Starfield Review

Mon 02 Oct 2023 ApkTow No Comments
Starfield Review

Starfield is Bethesda's new IP after almost a quarter of a century and at the same time a commendable attempt to take a step forward. It took Bethesda about a quarter of a century to develop a new IP of its own. The company now best known for the critically acclaimed Elder Scrolls series and 3D Fallout started out with… sports titles and games based on Terminator, before almost accidentally finding itself developing RPGs. And, according to Todd Howard, director of the studio in general and Starfield in particular, she always had the desire to develop her own sci-fi epic. Not something dystopian, like Fallout, which took over after the inglorious end of the Black Isle and turned it into its own formula, but a new universe that would refer to a space opera, something between Star Wars and Star Trek. Bethesda's Ashley Cheng once called it a "Han Solo simulator." Is it really so? 

The year is 2330. After the destruction of Earth, humanity has forcibly spread out into the stars, colonizing planets within a radius of about 50 light years from our solar system. Of course, not everything is perfect, and the new factions that have formed are often divided by ideological and territorial differences, which have led to two interplanetary wars, while there is no shortage of those who take advantage of the freedom that space affords to engage in piracy and raids on small , isolated planets, reminiscent in some respects of the early Colonial era on Earth. The final war between the United Colonies and the Freestar Collective, the former being the equivalent of the United Federation of Planets from Star Trek, while the Freestar Collective is a little reminiscent of Star Wars' Outer Rim, with a stronger Wild West flavor. Rounding out the trio is the enigmatic House Va'ruun, a religious organization somewhat reminiscent of the Elder Scrolls' Dark Brotherhood.

Two decades after the war between the United Colonies and the Freestar Collective, the accidental discovery of two mysterious artifacts by a small group of explorers called the Constellation may change the course of humanity forever. The player is very quickly drawn into this story, although they will soon find that exploring the thousand planets located in the Starfield can be just as or even more interesting than the main plot. These planets are based on as realistic astrophysical data as possible: they have a normal orbit and rotation and are habitable, depending on the type of star, usually when they are at an average distance from it. Of course some types of stars make it impossible for life to exist on the planets that move around them. Thus, Starfield planets run the gamut from lunar landscapes with extremely hot or cold temperatures, to exotic environments with a variety of flora and fauna, which can sometimes be useful to very dangerous to the health of would-be colonists and explorers. It is notable that Starfield carefully avoids a classic science fiction "sin", namely the idea of a planet which, although supporting life, consists of a single environment, such as the famous desert planets of Tatooine, Vulcan and Arrakis. . On the planets of the Starfield where there is life we will find two, three or even more mega-ecosystems, which are completely different from each other and host separate types of life.

One of the main occupations of the player is the exploration of the planets and the recording of their unique elements, which in addition to the fauna and flora also includes various special traits, such as geological or biological formations. Recording all of these yields, in addition to the satisfaction of discovery, experience points and, if completed, a set of data that can be sold in exchange for the currency of the future, commonly known as credits. If the player wishes, he can start building outposts on almost any planet, as well as connect them together so that they can transport the raw materials they produce to other outposts. The outposts, like the player's ship, can be manned either by members of the Constellation, or by NPCs who can be found, where else, in the bars of all major cities. The outpost construction, as well as the crafting, are interesting but at the same time highlight a key problem of the title which is, what a surprise, item management. As in any Bethesda RPG, there are a plethora of items, in addition to equipment, that consists of weapons, outfit, helmet and booster pack. In addition to the various ailments-treating food and potions that await unsuspecting explorers, there's also a vast array of raw materials and components, useful for everything from making potions and mods for our gear to building and decorating. of our outpost or residence. These objects will quickly fill our inventory, that of the companion we can have with us and, finally, our ship. At the same time, the storage capacity is extremely limited, not only on the ship, but unfortunately even in the outposts. Although Bethesda has tried to divide items into categories to make it easier for the player, finding a specific power-up or food soon becomes a chore. Assigning our favorite gear, abilities, and items to the controller's crosshairs helps, but doesn't completely solve the problem. It's a familiar, tiresome and repetitive pattern that has plagued Bethesda's titles for a long time. Another, too, is again the strange setup of dialogues with NPCs, their bracketed models and, of course, the dialogue writing itself. All of these elements, without exception, are improved over previous titles (who can forget Oblivion's potato chips), but not always enough. The state of Starfield at launch was also clearly better, where many of the serious glitches and bugs we've seen in the past had been eliminated. However, the AI still doesn't impress with its flexibility: it's obvious that even the one companion that normally accompanies us, in practice fails to follow us properly, gets stuck in nowhere for no reason, or appears on the surface of inhospitable planets without a uniform. However, most companions are very useful during combat despite their occasional blunders, especially when we give them room to move without getting in our way. In exploration, random dialogue sometimes gets mixed up with that of the main characters, resulting in jumbled lines and missing information, other times characters stand in unrelated places, resulting in a wall when the camera pans to them, while and when all their gestures are fine and their expressions are a bit mechanical and weird. The difference in this area even with a smaller developer like Larian is noticeable. 

