  • No maps
  • Horrible UI/Inventory
  • Lacks cohesive design vision
  • Aggressively dull
  • Doesn’t excel at anything
  • So many better games
Playtime: over 100 hours. Nick spent about 100 hours finishing the campaign. Another 20 was spent on cleaning up quests. He will likely NOT play more.

Computer Specs: Windows 11 on an Intel i7-12700k CPU, 32GB of 3600Mhz memory, and a nVidia RTX 3070 graphics card. Game installed on a Gen4 NVMe SSD.