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Starfield Chat: Our First Few Hours With Bethesda’s Space Epic

Starfield is officially out in Early Access for those who got one of several special editions of Bethesda’s long-awaited sci-fi RPG. Though everyone else will have to wait until September 6, several Kotaku staffers decided to shell out for the Early Access editions and spent the first night of launch zipping around space, hoarding junk in their ships, and blowing up pirates. Here’s what we had to say about our first few hours with Starfield.

The Week In Games: What’s Coming Out Beyond Starfield

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Ethan Gach: Starfield has to be the weirdest big new game experience I’ve had this year. I played five hours straight. I would have kept going but a space cowboy’s gotta sleep. At the same time there were so many things that underwhelmed or confused me. How far did everyone get and what was your most memorable moment?

Alyssa Mercante: I am currently trying to track down the VC guy with Sarah. I’m still a bumbling idiot in menus, still struggle to quickly determine how much ammo I have in my weapon, which ammo is for what, how to see the map of an interior space (can you?), and other stuff that’s almost all a mix of weird UI and my impatience.

It’s got the exact kind of grippiness in terms of gameplay loop that I’d expect from Bethesda—I don’t really care about any of this shit yet but I’m sort of lazily plodding on, and mostly enjoying it most of the time.

Levi Winslow: I’m maybe four hours in? I got to New Atlantis, met Sarah and the Constellation gang, then dipped off to Mars and Venus to hunt for Moara. I’m finding some of the systems quite cumbersome and unintuitive. Like, why do I have to bring up the weapon menu to select a different gun or whatever? It’s weird that in other Bethesda games, you can quick-swap between weapons on the fly, but you can’t in Starfield? Unless I missed something, which is totally possible. The game gives you so many tutorials for its menus and systems that a quick-swap could’ve been buried. Still, though, I’m having a blast living life as a space cowgirl. Currently, I’m on the hunt for some legendary ship.

Carolyn Petit: I admit, I only got as far as the door of Constellation’s base before calling it a night, and perhaps it’ll grow on me, but it just felt very dated to me, very much like Bethesda holding on to Bethesda design concepts that, in my opinion, it really doesn’t need to hold onto anymore. For instance, when I arrived in New Atlantis, I immediately walk past this group of people who are just dispensing exposition at each other in the clumsiest way. One character says something really disparaging and messed-up about a certain group of people, and someone else calmly replies, “That’s unfair,” before proceeding to rattle off an entire story about a positive experience he had with them, all while everyone else in the group just looks on. People just don’t talk or interact this way in my opinion, and I felt less like I was in a bustling new city and more like I was in line for a ride at Disneyland where animatronic figures are stiffly filling me in on the ride’s lore.

EG: Yea I didn’t immediately find a way to hot-swap weapons either. Between that and constantly being overloaded with enemy loot and no easy place to go to sell it all, I spent probably a third of my entire session last night just scrolling back and forth over a bunch of weapons (including to see which ones I actually still had ammo for).

My most memorable moment was talking down the initial pirates you run into outside of that first moon and then blowing them up with the literal red barrel behind them. 2010 is soooo back. I do agree Carolyn it feels very stagey in a dated sort of way. The game is constantly reminding you it’s a game, in a way I didn’t get from say, Cyberpunk 2077. It reminds me so much of The Outer Worlds in many ways, which was a much more satirical take on the whole genre.

LW: Just adding to your point about blowing up the first space pirates…

Levi shares a Reddit post showing how one person blew up the barrel behind the pirates before the cutscene could even begin.

CP: I also didn’t love that the game forces you to go do this combat mission so early on, before you even meet Constellation and really get introduced to the game’s core concept. To me, it felt a bit like Bethesda lacking faith in its own concept of this wide-open spacefaring game, as if it felt the need to reassure gamers: Don’t worry, this is still a video game-ass video game in which you get to gun down lots of dudes.

LW: I agree. I barely even listened to those dudes. Knowing what I was getting into, I skipped their dialogue and shot them up. Really, I just wanted some quick loot to sell for even quicker cash, which leads me to one of my biggest gripes with this game: There’s so much shit to collect. I know that’s very Bethesda but wow, the sheer amount of stuff to pick up and pore over in this game is staggering.

CP: That’s one Bethesda-ism I have no problem with. I find it comical and enjoyable. In that research base where you fight the pirates, I saw a little zen garden on someone’s desktop and immediately grabbed it for my own. It’ll be one of the millions of stolen items eventually decorating my ship or my space-house or whatever.

EG: Has anyone tried to do persuasion?

LW: Yeah I tried it on the dude at the bar when looking for Moara. (Jack, I think his name was. Maybe John?) I failed it, but then got Sarah to convince him to lower the price of his info, which worked.