However, we're not dealing here with a lack of effort so much as with the limitations of a now aging graphics engine that has clearly reached its limits. Another symptom of the same problem is the way in which it manages the exploration of the planets, which to begin with is not seamless, as for example in No Man's Sky. When we choose a random spot on a planet to land on, the engine draws a map of one square kilometer and if we reach its limit, then we see a popup informing us that we should return to the ship and land at another spot. This presupposes, of course, that we proceed in a straight line for ten minutes, which is rather unlikely to be done playing normally with all that we see on our scanner. It's one of the "problems" of the title that got a lot of attention on YouTube, but in reality it's a technical detail that few players will notice. Bethesda has made sure that each planet or satellite has enough points of interest wherever you land, so that you're never faced with an empty tile. This is both good and bad. Obviously an empty map is something undesirable. On the other hand, with the random points of interest everywhere it is difficult to give us the feeling that we are discovering a planet for the first time. Almost everywhere we go there will be some abandoned base or factory or small settlement, usually full of pirates, mercenaries or simple settlers. Sometimes, while exploring or doing some mission we will see a ship land in the distance. If this is close enough there is usually time to board and talk to the crew or, more commonly, engage in combat when it is hostile. In these cases we can even take the boat to add to our collection or sell it, for a small profit, as it is required to get a license for it to sell, which is quite expensive. It's a way Bethesda found to prevent players from getting rich too quickly by selling 2-3 good boats. Not that this is difficult, as almost every faction or organization has a mission board with random missions of various kinds. In conjunction with the related missions with the plot and the side missions given to us by the companions or various NPCs we meet, the credits accumulate quite quickly. Much more so if we collect the equipment we find and sell what we don't use. Selling raw materials is still one method, however this is where we run into a major shortcoming of Starfield. Quite simply, there is no trade. The prices of the items are always fixed from planet to planet and the only thing that limits us is the available credits of each seller/terminal. It's hard to imagine how the "Han Solo simulator" designation is justified with these data. And while we'll occasionally find illegal items, usually as loot from battles with Spacers or pirates, which can get us into trouble with the authorities if discovered, there aren't many opportunities to actively engage in smuggling. Obviously even more glaring is the absence of vehicles in the game. While trading is something that could possibly be added in a future DLC or expansion, the addition of vehicles is rather unlikely as it would make planet tile size limitations felt. At this point one might think that Starfield is an overhyped failure for Bethesda and Microsoft. Such is not the case, however. All of the above, which summarizes the main weaknesses of the title are highlighted to understand that we are not dealing with a perfect game. However, what Starfield offers is an overall experience that overcomes individual weaknesses and a hidden depth that the player cannot perceive even after 10 hours of playing it. Starfield, like Skyrim before it, is a game that you have to spend dozens of hours and more on if you want to see everything it has to offer. 

