I bailed on the latest Guild Wars 2 expansion last night to prep for the 8PM EDT unlocking of Starfield. In truth, I could have stayed in GW2, because while I had the game pre-loaded, Steam had to unpack it which appeared to have required a re-download of the entire 116GB application and whether it was my system, my connection, or Steam’s servers getting hammered, that process took well over 45 minutes.
I have completed Skyrim’s main story, but barely any of the side quests. Fallout 4 is far too bleak for my tastes, so I never got far there. I am therefor familiar with Bethesda’s tentpole standards but was somehow caught unawares of how much Starfield is a Bethesda game in form and function.
It’s not a spoiler when every other outlet covers it, so the game starts when you, an amorphous blob at this point, are on your first day as a miner deep below the surface of some random planet (that might not even play more of a part in the game later on, I don’t know). Because you’re the least known member of team and are therefore expendable, you’re sent into a new cavern to retrieve something for a Mysterious Client. This is that artifact that sets you on your path. After a few pirates show up to teach you how to fight, you are then provided with a ship and an out-of-the-box companion named Vasco (who I refer to as LYD-14) and are sent to deliver the object to where it needs to be. This leads to learning how to do ship combat and manage ship systems, as well as an introduction to the map which is used to plot a course to your next waypoint. That destination is where you have to deal with more pirates in an attempt to get them off your back.
My Gameplay Experience
I have yet to run into any technical issues. The game is running flawless, allaying any concerns I may have had about my machine’s ability to run it. The visuals are an improvement over Fallout 4’s, I believe, which I don’t remember as being terrible, so that’s a plus. Gameplay begins in first person mode, as Bethesda is wont to do, but can be changed to over-the-shoulder or full third person using the scroll wheel.
Character creation happens after you manhandle the Artifact and wake up in the facility’s med bay.
Counter to the will of the Internet, I never spend much time in the character creation screen. I am seeing though my character’s eyes, moreso in this case since we don’t ever appear as ourselves in conversations or cut scenes, so character appearance isn’t a concern of mine. Still, there’s a lot of opportunity for people to make the kind of character they want. There’s an opportunity to choose a “class” which dictates three starting abilities, and then three optional perks like starting out as a member of an in-game society, owning a house (which you have to pay the mortgage for each month), or “having parents” (which you can call from time to time, and to whom you send a percent of you cash each month). I went with Soldier for the class, figuring I’d be shooting a lot of stuff, and opted for no additional perks since many seemed to offer benefits, but most also came with detriments such as closing off other avenues of opportunity. I suspect the perks are best left to subsequent playthroughs.
There are some QoL “issues” that have tripped me up in my first — holy crap — four hours of play. I didn’t realize I’d played for that long already, and it makes me feel worse about what I’m going to relay. First, there’s no mini map, which is par for the Bethesda course, but it really made navigating a facility difficult. One reason for my getting lost was because I didn’t know there was a scanner which illuminates lootable items in a room and can also provide navigation to a map waypoint should one exist. Another reason was because I was in the wrong damn building.
The actual map is kind of garbage. It defaults to a planetary representation with some markers on the surface, but you can drill down to an actual surface view. This places a bunch of “unknown” markers there. The trick, I learned, is to use this view — not the round planet view — to select your landing point. Your ship can land anywhere you want on this Mercater-style version, which will help get closer to the actual objective. Good news, though: I cleaned out an entire multi-story facility and got some real kick-ass loot and leveled up twice, which made the actual mission I was there to complete much, much easier.
Another issue is with Vasco. Like Lydia in Skyrim, he is sworn to carry your burdens, meaning you can transfer a bunch of inventory items to him, so you’re not encumbered. The UI for this is not very intuitive, though, and it took me and my friend Mindstrike (watching via Discord) a while to figure out how to switch inventories and transfer items. Also, Vasco will sometimes participate in combat, but other times he stands there like a lamp and does nothing. I hope Vasco gets the help he (and I) needs in a future patch. Thankfully, he can be taken down, but never out; he’ll get back on his feet after an encounter is complete.
Weapon selection was also a question mark, but thanks to my brother (also watching via Discord), who is a Fallout 4 fiend, he mentioned that by using the “Favorite” option when looking at a weapon in the inventory, I could put it on the hot wheel (Q key) so I could switch easily. This was not explained in the game, which is a shortcoming I’m figuring out happens a lot; not everyone is a seasoned Fallout or Skyrim player, so I think these systems should be given more hints up front.
Finally, my only other issue was with the hacking system, because it wasn’t explained very well in the game, and I only managed to suss it out thanks to an online video. Once I knew how to handle it, it wasn’t that difficult (at “novice” levels).
I have now arrived at New Atlantis, and I am extremely pleased with the game so far. Despite my unscheduled detour — which I enjoyed — and the few personal irritations that have since been accepted and smoothed over, Starfield is meeting most expectations.
I (and some others I have seen) had concerns that Starfield would eat into many people’s expectations surrounding Star Citizen. As Starfield was started and released entirely within Star Citizen’s alpha period, that a company could make such an expansive game seems like really bad optics for CIG. In reality, I should have known better: as stated, Starfield is a Bethesda game, and if you’ve played Skyrim or you’ve played Fallout, then you know the beats by heart. There’s a lot of going to a place, killing stuff there, looting more than you can really carry, crafting stuff, and conversations galore. With Starfield, there’s also outpost building (I know, Fallout has that, which paved the way for Starfield’s version), and now ship building which is really cool. Starfield is a narrative experience with a lot of exploration that will probably consist mainly of combat and resources and a little narrative thread, which is decidedly not what Star Citizen offers. I would suggest that Squadron 42 might be closer, but I expect that SQ42 will be far more about ship-to-ship combat than anything else.
So yes: Starfield is awesome so far. Mindstrike asked whether I thought that GOTY would go to Baldur’s Gate 3 or Starfield, and while I think objectively it could be neck and neck, I do think that BG3 would run away with the title mainly because I have seen so many people in awe of its depth and dynamicism. Starfield is good, possibly great, but it is built upon the foundation of Skyrim, and then Fallout, with some bits and bobs added on to suite the sci-fi setting. I hesitate to reduce it to “Skyrim/Fallout in space“, but it’s also not entirely inaccurate, so it’s not as revolutionary as BG3 is turning out to be. But don’t let that deter you if you find yourself deciding between BG3 or Starfield: if you loved or even just liked either of those games, then Starfield will be a slam dunk of a good time.