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‘Starfield’ Steam Deck and Xbox Series X Review (in Progress) – The Final Frontier – TouchArcade Leave a comment


One of the advantages of not paying much attention to pre-release media, has been discovering many things directly in-game. Starfield is a huge game, and Bethesda Game Studios’ most ambitious and polished one yet, but it still feels familiar in many ways. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been playing Starfield on both Steam Deck and Xbox Series X for this review.

I’ve now put in over 70 hours into Starfield across multiple saves on both platforms. The game is massive, and I wasn’t planning on rushing through just the main story for review. I will be updating this review once I’ve played more and once the game is better-optimized for Steam Deck. Right now, I’m going to focus on the game itself, the PC port on Steam Deck, and the Xbox Series X version for this review in progress. The screenshots here that are 16:10 with the performance overlay are from Steam Deck, while the 16:9 ones are from the Xbox Series X version.

I was very curious to see how Starfield would feel as a fan of Skyrim, but as someone who didn’t care for Fallout 4 at all. I adore No Man’s Sky for its exploration and setting, and wasn’t sure Starfield would land for me. It has constantly surprised me in a good way, but still feels very much like a Bethesda Game Studios experience, just at a much larger scale.

Starfield’s story is pretty great. I love the factions, interactions, and quest chains, but I haven’t actually seen it through till the end yet. This is because I’ve been spending a ton of time on side quests and exploration. I will say that what I’ve played so far of Starfield’s main quest is great, and a lot better than I expected. Some of the moments you discover by accident are the best. Early on, I overheard a customer yelling in a book store and went in to check. It turns out the customer was pushing for a digital book purchase while the store was only selling physical books.

In addition to your own character, your companions play a huge part of not just the story, but also the gameplay. These companions can serve as love interests, as storage, and to do things in your ship or outposts. I’m sure I’ve not seen them all given how much this game has to offer. From the ones so far, Sam Coe and Andreja are my favorites.

Starfield’s strength is in how you have a ton of freedom in your build, exploration, and what you want to do in-game. I started by doing a few of the main story quests, but then spent nearly a week on just side activities for the factions and exploration before going back to the main quest. I mentioned multiple saves, and I used that to see how I could attempt different outcomes for some quests. This resulted in avoiding specific combat encounters or finishing other quests quicker thanks to my character’s build in that save. There’s a lot of flexibility, and I still feel like I’ve not seen most of what’s possible here with the varied skill tree.

If you’ve played No Man’s Sky for a long time like I have, Starfield doesn’t really feel like that. It feels like a Bethesda Game Studios game, but managed to impress in its tech and improvements over prior releases. Don’t expect to manually fly and land or fly off planets here like you do in No Man’s Sky. Starfield has a lot of fast travel and loading involved. This is probably my only complaint so far. It sometimes takes away control from you too often with canned animations or load screens. I got used to this, but I was hoping to be able to do everything myself when it comes to planetary liftoff and landing. Barring that, I loved flying in space, and the way Starfield ship gameplay feels like a blend of Freelancer and FTL’s power management. Combat in space is also great.

The crafting and customization in Starfield is pretty wild. I’d need to do a whole separate review on just those aspects. It feels like everything from prior games by the developer has been built upon, but the new systems in place for the ships, outposts (later on), weapons (with different tiers), skills, and crafting are a lot better than I expected. Inventory management also isn’t as annoying, but the weight limit will irritate you if you pick up the most interesting things you see like I do. Scanning is another aspect I spent a lot of time on since you do get rewarded for completing a whole planet’s worth of research for rewards.

Before getting into the technical details and how I feel about the visuals or audio design, one thing that stuck out to me throughout, is how Starfield reminded me of Dragon Quest XI. Dragon Quest XI felt like a huge and ambitious entry in the series built for modern platforms, but it still very much had the Dragon Quest identity. Starfield is a huge improvement in visuals, animations, music, even combat (trust me I’m as surprised), and quests, but it still feels like a Bethesda Game Studios RPG.

This has its own downsides though with some dialogue animations and how it feels like there are too many loading screens. Even entering and exiting parts of main cities involves a loading screen. I’m not sure if this is an engine limitation or what, but it was annoying.

Starfield is playable on Steam Deck

Bethesda recommended that we don’t review Starfield on Steam Deck right now because it runs below the minimum spec on PC. We review PC games on Steam Deck, and I love playing on Deck, so I needed to see how it ran, or if it worked at all on Steam Deck. I also installed it to my SD card as I didn’t have enough space on the internal SSD of my 256GB Steam Deck thanks to a lot of extra shaders and things I couldn’t delete right now as I’m playing other games. Once Starfield is optimized for Steam Deck, we will finalize this review and add a score.

On the default Proton, the only additional thing I needed to do was tap the screen when I booted up the game to proceed from a black screen. Starfield has 16:10 support in gameplay, but not in menus which are all 16:9. The PC port itself could use some more work in its feature set because I was surprised at no in-game frame limiter or FOV slider. The graphics options present are below in the screenshot.

