It took me 15 hours to decide if I like Starfield (I do). Bethesda’s latest RPG appeals to me, an enjoyer of space games. But the half-baked mechanics and poor performance leave much to be desired.
To achieve the modern minimum of 60 FPS at 1080P with the medium graphics preset, the game requires a $600 graphics card. If you’ve since moved on and embraced 1440P, let alone 4k, you should prepare to despair. The game runs on an upgraded version of the same game engine that powered Skyrim and the last two Fallout games, which itself is based on an even older engine from the 90s.
I’m playing Starfield on the Xbox Series X, which receives heavy marketing for its ability to run games at 4k 60 FPS. With Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda, where the impending launch of Starfield was a factor, it’s upsetting that a flagship game for the XSX is limited to 30 FPS.
And I’m left wondering where the performance bottlenecks are, because the graphical fidelity doesn’t match up with the expensive requirements.
But enough about graphics performance—the game can be fun, and I’ve been able to look past the choppy framerate while adventuring. The spaceship mechanics feel constrained in comparison to a sim like 2014’s Elite: Dangerous, and the frequent loading screens/cutscenes for landing and takeoff are a step back from 2016’s No Man’s Sky. The game’s reliance on fast-travel means you’ll rarely enter your ship at all, unless you deliberately choose to do so. But it is the only spaceship game I’m aware of that delivers on the promise of being able to board and raid other spaceships.
The game gives ample room for roleplay, and I recommend that you do, because game doesn’t slot you into a specific character or hold your hand like Cyberpunk 2077 might. Deciding to roleplay was the moment the game became fun for me.
My adventures have been incredibly violent because of my impatience with quest mechanics. I don’t want to persuade NPCs or be forced to pursue roundabout quest lines; my bounty hunter character lets his weapons do the talking. Coupled with the Power system—where you track down temples and complete the same puzzle in each one to unlock special abilities—I decided to roleplay as a Power-hungry maniac.
Hundreds of NPCs have fallen before my relentless pursuit of godhood. I single-handedly cleared out an entire skyscraper belonging to a rival who impounded my ship and attempted to steal an Artifact from me. A merchant vessel with a stolen Artifact and aggressive bargaining tactics lost both Artifact and crew when they let me dock my ship to theirs. The space navy tried to blackmail me and then made a terrible mistake when they gave me back my weapons upon release from the ship’s brig. Two powerful NPCs in the main storyline attempted to get me to pick sides, and I chose to fight them both. I am propelled ever forward by my Adoring Fan, a character trait where a random NPC is obsessed with me and begged to join my crew. He runs around spraying bullets at our enemies with his minigun, yelling: “How dare you attack him! Do you know who he is?!”.
I’ve had a lot of fun in this game, but I can’t recommend buying it full-price. The performance issues and the lack of a local city map take away from the experience, and these are things a large corporation with an even larger corporation behind it should have solved before launch. Fortunately it’s on Game Pass and I recommend going that route.
If you’re looking for a more polished space adventure game, I recommend No Man’s Sky. NMS also had a rocky launch, but the team has since released many major updates for free and continues to work on the game. Bethesda has a history of releasing games and then relying on the modding community to fix the problems, and I have little faith Starfield will receive the improvements it needs.