Going Silent on Starfield For Now

Over the Labor Day weekend here in the States I played a LOT of Starfield, at least for me. I’ve got about 16 hours on my ‘main’ game and 4-5 on my “wander aimlessly” game, plus another couple hours in false starts that I abandoned. This is more gaming hours in a single weekend than I’ve spent in probably years. Suffice to say I am LOVING Starfield.

But soon the floodgates will open, while at the same time I’m going back to work and I’ll be back to maybe being able to sneak in an hour/day and I’m going to fall way behind the crowds in terms of progress. I’ve so far mostly avoided spoilers and I’d like to keep doing that as much as possible.

It has been a long time since I played a high-profile game this early. I don’t sign up for betas, generally don’t purchase Early Access games and tend to wait until a game has aged a bit before playing. So in this way Starfield has been unusual for me in terms of my current gaming habits.

Now back in the day I was ALWAYS there Day 1, sharing tips and opinions and really enjoying the dialogue around a new game.

What Starfield is teaching me is that I don’t really enjoy that dialogue anymore. I have, just a few times, gone in search of some info when I couldn’t figure something out (like the ship-building UI on console kind of breaks my brain) and what I’m seeing when I search for Starfield is a lot of fanboyism from both sides. Starfield is either the biggest piece of shit game ever made, or it is a game that will bring about world peace and cure all disease on earth. There is very little middle ground.

I find no value and no joy in that. I am tempted to correct the egregious mistakes but what a waste of me time, right? No one wants to be corrected on-line. Half the bad info is probably intentional. And don’t get me wrong, Starfield has some super clunky aspects and some really disappointing design decisions. But in spite of those I’m having a blast. Reading about everything that is wrong with the game isn’t going to increase my enjoyment, I don’t think.

So yeah, as of today I’m just going to go quiet and enjoy playing the game over here in my single player ‘gaming is my escapism’ cocoon. I guess I could keep writing about it, but that will take time away from playing — I wish I was playing right now as I watch the clock tick toward bedtime! And it isn’t like I’m going to change anyone’s mind or draw any revelatory conclusions that no one else has. Though I wish people would figure out you can fast travel from one planet to another so they’d stop bitching about “all the cut scenes” you have to sit through to travel. (Of course just as many complain that moving around the galaxy is much too easy and there is too much fast travel.)

If you decide to play I very much hope you get as much enjoyment from it as I have been getting! If I do run anything that really feels like a fun-killer, I will come back and post about it, but otherwise take my silence as a sign that I’m enjoying myself!

What Kind of Game is Starfield? [No Spoilers]

I am really enjoying Starfield, and so am in danger of getting overly apologetic about its flaws (and it certainly does have some) but I just wanted to try to clear up what seems to be some confusion around what it actually is.

BIG CAVEAT that I am still early in the game so maybe some things change eventually.

Anyway most of the negative reviews and comments I’ve seen really boil down to Starfield not being what that person wanted it to be. Things that Starfield is not: No Man’s Sky, Elite Dangerous or Star Citizen. It isn’t a space sim. In fact if you hate space sims you very well might still love Starfield.

Things Starfield is: Skyrim in Space.

Bethesda has given us ways to cut out a lot of space travel. While landed and sitting in your ship you can use the Star Map to pick a planet in another star system and just ‘jump’ (essentially, fast travel) straight to it. Then you can land straight-away. No actual flying involved.  Alternatively, you can take-off from the planet you are on (and yes, going from landed to space is a quick cut-scene, not an organic transition) then fly around above the planet you just came from, then plot a course to another star system, Grav Jump to it, then fly around there before landing. But that’s your choice. You’ll find random encounters and dogfights if you choose to do this. It’s up to you, which is always dangerous because gamers have a habit of optimizing gameplay for efficiency and then complaining about not being forced to do the stuff they opted to skip.