Of the existing mechanics, almost all are unlocked or significantly improved with the help of the skill tree. Outpost building, designing and upgrading starships, modifying our equipment and weapons, planetary exploration and logging, stealth, persuasion, boosting either in space or on the surface of planets and of course the performance of weapons and of our spaceships, all are covered by some skill. In addition to all this, there is also a range of special abilities that we can acquire in the course of the main story. Without wanting to get into spoilers, Starfield is probably one of the few RPGs worth playing the first time, focusing on the main story and exploring more by entering New Game+, which isn't officially called that, but it is essentially this... with some peculiarities. How important these are depends to some extent on our choices, but also on how many times we are willing to go through the repetition process. And the main story, as well as some of the faction questlines are definitely the best Bethesda has done in this area so far. And yet, it's not enough that one could spend hundreds of hours exploring, building bases, converting spaceships and completing side missions, but one can reset everything except their experience, abilities and skills and to start the adventure again, with different conditions, again and again. It is up to the player to decide whether he wants to explore the possibilities that this "magnifying glass" hides, or spend his time building his "kingdom" in one of the versions of the universe he will experience. The development team has put effort into making repetition, even during a playthrough, not easily tiresome. The planets are quite different from each other and the cities each have a distinct style. We have said that every planet or satellite apart from the orbit has its own speed of rotation and, therefore, the hours are not of the same length everywhere. The day-night transition naturally occurs in real time and creates beautiful landscapes, even in the most bare celestial bodies. Weather conditions, where present, add another distinct element, which is sometimes dangerous. All this is dressed up by Inon Zur's excellent, utterly cinematic soundtrack, which never disappoints, but here it enchants, but also with equally good sound design: the sounds of the engines during launch accompanied by the main theme of Starfield is the perfect example of the game's unique soundscape and they manage to make us feel… that something every time. Starfield is a gigantic project for Bethesda, by far its biggest game to date, but its ambition is limited by some outdated mechanics, technical s limitations of an aging, despite its renewal, graphics engine and from the chronic weaknesses of Bethesda itself. 

But, in almost every area its effort to improve is noticeable and welcome. Despite its weaknesses, Starfield is out of place compared to a purely procedural survival game, like No Man's Sky, or a space flight/trading sim, like Elite Dangerous. Let's not even talk about the ridiculous comparisons to the alpha build demo called Star Citizen. The fact that these titles have to do with space exploration does not determine their genre, but the subject matter. Starfield is an RPG with satisfying combat systems, atmospheric exploration, a complete system of skills and abilities, a huge range of weapons and equipment, a decent main story, interesting side missions, crafting, seemingly simple, but quite detailed base building systems and spaceship modification. If it must be compared to anything, it's Outer Worlds, and that's where Obsidian's lack of ambition (justified, in part, due to limited resources) and Bethesda's almost overambitiousness become apparent, which went into deep waters or, if you like , into the depths of space with its new IP. 

The obsession with misguided comparisons between disparate titles, with the targeted search for weaknesses and the unwarranted grudge against the development team seems like some kind of fetish for some gamers and a section of the press. In fact, such was the fury of some to find flaws in Bethesda's title that they accused it, among other things, of the impossibility of landing on all planets, regardless of whether they... have no land, such as the gas giants (e.g. Jupiter , Saturn). Of course, those who talk about the "best RPG of all time" or, God forbid, the "best sci-fi narrative" are also exaggerated, comparing it even to cinematic milestones, such as 2001 or Interstellar. It seems impossible to find a yardstick to judge what we love or what we love to hate in this day and age. 

Starfield is a commendable attempt by Bethesda to take a step forward, it is improved in every way compared to its previous titles, it is ambitious, sometimes even exciting. It exudes a sense of almost over-the-top optimism about the future of humanity, raising some interesting questions about the role of technology and science in it, even as they ignore our modern reality. Perhaps the most apt description from the side of the development team itself for its aesthetics (and by extension for its philosophy) was that of lead artist Istvan Pely. He called it "NASA punk," and when such a designation doesn't sound like the exaggeration of a parent pandering to their child, but seems to reflect something that others can see, then surely this "kid" has something to say. 

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