Since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, humanity’s fascination with the cosmos has only grown. This enduring desire to explore the outer reaches of space has been a recurring theme in literature, film, and, arguably most intimately, video games. Bethesda’s new RPG, “Starfield,” has catapulted this cosmic infatuation to new heights, delivering a breathtaking space exploration experience that seamlessly blends stunning visuals, gameplay variety, and stellar world-building.
Built on Bethesda’s latest in-house technology, Creation Engine 2, “Starfield” showcases significant advancements that enable the studio’s most ambitious game to date. With over a thousand planets to explore, “Starfield” promises an expansive space exploration RPG that builds upon the concepts forged in Bethesda Game Studios’ previous works while pushing the boundaries of scope. Players are thrust into a universe filled with a wide array of settlements, cities, and desolate plains, ensuring a rich and diverse gaming experience.
This cosmic odyssey begins with an introductory sequence, providing players with essential gameplay insights. The narrative quickly introduces Constellation, an organization dedicated to unraveling the universe’s mysteries. Soon, players are given full control, embarking on a journey across the galaxy. This pivotal moment reveals how “Starfield” manages its structure and scope: the player’s ship serves as the central hub, shuttling them between worlds and housing their crew. The star map, accessible from the ship, enables players to plot courses to various planets across multiple systems. As the game progresses, players have the opportunity to expand and customize their ship, enhancing its role as the bridge between worlds.
However, “Starfield” does have its limitations. The division between planets and outer space is punctuated by loading screens, a necessary compromise to maintain intricate details. While players can observe the exterior of a planet or open space from within their ship, transitioning to a planet’s surface necessitates a brief loading screen. Each planet, and outer space itself, is partitioned into unique sections, which accounts for the impressive level of detail.
The player’s ship becomes a focal point for appreciating the game’s level of detail. Creation Engine 2, known for some shortcomings in granular visual nuance, has made substantial improvements in “Starfield.” Every control panel, switch, or knob in the ship’s interior is meticulously modeled, featuring high-resolution textures that convey their purpose convincingly. The physically-based materials pipeline enhances tactile realism, making metal, plastic, and other materials feel remarkably lifelike.
“Starfield” introduces players to a wide range of diverse environments, setting it apart from previous Bethesda games. Unlike the often repetitive environments found in “Skyrim” or “Fallout,” “Starfield” offers unique cities and landscapes on different planets. Each city boasts a distinct atmosphere and design, from the towering glass structures of New Atlantis to the rundown Old West-style town of Akila. The level of detail remains consistently high throughout these environments, creating a lived-in feel. Even installations within these locations are rich in detail, with myriad props adding to the immersive experience. The game’s interior spaces maintain this high level of visual fidelity, marking a significant leap from previous Bethesda titles.
The game’s lighting and environmental effects are pivotal to its aesthetic. “Starfield” introduces volumetric effects that enhance the atmosphere, with height fog filling valleys and dynamic weather and time of day affecting the presentation. Objects such as rocks, trees, and structures remain visible at a distance, although there is some mild pop-in, a common occurrence in open-world games. The game’s global illumination solution accurately renders light bounce, creating realistic lighting interactions. It excels in rendering indirect lighting within shadowed regions, despite the absence of real-time per-pixel ray tracing.
The game also boasts an exceptional audio experience, with Inon Zur composing a phenomenal soundtrack that enhances immersion. Surround sound is effectively utilized, enveloping players in the action. While facial animations during conversations are basic, character outfits feature impressive details, especially for characters wearing space suits. The physically-based materials lend an added layer of realism to character designs.
“Starfield” deviates from its predecessors by presenting environments as separate planets rather than a seamless world. Each major city or settlement occupies its own planet, ensuring a wide variety of environments to explore. Players can leave the city limits and explore the surrounding planet, uncover additional locations, complete quests, and gather resources. The game’s environments are carefully crafted, with procedurally generated terrain creating diverse landscapes, from steep mountains to flat deserts and ice planets. Variable weather and time of day further enhance the presentation.
Despite its many strengths, “Starfield” does have some limitations. Swimming is notably absent from the game, and players are confined to using fast travel to move between planets. The galaxy map system, while convenient, diminishes the sense of space exploration, as reaching any destination is merely a click away. Each planet is divided into specific zones, and wandering too far results in an abrupt stop, emphasizing that “Starfield” prioritizes destinations over the journey itself.
Performance-wise, “Starfield” achieves a stable 30 frames per second on consoles, a significant improvement over previous Bethesda titles. Loading times between areas have slightly increased with extended play, but overall, the game maintains a commendable level of stability. However, its HDR implementation could benefit from greater flexibility to adjust peak brightness and black levels according to users’ displays.
“Starfield” is a quintessential Bethesda RPG, seamlessly blending the open-world exploration of “Skyrim” and “Fallout” with the cosmic intrigue of the original “Mass Effect.” It offers an array of captivating quests, events, and locations, ensuring a rich and varied gameplay experience. While the game’s segmentation and frequent loading screens may detract from the sense of space exploration, they contribute to a more engaging and purposeful journey. “Starfield” proves to be a remarkable addition to Bethesda’s catalog, pushing the boundaries of RPG storytelling and world-building to new heights in the vast expanse of the cosmos.