After dozens of hours on just Steam Deck, Starfield feels good in some parts, but really struggles in the bigger cities. Turning everything to low and enabling FSR2 is basically the only way to play it right now on Valve’s handheld, and even that drops to 20fps often in the first major city (New Atlantis). The game itself can look very good on the device screen in many parts, but it is very CPU-heavy right now. This has been tested after the day one patch as well.

One highlight of the Steam Deck that I miss on Xbox Series X, is the ability to use gyro aiming. I enabled this through Steam Input, alongside the paddles, and found Starfield controlling a lot better. The paddles can be sorted on an Elite controller though. If you do plan on playing on Steam Deck, I’d recommend using the large menu fonts accessibility option. It helps a lot on the small screen.

I hope Valve and Bethesda can work on improving it on Steam Deck. Right now, I’d recommend Starfield on Steam Deck as an additive experience to your main PC playthrough rather than the only way to experience it. Using the Deck to explore a bit or knock out side quests is a good use case for it, but I wouldn’t want to experience anything in the larger cities on it right now.

Starfield on Xbox Series X

I also put in more time into Starfield on my Xbox Series X recently, and it is mostly amazing. A few hours into the game, I could see why it has a 30fps target on Xbox Series X. The first city and many parts later on have a lot of NPCs and large structures with open areas. Performance was mostly fine, with noticeable drops during some ship animations involving a lot of particle effects or smoke.

Starfield on Xbox Series X is massively better than playing it on Steam Deck though. Barring some shadows for NPCs and distant rendering, I love how it looks on the system, and will likely stick with Xbox Series X for my main playthrough until the Steam Deck version sees optimizations. I also enjoyed the Quick Resume support while playing both Starfield and Armored Core VI on Xbox. I kept swapping between both, and it worked surprisingly well. I’ve had trouble with Quick Resume in pre-release games before, but it seemed to work fine here.

Visually, Starfield is a breath of fresh air compared to Fallout 4. I love most things about the visuals, but the real star is the lighting, city design, weapons, and iconography here. NPCs look very good as well, but you can tell which characters have gotten more work put into them very easily. The game itself looks almost unbelievable for a Bethesda Game Studios title after experiencing Skyrim and Fallout 4 across platforms. Starfield is definitely the best game on a technical level from Bethesda Game Studios by far. It is also worth highlighting the third-person mode here. It doesn’t feel like an afterthought and has good animations. I ended up trying it for a lot of the time I played, but ended up sticking with first-person for combat.

Starfield has an excellent photo mode. This lets you adjust FOV, DOF, change player poses, use filters, and use a plethora of frames. I ended up using it a lot in my playthrough. The iconography and interfaces are the best we’ve seen from Bethesda so far.

I’ve praised a lot in Starfield, but my absolute favorite aspect of the game is Inon Zur’s brilliant score for it. The review codes I have included the deluxe artbook and soundtrack, and I’ve been listening to the music quite a bit outside the game. This is easily the best soundtrack from the studio, and one of Inon Zur’s finest works. It needs a vinyl release as soon as possible. I’ve been listening to The Sol System, combat music when you face off against Badguys, and Within the Walls quite a bit while working this past week. Barring the music, sound design in general is very good with superb voice acting. There are quite a few standouts, but hearing Elias Toufexis was the best surprise.

When I initially started playing, I thought I’d focus on the main story, but quickly realized there is way too much I want to see here. I don’t think I’d even be able to do that by the end of the year with how big everything felt here. Starfield is the kind of game you’d want to buy lore books and artbooks for. I enjoyed being able to experience Starfield pre-release with no real information online, but I really hope Bethesda can get a full encyclopedia and guidebook released with art and more. This game deserves it.

One more thing I want to highlight as well is that I’ve experienced less bugs and glitches in Starfield pre-release than I did in the first few hours of Fallout 4 or prior versions of Skyrim. That itself is worth highlighting. Even Skyrim annoyed me with dumb glitches within the first few hours across every version barring Switch somehow. I hope that future updates can improve the responsiveness for menus in both the Steam Deck and Xbox Series X versions of the game. I had a few missed inputs in parts thanks to that.

In its current state, Starfield is fantastic, despite the few flaws. It doesn’t help that I spend tons of time exploring in games, and Starfield encourages that. The music and exploration in Starfield are definitely the highlights of the experience, but I love what the team has done with the characters as well here. I’m looking forward to playing it more and hopefully seeing some Steam Deck optimization in the future. Until then, Starfield has delivered.

If you enjoy Bethesda Game Studios’ games, and more importantly love exploration and space, I think you should prepare to experience your new obsession with Starfield. I’m looking forward to spending more time with it, and seeing how it improves over time on both Steam Deck and Xbox Series X.

Starfield Steam Deck Review score: (review in progress)


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