I’m one of the only staff members at TheGamer who actually likes Starfield’s ship combat. It helped that I roleplayed a pirate captain and put all my skill points into ship buffs, but I just loved the systems involved with astral dogfights. However, the more I play of Bethesda’s space RPG, the more I feel like these fights are a little one-sided.
The good parts come from the ship systems and navigating interesting orbital environments. Quickly rerouting all your power from laser cannons to engines in order to duck behind an asteroid and regenerate your shields gives the fights a hot tactical element. Fights planetside devolve into unloading entire magazines into Spacer hooligans or robot bullet sponges, whereas in the cold emptiness of space, combat is elevated to intergalactic chess.
Then there’s the aggression after the retreat. Moving all your reactor’s power to your forward weapons feels straight out of Star Trek, except instead of being a Starfleet captain, I’m a marauding pirate intent on destruction and loot. It’s these transitional moments where space combat comes alive, and locking onto an opponent opens up even more opportunities.
This system lets you target specific parts of an enemy spacecraft, kind of like celestial VATS. I usually go for shields first, then take out their engines, leaving the poor sods sitting ducks in the vastness of space. At this point, you can either finish the job or board the ship.
Boarding is great fun. Zoom in at high speed, dock your ports, and prep your pistols, because this is going to be a bloodbath. Mow down the heavily-armed crew of your ship of choice, and take control. The ship is now yours. If it’s an improvement on your previous ship, keep it. If it’s not, sell it. Win-win. Except that it’ll be heavily damaged from all those missiles you peppered at its engines.
I love boarding ships nearly as much as I love space combat. But I can’t help but realise that there’s some immersion-breaking elements to the process. Why does a ship that has been pounded with cannons look immaculate on the interior? Surely some things would be smoking and sparking? Why, too, do other ships stop firing as soon as you board, and resume when you clamber awkwardly into an ill-fitting pilot seat? Your allies might see your ship docked and ceasefire, sure, but other opposing vessels? You’re still a sitting duck, after all.
This brings me to my biggest problem with space combat, and Starfield as a whole. NPCs have no agency, it’s robbed of them alongside their facial expressions. When you bring a Crimson Fleet party member on board the UC Vigilance to discuss your undercover infiltration of the piratical organisation, they don’t mention it. When you board a spacecraft, its allies among the asteroids stop attacking. When your own engines are failing, nobody tries to board.
All I want from Starfield is for it to feel alive. I want the options available to me to be available to every NPC. I want them to try to board my ships as they hail me or shoot me – after all, I can do it to them. I do wonder if my vessel is simply too good, if opponents have just always been outmatched by my superior firepower and flawless tactics. But then, I’ve been blown to smithereens more times than I’d care to admit, and I’ve never been boarded.
Starfield’s NPCs feel exactly like that. They fulfil their programmed roles and nothing else. They feel like they’re in a video game. They’re not real people with real lives, they’re just there to hand you a quest or take an arsenal of bullets to the hull. I want to feel excitement again, I want to be in real danger from an opponent who can think for themself. I want someone to board me.Next: I Made The Ugliest Starfield Ship Ever Just To Unlock A Perk