Starfield Review: This Game’s Vast Universe Will Have You Feeling Like Han Solo

Years in the making, Starfield offers such an endless array of planets to explore it feels like you could be flying around for years. And it feels like it would be worth it.

On a barren planet in Starfield, you might see the wonders of a Saturn-like globe. Bethesda Softworks

To get a sense of the seemingly endless universe that is the Starfield game experience, you need only look at the vast cast list for the game on IMBD. Scroll, scroll, and scroll and you’re still not finished after counting 375 voice actors, which is kind of the point. You need these hundreds to lead you through the 1,000 planets that are offered here. Years in the making, Starfield is a sci-fi exploration cornucopia with the biggest world and biggest budget in gaming this year. It’s also the game on which Xbox fans and executives have pinned their highest expectations. Todd Howard, the enthusiastic president of Starfield developer Bethesda Software, has called it a “Han Solo simulator.”

That’s a big brag, yet it’s maybe even too small for a project such as this, a game in which you can seemingly spend years flying about the universe and exploring. It’s also not like Star Wars at all early on—perhaps because I crashed a lot. After learning how to pilot, I went through the black universe and tried to dock to a larger starship. The X button, which you use for getting on another ship, didn’t always appear. I crashed. And then I blew up. Multiple times.

I’d be happy to take the blame, never having been the most agile player. But not this time. Let me explain: game makers often send reviewers early code, and sometimes it can be a bit buggy (as it was in this case). Then they upload a giant software refinement, which essentially is the game consumers buy on release day. In the early-code version of Starfield, sometimes a character I was asked to talk with disappeared, or an enemy flew through the roof of a craft. I decided to hold my review until the patch came through and launch day arrived.

Even before the patch, Starfield presented a lot that’s new to crow about. For instance, when you return to the game after shutting your console down it loads in seconds. That’s important because other products often make you sit through five or six logos before you get to play—every time you play.

Also worth crowing about: it was clear the characterization and narrative were superior to the average game. After mining a unique artifact that may have something to do with how the universe began, I saw what might be the past and future zip by a light-years-fast whoosh of colors and sounds. Putting the vision aside, I was asked to bring the piece to the bustling New Atlantis.

New Atlantis is the first big metropolitan hub you travel to in Starfield. Bethesda Softworks

Entering the futuristic environment and noticing what appear to be new arrivals, I spent time talking with them, each with a completely different personality. One person’s a jerk. Another tells a factual story about an archly religious society that worships a serpent. And a middle schooler is precocious, funny and amazed at the world around him.

I was pretty amazed, too. Yes, I was fed questions to ask them. But I felt as if I were in a short play. The writing was smart and witty—especially the kid’s lines.

Moving toward The Lodge (think the Explorer’s Club) to deliver the artifact, I was accompanied by a clunking, funny robot buddy who came with my ship. As I walked there, I took note of the music, new yet familiar. It has the exploratory tension and wonder of Star Trek and Star Wars with some Eno moodiness thrown in. But I felt like it was mine: my soundtrack to my endless, if not always excellent, adventure. The music got me through the difficult parts of Starfield.

Early on, I decided not to fast travel to another planet for a mission. Instead, I wanted to pilot my ship through the melange of stars. After 15 minutes of doing so, thinking I was closer, I looked behind to find I was still near the planet I’d launched from. I thought I’d moved, but I hadn’t at all. I’d stick to fast travel in the future.

Exploring new planets in Starfield. Bethesda Softworks

When the patch arrived for download, I felt like a nearsighted person putting on glasses for the first time. The worlds became so much clearer. I was awestruck on a lonely planet to turn around and see a crisp Saturn-like moon. I had been traversing the unknown with a British character named Sarah Morgan (played deftly by Emily O’Brien) to find more artifacts. Despite her urging, I began to play in Starfield’s open universe in a way that made the narrative journey secondary. I just checked out these worlds. From time to time, Sarah would tell me about her life and her interstellar travels, but not right away. Knowing her was something that unfolded, like every Starfield friendship or relationship.

I decided that following the story about rival factions, the serpent cult, and the reason for the universe as a whole was something I’d get to later. I was upset, though, that the user interface and controls were hard to memorize, even though they were displayed in a circle, which I took as a metaphor of one person against an expansive planet.

I wanted to explore the vastness, only that. Exploring made me feel like Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon, or how I imagined he felt when I watched him to do on television as a child. On the planets and moons, I could scan flora, fauna and rocks for info. In the night, I logged the presence of odd creatures like giant blue mayflies. But get too close to scan others creatures, and they may attack. As I searched, I couldn’t go too fast on foot, or my oxygen would deplete. So I went slowly, taking it all in, the loneliness and the wonder, knowing that it would take a year to finish Starfield at my slug-like pace. That’s fine by me. I’m in no hurry. It’s not the finale that I care about. It’s the journey to the end.


Starfield Review: This Game’s Vast Universe Will Have You Feeling Like Han Solo