Starfield is too focused on combat
Starfield encompasses various elements, and among them is a shooter. The game's combat system is undoubtedly the finest Bethesda has ever had, and Sta...
Starfield encompasses various elements, and among them is a shooter. The game's combat system is undoubtedly the finest Bethesda has ever had, and Starfield aims to make sure you are aware of it. Once you emerge from the mine and the game commences, you will encounter a significant combat encounter – battling against pirates before glimpsing your first proper planet. This sets the foundation for the remainder of the game, wherein regrettably, too many otherwise enjoyable missions are hindered by monotonous and tedious combat encounters.
I should commence by discussing the combat itself, which is competent but not particularly thrilling. Bethesda has wholeheartedly focused on ranged weaponry, providing players with a plethora of pistols, rifles, and shotguns that utilize various types of ammunition. Why are there three distinct varieties of shotgun shells, multiple energy projectiles, and an abundance of bullet types more numerous than one can shake a particularly sharp stick at? I do not know; you'll have to inquire with Todd Howard.
Amidst all the possibilities at your disposal, the gunfights themselves are rather unremarkable. I couldn't tell you the distinctions between various types of ammunition, as the recoil of most weapons feels largely indistinguishable within their respective categories, and there is no particular sense of uniqueness among them. Yes, your automatic Sidestar pistol performs well at close range, but my faithful Grendel submachine gun essentially does the same while feeling remarkably similar. If Starfield aimed to place such emphasis on combat, it should have taken inspiration from games like Apex Legends.
Each of the 27 weapons in Apex feels fundamentally unique. From recoil patterns to bullet trajectories, they each possess their own personality. I can identify them based on the sound they produce. Granted, I have over 1,000 hours in Apex and only 100 in Starfield, but my point still stands. If Bethesda intended to have such intense action in their game, it needed to be more than just passable.
And that is my point. It would be acceptable if the action were merely acceptable, if Bethesda didn't force it upon us during every mission or exploration. Even the act of discovering temples and artifacts eventually leads to combat encounters in the game. Starfield urges you to fight, and it is regrettable that it doesn't provide a more satisfying experience.
Battles are seldom, if ever, challenging. Higher-level opponents simply have more hit points, and I never felt the need to upgrade my weapon perks during my triple-digit hours of gameplay. There is never a sense of challenge, only more or more resilient adversaries to overcome. It could be forgiven if there were many fights that were interesting or challenging, but rarely do they embody both. Bethesda often vacillates between its RPG and first-person shooter nature in Starfield and therefore excels in neither category.
The player experience further reinforces this aggressive behavior. You receive 20 experience points for discovering a new planet and 25 for killing an enemy. Given that enemies typically appear in large groups of spacers or pirates, the game actively encourages you to engage in combat rather than exploration. If the imposition of battles in the story missions wasn't enough, it is also the most efficient way to level up.
The only exception to this is the zero-gravity firefights. Practically everything is enjoyable in zero-gravity, and shootouts are no exception. When you fire a shotgun at a floating spaceman, the recoil propels you backward, and the gentle nudges to adjust your thrusters and keep the crosshair on the forehead of a tough guy add an additional dimension to an otherwise arduous combat. However, your opportunities for zero-gravity encounters are limited, and most conflicts take place on planetary surfaces.
Starfield likely has the best combat among all Bethesda games. It is undoubtedly capable but is forced far too often. I went as far as "cheesing" an endgame mission from a mountaintop because it was more interesting than engaging in combat the intended way. It is not enjoyable to unload magazine after magazine into teleporting bullet sponges, so I prefer to strike them from a position they cannot reach, thank you very much. There is no possibility of a pacifist playthrough in Starfield. That is unfortunate because it could have been the most entertaining way to experience the game.