Starfield is a hugely ambitious roleplaying game from Bethesda Game Studios that delivers on the high expectations the developer set by creating a galaxy-sized RPG. Having this game be a Day 1 release for Xbox Game Pass makes it an unprecedented deal and a huge coup for Microsoft, which acquired Bethesda as part of a $7.5BN deal two years ago.
Bethesda took its formula for RPGs, perfected over the years with the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series, and deployed it on a scale grander than I have ever seen. I spent 36 hours playing Starfield on an Xbox Series X and completed more than 100 missions, side activities and other jobs. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the game.
It’s one of the best games Bethesda has ever developed and easily one of the best games of the year. To top it off, it’s available on launch date Sept. 6 on Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s Netflix-like subscription service available on PC and Xbox consoles. It’s a rarity that a game of this caliber is released on Day 1 for Game Pass. Instead of paying $70 to play the game, subscribers can pay $10 a month for the game on PC, $11 if they want to play it on the Xbox Series consoles, or $17 a month to access both versions.
At the forefront of any discussion on Starfield will be its sheer size. Open-world games often take place in a city or even a country, but Starfield takes place in an entire galaxy. There are more than 1,000 planets to explore. However, don’t expect each of those planets to be like Earth, with billions of people spread out across the world. Most of the worlds are pretty empty, but some have alien wildlife, colonies, outposts and other signs of civilizations to interact with.
Before exploring the stars, my character was a no-name miner on a moon who came across an alien artifact. The artifact causes him to have a strange vision about space making him “special,” which is a similar hero trope found in other Bethesda games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim where the random character just happens to be the “Chosen One” to save the world, or in this case, the galaxy. After that, the game kicks off. My character joined Constellation — a group dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the galaxy — and got his own spaceship.
The main quest involves completing missions for Constellation that primarily consist of collecting more artifact pieces, but there is so much more to do. Different factions such as the United Colonies Vanguard or the space pirates of the Crimson Fleet have their own set of missions available, but some will fall in your lap by overhearing what people are gossiping about. My favorite missions were the jobs from the megacorp Ryujin Industries, which required a combination of stealth, deception and hacking. They gave me Cyberpunk vibes.
Sometimes the adventure calls for a night in the club.
Screenshot by Oscar Gonzalez/CNET
Completing missions is the primary way to level up a character, giving you the most experience points. Each level gained adds another usable skill point. There are different categories of skills such as tech, combat and science, and more than 20 skills in each category are separated into tiers. The highest level skills require unlocking multiple tiers. Learning a skill can improve abilities such as using certain guns, pickpocketing or bribery.
My personal favorite was Persuasion, which can be used to make characters in the game give up items important to a quest without a fight. For example, I used Persuasion on some space pirates to get them to release a hostage just by convincing them it would be annoying to keep the hostage around.
Since Starfield is set in space, there are, naturally, spaceships. There’s one assigned to you at the start of the game, but you don’t have to keep it. The most direct way to get a new ship is to buy one from a star yard or spaceport, but those can cost a lot of money. Another option is to steal a ship from space pirates, but they can take some time to find.
What I did to get a better ship was complete a mission early on about a space hero known as The Mantis. Think Batman, but in space. I did it way earlier than recommended but my reward was a set of rare armor and a great ship. Worth it.
Screenshot by Oscar Gonzalez/CNET
For times when I didn’t feel like exploring or doing missions, there was the option to create my own outpost. This can be done on numerous planets and can be a way to gain resources for crafting. I’m not a big fan of this Sims-like activity, but I can see people spending plenty of time creating their own colonies that will house members of their crew.
The flip side of being so ambitious is that Bethesda games are notorious for their bugs, and I came across a variety of glitches in Starfield. The most common involve objects and people floating just off the ground, but there were also instances where enemies and characters simply didn’t move or respond. I did have a few crashes and an almost game-breaking bug where a companion would start a conversation only to never finish it, causing the game to get stuck waiting for them to talk. The solution, I found, was to stick the character onto an outpost before they could start a chat with me.
There was also some obvious dropping of frames on the Xbox Series X that I was playing on, so PC gamers should be aware that this will likely happen on the PC version as well, depending on their hardware.
Even with these issues, I still loved Starfield. I can easily see it being Game of the Year and being one of the best reasons to have a Game Pass subscription.
Starfield will be released on Sept. 6 for PC and Xbox Series X and S consoles. Those who preordered the Premium Edition will gain early access to the game starting on Sept. 1.