Frankly I WOULD like more space flight choices. There is no equivalent to No Man’s Sky’s “Pulse Drive” that lets you zoom between planets in a solar system, stopping anywhere. Practically speaking you’ll want to “Jump” between planets. In fact if your destination is on the far side of a planet you probably even want to use the Star Map and jump there. Space is really big in Starfield and conventional flight is pretty slow. I’d also love to use the Grav Jump from the cockpit view but so far I can’t (there seem to be options that are only unlocked once you learn a skill, liking using Thrusters to add Newtonian physics to dogfights). [UPDATE: I got this wrong. From in the cockpit if you target a destination you can then manually jump to it from the pilot’s seat, assuming the destination is within range of your Grav drive. You just manually shunt some power to the Grav drive and off you go.]

This is duplicated planet-side. Assuming you have a mission objective on a planet, you can pick it from the map and choose to land there. You’ll generally be pretty close to your destination. Then you go do whatever it is you need to do, which will probably involve a lot of fun pew-pewing. When you’ve completed your objective you can fast travel right back to your ship (as long as you aren’t over-encumbered). But you can also CHOOSE to walk back too. And along the way may you can gather some resources, scan some stuff, fight some alien beasties… and then you can keep walking PAST your ship out into the wilds and find abandoned bases full of loot and enemies. But you don’t have to do any of this. You can basically fast travel to the ship then fast travel to another solar system.

And as in any Bethesda game you can rush through it or you can stop to explore nooks and crannies and read log files and listen to audio files and soak in the lore. But you don’t have to.

Honestly aside from “Skyrim in Space” the best comparison I can think of based on what I’ve seen so far is The Outer Worlds, but of course without the wacky humor. Starfield is a space game the way The Outer Worlds is a space game. If you’re looking for a hardcore space simulator, yeah, you’re probably going to find Starfield lacking. But if you’re looking for a traditional Bethesda RPG that happens to take place in space (and with some neat additional features because this is 2023 and not 2015 — when BGS’s last game, Fallout 4 — released) then you’re probably going to have fun.

I’m actually playing on two different saves now.

Save 1 is Amos (based loosely on the Expanse character) who is an ex-Bouncer and a Neon City Street Rat. He doesn’t mess about much, has few qualms about shooting first and asking questions never, and in gaming terms, he is mainlining the main quests.

Save 2 is Tess, a former chef (!) whose still has parents to visit (this is a Trait and I’m not really sure what it means yet) and who is empathic. She is kind of a completionist and an ardent explorer (ie she can’t be bothered with the main story quest when there may be alien creatures to discover just over the next rise).

What’s neat is both of these play styles have been really fun so far (though I will soon be WAY behind everyone else because I’m splitting my time between the two). I’m in no hurry though as I figure Starfield is going to be on my system for a LONG while. Heck I still have Skyrim installed.

I’m really looking forward to how the game changes over time both via official patches and by mods.

Starfield Tips: Obvious Stuff I Missed at First [No Spoilers]

OK this is going to be SUPER basic stuff but in case anyone is interested; most of this I learned from playing through the first hour or so of Starfield twice. After my first session I re-thought my character’s background and traits so re-rolled and had to do redo the first mission. The 2nd time I went through it at a slower pace and noticed some things.

First is that some loot seems to be randomized. My first time through the first base you visit, I found a cool space suit with a chameleon property whereby if I stood still I’d turn invisible, Predator-style. I didn’t find this during my second trip through. It is POSSIBLE I just missed the safe it was in, but I felt like I was pretty thorough so I think loot is at least partially random. Heck unless it is somehow tied to your backstory/traits?! Oh, things like random books you can find and read seem to be different too.

Second, (some) computers can be accessed. I told you these were obvious things! There’s a lot of log files and backstory on them, and in some cases you can turn on/off devices via them. I skipped them all the first time and missed out on a lot of the creepy-cool things that’ve been going on in that base.

