Starfield has at least partially fulfilled its galaxy-sized ambition, some initial reviews suggest, but its shipbuilding is holding it back.
Though personal spaceships aren’t quite as flashy as the game’s 250,000 dialogue lines or 1,000-ish procedurally generated planets, developer Bethesda initially suggested its robust shipbuilding system made the approximately 40-hour trip toward the end of the game more worth it.
It’s a “very deep system,” Bethesda and game director Todd Howard said in a June interview with Kinda Funny Games. “It’s not like you start the game, and you’re gonna get right into shipbuilding. It costs a lot of credits, it is—in a good way—a very complicated system, and […] more of a longer term thing in the game.”
During a 2022 Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase, Howard revealed Starfield’s many ship customization options, which allow you to control your ship’s configuration, color scheme, and more minute details. These options appear in the game as promised, but reviewers found them, along with ships themselves, annoyingly hard to operate.
Starfield’s spaceships are difficult
“Ship upgrades and the Ship Builder tool that opens up late in the game are […] frustrating,” Paste says. “Very little about either process is effectively communicated through the game, and it was basically through trial and error that I figured out how to tweak and enhance my ships. And you ultimately do have to make upgrades, as certain must-visit locations late in the game can’t be reached unless you install new equipment or buy a prohibitively expensive new ship.”
Once you manage to scrape some cash together and patch a ship you like, there are additional hurdles to deciding what you can do with it.
“Outer space actually feels kind of tiny when all interplanetary transit is done via fast travel,” explains Mashable. “There’s no real way or reason to aimlessly fly your ship around, appreciating the grandiosity of space. […] The ship only exists for dogfights that aren’t particularly fun, at least until you play for dozens of hours and get enough money for a badass ship.”
And even then—“Ship combat can be frustrating at times, and having to manually allocate a pool of resources to specific functions of your ship on the fly—like engine speed, weapon power, and shield potency—takes some getting used to,” said GameSpot. So Starfield could be a space exploration game without any great spaceships to explore it with. That’s disappointing.
At least there’s plenty of time to practice fast travel—Starfield is out in Early Access from August 31 at 8 p.m. Eastern, and it’s officially out September 6.