After decades of work in the fantasy and post-apocalyptic settings, Bethesda Game Studios is finally tackling sci-fi with Starfield, their upcoming roleplaying game that also happens to be the first new IP made by the team in over twenty-five years.
Bethesda Game Studios’ titles won over dozens of millions of fans between Elder Scrolls and Fallout, which makes the early interest in Starfield unsurprising. Its name was first uncovered when Bethesda trademarked it all the way back in September 2013. Game Director Todd Howard would later go on to say that no other names were considered and that it had to be Starfield.
Following its official announcement at Bethesda’s E3 2018 press conference, fans learned that the project had been long gestating in the minds of the developers, chiefly Howard himself who had wanted to make a space game ever since 1994. At that time Bethesda held the rights to the Traveler sci-fi tablet RPG, but those quickly went away, he said. The game Delta V, released in 1994, was originally part of the planned Traveler game. There was another space combat game called The 10th Planet, but it was canceled not long before its scheduled 1997 release date. A few years later Bethesda had the Star Trek license and Todd Howard even pitched an RPG based on the beloved sci-fi universe, but it obviously didn’t pan out.
Active development on Starfield began as soon as BGS had completed Fallout 4 in late 2015. The development moved from pre-production to full production by mid-2018, when the game was already playable in some form.
Release date, platforms, editions
Starfield was initially scheduled to launch on November 11st, 2022, on the eleventh anniversary of the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda’s biggest success to date. In May 2022, though, Bethesda announced it would be delayed until the first half of 2023.
The game will be released on PC and Xbox Series S|X. Just like all of Microsoft’s first-party games, it will also be playable by Game Pass subscribers on mobile platforms via the cloud.
There is no information on pre-orders or editions yet. We’ll update this section at a later date.
The announcement teaser dropped alongside the game’s announcement at E3 2018.
The first teaser trailer was shared at E3 2021, showing in-engine footage.
Lastly, the fifteen minutes long debut gameplay footage appeared last week at the Xbox & Bethesda Game Showcase 2022.
Genre and setting
Starfield’s universe is inspired by the so-called NASA Punk concept, with which Bethesda is attempting to deliver a future that is grounded in actual NASA space missions.
The game is set in the year 2330, roughly twenty years after a massive conflict dubbed Colony War between two major factions, the United Colonies and the Freestar Collective. In this era, humankind has colonized space in an area that extends outward from the Solar System for roughly fifty light-years. This region of space is called the Settled Systems and that’s where Starfield takes place.
At the beginning of the game, the United Colonies is the most powerful faction from both a military and political standpoint. Their capital city is New Atlantis, located on the planet Jemison, and it is a melting pot of cultures. The developers of Starfield pointed out that in a lot of ways, the city is a true reflection of the future of our world. It is the biggest city in the game (out of four main cities) and the largest ever built by the developers.
The other major power in the Settled Systems is the Freestar Collective, a confederation of three star systems that have joined for their common belief in personal freedom and individuality. Their capital, Akila City, has fortified walls to withstand attacks from an aggressive alien species known as the Ashta, described as a cross between wolves and velociraptors.
Beyond these two political powers, there are many other factions in the Settled Systems. For example, the Xenofresh Corporation built a pleasure city called Neon on a currently unnamed aquatic world. Neon was actually meant to be a fishing platform, but Xenofresh Corporation discovered a fish with psychotropic properties and then transformed the city into a place where the wealthy go to do recreational drugs. The drug itself, Aurora, is only legal on Neon.
Then there are rogue factions such as the Crimson Fleet, a confederation of space pirates that the player will be able to infiltrate.
The main quest of Starfield will see players joining the Constellation, described by Bethesda as the last group of space explorers. During the questline, players will make a discovery that will change everything. That could be a hint to the discovery of intelligent alien life, though that’s only speculation for the time being.
According to the developers, the main quest will be longer than that of their previous titles, possibly lasting up to 40 hours of gameplay.
Starfield has been described as Skyrim in space, though that’s probably a bit reductive. Just like all Bethesda’s games, it will be playable in both first-person and third-person views, and it will include staples like lockpicking, pickpocketing, and even the more recent settlement (here called outpost) building from Fallout 4 and Fallout 76.
During the gameplay reveal, fans received confirmation on a number of gameplay features. For example, Starfield includes space flight, space combat, spaceship building, smuggling, as well as disabling, boarding, and even stealing enemy spaceships.
Space flight has been confirmed not to be seamless between ground and space, as the developers believed it would have been a waste of resources trying to implement that feature.
Space combat in Starfield will be a bit slower when compared to the average twitchy space shooter. Todd Howard said the inspiration came from games like MechWarrior when it comes to the power management between weapons, engines, shields, and the Grav Drive that lets you jump out of problematic situations.
Spaceship building allows the complete customization of looks and layout, thanks to the myriad of different modules and ship manufacturers. Players will get to choose their crew members as well.
Bethesda then confirmed that it will be possible to land anywhere on any of the over a thousand planets scattered throughout a hundred star systems. This is mostly done through procedural generation, though Howard stressed that this has been a thing in previous Elder Scrolls and Fallout games as well. He added that once they had perfected procedural generation for a single planet, it was relatively trivial to extend it to many more.
Nonetheless, Starfield will feature more handcrafted content in the game than any previous Bethesda Game Studios title. It already has 200K lines of dialogue as of June 2022. It will also be clear to players which planet has handcrafted content and which relies mostly or exclusively on procedural generation.
As obvious in a fairly realistic space game, there will be plenty of barren but resource heavy ice balls or otherwise unlivable planets. Still, they will be useful to research fauna and flora as well as gather resources that can be used to upgrade gear, outposts, spaceships, et cetera. It is also possible that these planets have been conceived as a playground for modders and indeed, Todd Howard expects Starfield to be a modders’ dream.
The gameplay revealed included a first look at the character creation system available in Starfield, which is the most flexible yet in a Bethesda game. Beyond the standard options for face, hair, and body types, players can also pick a specific walking style. The most interesting part is related to the character background, though, as that will come with some unique roleplay options.
The following backgrounds can be seen in the demonstration:
- Best Hunter
- Bounty Hunter
- Combat Medic
- Cyber Runner
- Long Hauler
Each of them comes with unique starting skills. Then there are the optional traits that come with unique advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a list of the traits seen in the gameplay reveal:
- Alien DNA
- Freestar Collective Setler
- Kid Stuff
- Neon Street Rat
- Raised Enlightened
- Raised Universal
- Serpent’s Embrace
- Starter Home
- Terra Firma
- United Colonies Native
- Unwanted Hero
For example, Kid Stuff establishes that the player character has parents who can be visited at their home, but 10% of all the earnings are automatically deducted and sent to them. Starter Home lets you own a small house on a peaceful little moon, but also comes with a mortgage of 50K credits that you will presumably have to pay off at some point.
Some of the traits like Extrovert and Introvert, Freestar Collective Settler/United Colonies Native/Neon Street Rat, Spaced and Terra Firma, Raised Enlightened/Raised Universal/Serpent’s Embrace are also mutually exclusive.
Starfield will feature a silent protagonist Fallout 4. Conversations will take place in an unlike first-person view.