Third, these Slate things are audio logs. More delicious lore for you to enjoy. Another thing I just walked past my first time through:

Fourth, the lock-picking mini-game seems to be randomized, making scum-saving a little less productive. I Quick Saved before picking a lock and kind of blew it, so I reloaded and…the challenge was different. I’m going to assume that after not very long we’ll all be walking around with a few dozen digipicks so this won’t matter so much, but early on they seem a bit precious.

Fifth, there’s a Cargo Bay on your ship and a little locker behind the pilot’s seat and you can stash junk in both of those if, like me, you can’t resist picking up every little thing and soon find yourself encumbered! You can also stash stuff in crates and weapon racks. I don’t think you have any of these on your starter ship but soon enough you’ll no doubt have a bigger, better ship with these hidey-holes to stash gear in. Also remember you can’t fast travel to your ship once encumbered so be sure to dump off your stuff before you hit that point.

So those are just a couple of the things that tripped me up in what was basically the first hour or two of play. If I have any of it wrong, please leave a comment. Likewise if you have any tips leave those too, but only if they’re not spoilers!

[9/2/23 UPDATE:]

1) My pal Dusty Monk pointed out that your companions can be used to carry some of your loot when you get over-encumbered. If I remember right that’s been the case in earlier Bethesda games but I somehow forgot all about it. You talk to them and use Trade Gear I believe (I haven’t actually done this myself yet).

2) You can review the many tutorials the game throws at you early on but opening the system menu and accessing Help.

[9/3/23 UPDATE:]

1)  “Ship Parts” are a consumable item used to repair damage to your ship’s hull. In your early days of Starfield you probably won’t need them (ship combat is pretty easy early on) but if you’re as rabid a looter as I am, you’ll probably pick some up. Thing is, they’re pretty heavy AND they sort into the “AID” category of your inventory, along with med kits, eggs and beer. When you get encumbered you probably won’t think to check the AID category for heavy items since most of it weighs very little, but those ship parts may have accumulated in there and may be weighing you down.

2) Worth noting that if you select “ALL” in your inventory, you can then sort by weight with the heaviest stuff being at the top of the list. And tangentially related, you can sort weapons by ammo type they require. Starfield has at least a dozen ammo types (that’s all I’ve found so far) so this can be really handy when you’re putting together a load-out and don’t want to be carrying several guns that all draw from the same ammo pool.

3) When selling loot keep an eye on the vendor’s credit balance. If they run out of money the game will keep letting you sell stuff to them, and to be fair you will get a warning that you won’t get full value of the item. But what they mean by “not full value” is 0. The vendor keeps taking your stuff and giving you nothing. Just don’t be like me and assume, y’know, this item is worth 500 but the cheap vendor is only going to give you 400 because your Commerce skill isn’t high enough, or something. It’s a mistake you’ll only make once but… now you can just never make it! 🙂

[9/5/23 UPDATE:]

One last tip. This applies at least to the Xbox version and it is related to a minor bug. You can own more than one ship in Starfield and your ‘active’ ship is chosen by marking it as your “Home” ship. In at least one case my “Home” ship was not on the launch pad where it was supposed to be and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to ‘summon’ it. Turns out this was a bug and your “Home” ship SHOULD be on the launch pad. The fix was to pick another ship as your “Home” ship, then switch it back to the ship that you really want to use. Toggling back and forth like that sorted things for me. Not sure if this bug happens on PC.

And speaking of Xbox vs PC, the game is cross-save, at least the Game Pass version (I can’t test the Steam version). I’m pretty sure when it comes time for me to seriously build/modify a ship I’ll do that on PC as I find the console ship building interface a bit cumbersome.

Oh and if you’re a crazy person like me and are playing through the game more than once at the same time, on the Load Save screen, you can filter by character name. The UI prompt for this is down at the bottom of the screen. The game creates a lot of auto saves, and an exit save, plus whatever manual saves you make, so filtering by character name is SUPER helpful.