Open-world sci-fi RPG Starfield may overreach at times, but its ship-building system is one of the most rewarding I’ve ever seen.
Everything from your ship’s shape to its armaments is yours to choose. You could build a nippy fighter like the Star Wars X-Wing, or go for a ponderous battleship. You could even build a cargo hauler or a passenger liner.
However, what really elevates any custom-built Starfield ship is how you get to walk around the environment you create, seeing your vessel’s corridors, berths, and cockpit for yourself. Your creation does not exist in isolation, rather it’s a thing you can touch, explore, and revel in.
It reminds me a great deal of playing The Sims as a kid. Rather than simply building a house for my Sims, what really made the game special was seeing them live there. Watching the professional and personal tribulations of my Sims made these houses feel like they were more than just four walls, becoming spaces with greater meaning.
Spaceships in Starfield are of a similar breed. They’re covered in the clutter and detritus of human life - discarded magazines, coffee stains, and rumpled bedsheets are par for the course in your ship’s cramped halls. Altogether, this offers players a profound sense of ownership. Your ship in Starfield isn’t just a means of transportation or a way of carrying your loot - it’s your home and your lifeline. It just so happens that your Starfield house can fly and has lasers.
The spice of life
This sense of ownership makes even mundane activities on Starfield’s roster more exciting. It’s one thing to watch a canned take-off animation again and again, but another entirely to watch your very own spaceship, an object of your own design, slip the surly bonds of gravity. Even docking at a space station becomes a joy. Almost every time I dock, I find myself compelled to switch to a third-person view and admire my ship as it hangs from the station’s docking arm.
Starfield’s space engagements are more fraught as a result of this attachment - space battles not only test your shipbuilding and piloting skills but also have a far more personal dimension, since it's your own creation on the line. After all, that pesky pirate who’s just popped up is shooting at your home. You live there. It’s where you keep all your stuff.
The overall ship variety on offer really shines when you’re in the pilot’s chair. Ships in Starfield handle noticeably differently based on their class and design. First off, there’s the obvious stuff, like size and the number of engines. An agile class A fighter will zip around with ease while a bulky cargo hauler will feel more ponderous when you’re at the helm. However, there’s a lot more depth to the system than you might expect. Some pilots might favor thrusters that offer an impressive turning speed, while others might put a premium on raw acceleration.
The sheer breadth of Starfield’s parts library is comparable to the mech building in Armored Core 6. While not as fine-tuned as the combat system in FromSoftware’s mech battler, the different weapons and shields on offer in Starfield do offer distinct forms of performance. Rapid-fire lasers feel like Gatling guns, while railguns feel like more precise, punchy weapons.
Perhaps a ship’s most important feature is its hab modules. These represent the places that you and your crew will actually occupy. With each of Starfield’s in-universe manufacturers offering different aesthetics, there’s a range of styles that can be applied to these living quarters. The clean white lines of Nova Galactic provide quite a different charm to Hopetech’s more rough-and-ready approach. What’s more, the contents of these habs are heavily customizable. Passenger dorms, infirmaries, armories, control rooms, and even brigs are available from ship parts dealers. With this range of options at your fingertips, you’re empowered to craft a ship that’s a reflection of your own personality, as well as the wants and needs of your travels.
Work in progress
That said, Starfield’s ship-builder is not perfect. Though it provides fertile ground for your imagination to run wild, the tools themselves can be a little janky. The hotkeys aren’t particularly intuitive if you’re playing on PC, and the module selection tools can be fiddly.
On top of that, you have little control over where ladders and hatches are placed. While not a problem for smaller vessels, this can create issues for larger ships. It sucks to spend an hour building a new ship, only to find that your creation has become a confusing maze thanks to unintuitive ladder placement. Though there are ways to game the system by using companionways and assembling your hab modules in a specific order, the need for these workarounds feels like an oversight by Bethesda.
Additionally, the ship-builder doesn’t offer any sort of “ghost” mode, meaning that, if you want to look inside your ship, you’ll have to commit funds and leave the hangar screen before going to check out your ride on foot. The absence of this sort of feature can make tweaking your ship tougher than it needs to be. Hopefully, these problems will be solved either by mods or official updates, as they do put a damper on things.
Nonetheless, the ship-building system is still one of the strongest out there and weaves elegantly into Starfield’s range of open-world activities. From dogfights to cargo hauling, the presence of a custom-built, personalized ship makes even the most routine missions seem intimate. Though these systems have yet to reach their full potential, they are well worth checking out if you have even the faintest interest in building a home that you can also fly through space.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.