In case you haven’t noticed all the guides I’ve crafted for Starfield, I am enjoying my time playing it. I’ve done 5 different characters of varying builds and playstyles, and have found something fun about most of them.. Except for builds relying on melee (and social skills, but more on that in another guide).
The short answer on whether melee – and stealth melee – is viable in Starfield is essentially.. No.
Let’s break down why melee doesn’t work in Starfield.
Why melee is useless in Starfield
With most combat methods you’ve got quite a few ways to increase your effectiveness in combat: Multiple skills, frequently branching into specialties (sniping, critical hits, etc) or just providing solid damage boosts from the main skill, combined with upgrading your gear to a higher tier as you get up there in levels means you’ll always be able to handle what the game is throwing at you.
With melee, however, that’s not quite true.
Melee does provide some skills; You’ve got Dueling under the Combat tree, boxing if you want to try your hand at punching (don’t bother – you’ll understand why shortly). Martial Arts (and useless Neurostrikes), Concealment’s insane bonuses, and Isolation all help in some way.
The problem is, once you get all those.. You’re done. You will literally hit your peak performance, and some of them are very, VERY situational.
You see, melee weapons (especially your fists) don’t ever get better versions of themselves; no “Advanced” or “Superior” Va’ruun Painblade for you. Once you’ve gotten it, that’s it.
That means New Game+ as a melee character is going to get harder and harder, the further you go.
Combine that with the fact that most enemies use ranged weapons and explosives, and you’ve got a recipe for a bad time.
It gets even worse when you think about stealth and melee in Starfield.
Stealth and melee in Starfield: A massive failure
I tried twice to put together a viable stealth melee build in Starfield, and I am done. I give up.
It just isn’t practical.
Stealth is a little harder in Starfield when compared to other Bethesda titles; enemies are more aware, and they are frequently grouped together. Even if you’ve got a chameleon effect on you, you WILL be spotted after dropping someone. nearby in most cases.
This means sneaking up and backstabbing someone? Yeah, extremely unlikely in a lot of situations.. And doing it repeatedly? Forget about it.
Sure, Concealment is a great skill – locked behind a lot of work that most folks will just cheese to level up – but even leveling stealth as a melee character is a challenge.
With both my melee builds I just grabbed a rifle and went to a planet filled with aliens and started plinking at them while crouching to level stealth up. Realistically that’s all you can do to get your sneak attack challenges done; Trying to get a sneak attack in melee WITHOUT maxed stealth is almost impossible, let alone doing it the 70 times to get it maxed.
When you compare this to the 2 other Bethesda IPs – The Elder Scrolls, and Fallout – you’ll realize they definitely missed the mark here.
Skyrim had seriously powerful stealth skills. Fallout? VATs made stealth melee work exceptionally well.
And both had ways to improve your existing weapons to keep them viable in the late game.
Starfield, well.. It doesn’t.
This is par for the course with Bethesda; they tend to half-bake mechanics in their games that end up being no more than a gimmick, barely useful in the long run.
Reverse pickpocketing comes to mind; In Skyrim you could reverse-pickpocket poisons onto folks and they’d drink them, but poisons themselves were so weak that in order to kill someone using this method you’d have to reverse-pickpocket WAY too many to be practical, which brings up an important question..
Can mods fix Starfield’s melee & stealth problems?
The short answer? Maybe.
Stealth itself has already received some tweaks courtesy of modders, but the biggest issue – lack of weapon improvements – means that an entirely new loot generation table needs to be set up for melee weapons. Ideally you’d also be able to use crafting skills on melee weapons, too, so we’ve got to wait and see there as well.
The problem is that we have to rely on modders to fix Bethesda’s game mechanics.
Modders made Skyrim’s reverse pickpocketing (and poisons in general) useful. With any luck they’ll be able to do the same in Starfield, but we may be waiting a while.