by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
For All, Into the Starfield
It seems that even in the future, humans will still be mining the natural resources of a planet. I suppose it makes sense that once the important resources have been removed from the Earth's crust, we'll look to the stars to mine valuable materials. Starfield has players beginning their quest as a space miner, tasked with digging away with some futuristic cutter to gather some resource. But after uncovering a special artifact that gives our character a quick lightshow similar to what you'd see at your local Planetarium, you are recruited by the Constellation, a group of explorers who have already uncovered several other similar artifacts.
I admit, the main story line had me feeling like a space-age Indiana Jones, traipsing the universe in search of the remainder of these special artifacts. But, like most games of the ilk, it is not just the main quests that have players exploring the universe. Completing side quests does allow gamers to explore each of the locations further and although the spoils for completing the side quests generally aren’t as appealing as the main story, they do provide for a chance to gain valuable XP and equipment. These side quests are standard 'talk to person A', or 'collect this item for me' and will have you travelling back and forth across space. But these side quests do allow players to build up their XP and level up their characters. Having a higher level character with improved skills can make some of the main quests a tad easier than they would otherwise be.
Players are free to play their own game style, although some of this will depend on their starting class. I chose the space scoundrel class – a clear reference to Han Solo's character in Star Wars with the starting skills of Pistol Certification, Piloting and Persuasion. The skill of Persuasion does allow a slightly more tactful approach to many situations, rather than going in all guns blazing to each scenario.
But once you do get into a scenario that requires gunfire, Starfield does a wonderful job, starting with enemy AI that are reasonably competent. Once an enemy spots or hears you approach, they are called into action, ready to take you and your companions down. They'll shield themselves when available and will often attempt to outflank you and your team via secondary entrances to a particular area. The mini-map to the left of the screen will show the direction of enemy units though, so their efforts are somewhat diminished if you can keep an eye on it. Enemies will even wander away from a skirmish if you take too long to take them out. This will often depend on the confines of the battle, with some taking place within close quarters inside scientific style facilities, whilst other battles will take place in wide open areas with multiple vantage points.
A range of weaponry is at your disposal, whether you loot it from dead adversaries, pick them up from unguarded rooms, or purchase them from a range of vendors. Each weapon has a series of stats that will determine whether they'll be suitable in each scenario and for your game style. It can be tempting to keep a version of each weapon type, but with a limit to the number of items you can carry (in terms of weight), players will often need to be picky – or walk around encumbered by the excess weight. Luckily, there are several ways to reduce the weight you’re carrying, including handing some to your compatriots to carry for you.
Lockpicking and crafting
Every now and again, our character will stumble upon a locked case or safe which have a variety of difficulties depending on what is enclosed within. This is where a player's skill in lockpicking comes in handy. I must admit. I do love the new lockpicking mechanic in Starfield, with it being more of a puzzle than a test of skill. Players are tasked with matching up the gaps in the locks with special digipicks (Starfield's version of a lockpick set) that each have different teeth to match those gaps. The easy locks are like a jigsaw puzzle that has the exact number of perfectly shaped pieces, whilst the more difficult locks are like the same jigsaw puzzle with several similar looking pieces thrown into the box.
Of course, loot boxes can also include items such as spacesuits, helmets, everyday wear, medkits and items used for crafting. If you've played any of the Fallout or Elder Scrolls games, crafting will have a familiar feel. In Starfield, there are five different categories for crafting, so players can pretty much craft anything they need, from medicine to weaponry. One thing that I enjoyed was the ability to start adding resources for a particular item even if you don’t have everything required immediately. Players can simply go back and add the remaining ingredients later.
Being that Starfield has players travelling throughout the galaxy, players will often (particularly if they don't use the fast travel option) come across different factions circling planets, lunar satellites, or even man-made docking stations. Unfortunately, like those on the planet surface, not everyone is friendly. This can lead to X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter style dogfights which can initially take a bit of getting used to, but once players get the hang of switching power to the various components whilst also targeting the enemy it becomes quite natural.
Of course, much of the space combat can be ignored by simply using the Fast Travel option, allowing players to use their ship's Star Wars style hyperdrive to whisk them from one location to another almost instantaneously. Having the Fast Travel option is great for getting to the vast outreaches of space, but unfortunately it does little for the game’s atmosphere. In most other RPGs, there's a sense of exploration that allows players to develop a sense of the vastness of the game world. This is somewhat lacking in Starfield, as players jump from one system to another. And as a result, this can reduce immersion in the story.
One thing that had me enthralled though, was the orchestral score that plays throughout the game. Each scenario has the tone set by the wonderful music of composer Inon Zur. Whether you're hurtling through space or taking on a series of bad guys in an old-west style town, the music does an amazing job of placing the player in the right mood. The fully voiced dialogue follows suit, and I particularly enjoyed the small touch of the characters calling you by name.
Same, but different
I have enjoyed Starfield and will continue to do so as I clock up the hours, completing my huge list of unfinished quests. But I also enjoyed the various instalments of Fallout, and Starfield feels very much like a Fallout game with a space skin and with space combat. But even then, the space combat can be somewhat diminished with the Fast Travel option. The Fast Travel also reduces the exploration that players often find enjoyable in grand scale RPGs such as this. Starfield does have its minor issues, but it does plenty of things right. The combat is smooth and satisfying, the crafting enables players to improve their equipment in a relatively easy way and the game’s soundtrack is superb, ultimately setting the tone for an enjoyable experience that has you scouring the galaxy for a series of artifacts.
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Combat is satisfying, wonderful orchestral score
Fast travel makes the vast game world seem small