Starfield on GeForce Now is among the best and worst ways to play

A screenshot of Starfield’s New Atlantis.
Starfield’s New Atlantis. | Image: Bethesda

I’m not ready to upgrade my PC. Would I pay $20 a month to rent one that lives in the cloud? Starfield is the first game that’s actually making me consider the possibility.

Today, Starfield arrived on Nvidia’s GeForce Now, a service that lets you tap into an RTX 4080-equivalent GPU, and I spent a little time benchmarking the hard-to-run game. It absolutely looks and plays better than it did on my aging 1440p desktop, and looks great handheld.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
This reads 56 fps, but I saw as low as 47 fps when turning around at this spot. Click for larger image.

It’s not a silver bullet. I currently have wired gigabit fiber optic internet and live only a few towns over from Nvidia’s west coast servers. Even then, the game doesn’t currently run as smoothly as it does on the highest-end gaming PCs. In the city of New Atlantis, I saw dips down to 47 and 48 frames per second no matter my graphics settings or resolution, because many worlds are fundamentally limited by your CPU speeds.

But in the cyberpunk core of Neon, I never saw a dip below 60fps at 4K resolution and Ultra spec, regardless of whether I simply walked through town or provoked a battle. It’s so much smoother than my 5600X / 3060 Ti desktop machine.

(By default, GeForce Now sets the game to Ultra with FSR2 enabled, at 75 percent render resolution. I got 70-80fps in Neon’s core that way — consistently 10fps higher than native resolution.)

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Yes, you can see the sun with GeForce Now.

On other worlds, and in lighter firefights, my cloud gaming framerate was far north of 60fps at Ultra spec. I do still need to test on Masada III, though.

Right now, you’re probably wondering about my headline. If it’s so great, why’s it also a “worst way to play”? How can it be “best” if high-end PCs run the game better? Well, some people might prefer to play this game handheld, and I’d take this experience over Starfield on a Steam Deck or ROG Ally:

Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Don’t get me started on the Razer Edge’s pricing or 5G, though.

With GeForce Now, you can stream to most any system you’ve got, and it’s wild to see

But the minor tragedy of Nvidia’s GeForce Now is that you won’t experience any of what I’m talking about unless you cough up cash first.

I decided to give GeForce Now’s free tier a try, too, and Starfield is basically unplayable that way. After sitting nearly half an hour waiting for the game to load, sync my cloud saves, and compile its shaders, I was greeted with graphics like this:

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
The gun is still loading in. Wait for it… wait for it… full-size image here.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Appropriate caption. Full-size image here.

Not to mention scary error messages:

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Oh boy.

It’s an embarrassment. I would be ashamed to put this free trial out into the world as a sample of cloud gaming. Nvidia, do you really think this will convince anyone to pay?

If you’re interested and have good internet, I highly recommend you try the Ultimate tier for a month — and make sure to manually set your GeForce Now resolution to 4K even if your monitor is only capable of 1440p.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
I must have bumped the mouse between these shots, but you can get the idea if you look closely.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Full-res image here.

Nvidia’s streaming quality is noticeably better when it’s got more render resolution to work with; I saw all kinds of muddiness and jaggies at 1440p that utterly vanished at 4K.

Source: The Verge Starfield on GeForce Now is among the best and worst ways to play