CP: I tried to get out of killing the initial pirate boss with persuasion. I failed, and didn’t fully grasp how it worked. There was a pop-up that said something like “you can’t fail if your previous choice succeeded.” Huh? Anyway, I’m sure I’ll make sense of it in time but it was a little befuddling at first.

AM: I used one of my first skill points for speech, and tried persuasion with the bar guy as well. It worked, but I also did not fully comprehend what I was doing

EG: Yea, there’s a later mission where you are trying to convince a dad alienated from his son to hand over a map and at first it’s like, okay how are we gonna navigate 30 years of emotional baggage and then instead I said something like, you know giving him the map is what so-and-so would have wanted, and bingo. It was so goofy.

Claire Jackson and Zack Zwiezen enter the chat.

Zack Zwiezen: I’ve used persuasion a few times and it’s been helpful. Skipped the pirate boss fight, for example. I’m still learning how it works, but its nice to see Bethesda bringing back some RPG-ish systems like that. Reminds me of the weird Oblivion persuasion minigame! With the weird circle and sliding stuff around. I don’t think I ever got good at that one. This Starfield one seems a bit simpler and I think I mostly get it.

Claire Jackson: Good to know you can skip the pirate boss fight…my attempt at resolving that ended up with me bashing an ax into his face. And I was genuinely trying not to kill anyone. Period!

Maybe it’s just the nature of the game’s opening needing to hold your hand to learn all its complex systems and set you up for the quest, but I was also dismayed that I couldn’t choose to stay on the mining planet. I mean, I touched a weird thing, saw a weird thing, and now some rando is like, “Here take my ship and go talk to this space secret society or whatever, though they won’t have answers for you. Sorry. By the way, you’re a captain now!”

ZZ: It moves pretty fast and I wonder if that was a reaction to how slow Fallout 4's intro was and how people didn’t seem to like that.

EG: I was so relieved. No messing around.

ZZ: Agreed. It was nice to just get going. I was worried I’d have to spend four hours in the mine finding a sweet roll for someone.

CJ: I wanted to mess around lol. I wanted to just hang out and mine some stuff. The game wants me to be a hero so badly, and enough games do that for me that I kinda wanted this to unravel itself a bit more slowly.

ZZ: I will say, once you get through with that first big quest and intro stuff, the game truly goes, “Okay, do whatever you want.” At that point you can go be a space miner and never worry about the main story again.

CJ: That’s a relief. So maybe my space gal can be someone who just had one traumatic encounter with space pirates, dropped off some weird who-the-hell-knows-what to these brainiacs, and then just went about her life where she’ll unpack that PTSD-inducing episode after years and years of therapy. That’s all I want. Space therapy.

AM: Within moments of picking up my rock cutter laser I tried to kill someone in the mines, so the intrusive thoughts are already beating my ass.

ZZ: Hot tip: That laser cutter is a very good weapon early on and uses no ammo! It stunlocks people and can even blow up their packs, killing others. Handy! And fun.

EG: Starfield is definitely a resource-extraction fantasy. Mine stuff! Loot stuff! Steal stuff! Use it to do cool things. So far navigating relationships and political factions has really taken a backseat.

ZZ: It was nice to end my time with the first companion, Sarah, and not feel like she wanted to jump my bones. A break from Baldur’s Gate 3, haha. But yeah, it’s clear that certain parts of Starfield got more attention and resources than others.

EG: I found a mysterious map to a pirate hideout or something earlier this morning so that’s cool. The thing keeping me excited to come back at the moment is the fact that it still feels like there are a ton of possibilities lurking out there. Whether that’s actually the case or not, the early game is really good at making you at least feel like you’re barely scratching the surface.

LW: I agree. I’m sure the novelty of Bethesda’s systems will wear thin after a few dozen hours, but the early game has me hooked. Running up to my ship, hopping into the cockpit to blast off into the cosmos, getting into a couple of dogfights with space pirates then looting their ships, landing on a planet to sell my goods before embarking on a bounty—it’s all giving Cowboy Bebop, a fantasy I’ve longed for in video games. It’s not totally there. Some mechanics are still quite unwieldy, but Starfield is letting me live out that bounty hunter lifestyle, and I simply can’t get enough of that right now.

AM: I did get a similar feeling to one I saw Ethan mention on Twitter (X, whatever) before—I woke up excited to play this. For all the jank, for all the confusing menus, there’s enough good stuff here that I am willing to spend more time exploring, lurking, looting, and what have you. How long will this last me? I’m not sure yet. But for now, I’m not all that angry that I’m going into this long weekend with a cold—now I can just sit inside and play Starfield.

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