The sci-fi expanse of Starfield’s futuristic cosmos offers a level of power fantasy not seen in a Bethesda game since The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Sure, you’re not leaping across the entirety of Vvardenfell in a single bound, taking the fight straight to Dagoth-Ur in the heart of the Red Mountain, but what Starfield lacks in sweet Nerevars, it more than makes up for in its brilliant combat.
Starfield’s combat truly takes advantage of its sci-fi setting in a way that most other space-faring games don’t. While you’re amongst the stars, there’s a brilliant and satisfying spaceship dogfighting system to toy around with, but the game’s on-foot fights are somehow infinitely more satisfying than evading lock-on missiles through cluttered asteroid fields.
You see, boots on the ground combat in Starfield isn’t really boots on the ground. After upgrading your boostpack skills to their maximum level, Starfield’s combat immediately opens up into a fast-paced, Quake 3-esque arena shooter as combat environments become a playbox for you to truly toy with. Combined with the wealth of anti-gravity, sun-launching powers you can unlock via the game’s main story, you’re an even more-futuristic Doomguy laying waste to waves of pirates, aliens, deadly Terrormorphs or — if you are evil enough, the civilians and UC police of New Atlantis.
The sheer thrills that boosting around entire arenas gives you is something that no Bethesda game has truly given before. Morrowind’s fully unleashed spells system could become truly special, but the lack of visual and audio feedback in its combat does leave even the most powerful attacks to sometimes have the impact of a wet fart. Fallout 4 had more satisfying combat, but only the Power Armour segments complete with Gatling Guns could hold a candle to Starfield’s combat in the end.
Starfield’s combat does become better the more you play. For example, alongside the aforementioned boostpack upgrades, the game’s combat slide is locked behind the Gymnastics skill tree, and it makes combat even more satisfying, allowing you to evade fire, find cover and even slide under some obstacles.
There’s a future, once the best Starfield mods are more than just sharted underpants and Annoying Orange memes, where Starfield’s combat can truly become the Titanfall RPG that Bethesda’s game sometimes manages to feel like. With the addition of wall-running, which we hope comes in a future Starfield DLC, Starfield’s combat would truly become everything I’ve ever dreamed of.
There are certainly areas where Starfield is lacking. For example, the game’s reliance on fast travel and the lack of flying between planets in at least the same system makes some of the game’s thrilling space moments land a tad flat, but in the moment-to-moment gameplay, Bethesda has crafted an incredibly special experience.
It also helps that Starfield’s content feels endless in an almost MMO-style way. Randomly generated missions for the Freestar Rangers, UC and Crimson Raiders create endless combat encounters to grind for credits, loot and more. While that is likely while they’re there, they’re also a chance to quickly hop in and out of a quick encounter in, say, a cheeky lunch break or when the boss isn’t looking.
Starfield hasn’t managed to grab me in the same way Morrowind, Oblivion or Skyrim did back when they released, but that may be because I’ve just come off a lengthy stint with the unbeatable Baldur’s Gate 3. Nevertheless, Bethesda’s combat designers have done something I never would’ve expected back when I first played Morrowind almost 20 years ago: a Bethesda game now exists with utterly enthralling combat. What a world we live in.
Bethesda Game Studios’ Starfield is available now on Xbox Series and PC. The game is also available via Xbox Cloud Gaming on Xbox One, PC and Mobile.