Bethesda’s incoming interstellar RPG Starfield bears the unenviable weight of ambition and expectation. The game’s gargantuan galaxies endlessly ripe for exploration, their promise of epic stories stuffed with memorable characters engaging in tense FPS and spaceship combat simply must deliver on all frontiers, for thanks to Starfield’s delay last year Microsoft were left with a gaping hole in its Xbox first party offerings. Starfield isn’t just another colossal sci-fi odyssey looking to avoid a at launch Fallout 76-style downfall. No, after being thoroughly dominated by Sony in the previous console generation, Microsoft are finally recognising that it is games – not just hi-tech specs – which sell consoles. Bethesda Game Director Todd Howard talks of the pressure for Starfield to be a platform seller – that is, a game which boosts the sales of Xbox Series X|S – with a responsibility that has grown exponentially since Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda. Microsoft are playing catch-up to Sony, so Starfield simply must sell – and play – well.
And, for what it’s worth, Starfield has every chance to be a best seller. Bethesda games are always hotly anticipated, but it’s Starfield’s gorgeous, awe-inspiring visuals well supported by Bethesda’s trademark for deep character customisation and unspooling narratives which will garner the most excitement.
For its future setting in the year 2330, there’s been – as there often is with Bethesda games – a war. Assuming the role of a member of hi-tech scavenging group Constellation, players will take advantage of the now dwindling war between factions to scour the universe for rare artefacts. In walking the line between conflicting factions as a highly customised character, choosing whom to side and whom to oppose with independent questlines for each that aren’t locked throughout the game’s 30-40 hour campaign, Bethesda hope to deliver a profoundly personal experience for players. This is quite the tantalising prospect for a game largely taking place in the vast endlessness of outer space.
Understandably, they’re concerns resting on Bethesda’s penchant for jagged edges and glitches – endearing when not game breaking but given Fallout 76’s recent clunky misfortunes, it’d absolutely devastating if Starfield’s bugs were severe enough to render the game unplayable. This, of course, is viewed primarily from a player’s perspective; the trend with those games mentioned to overpromise and underdeliver simply cannot continue. It won’t just hurt Microsoft’s annual revenue either, but it’ll damage theirs and Bethesda’s reputation as well. If Starfield releases in an unsatisfactory state, there’ll be inevitable backlash from player’s who’ll lament the fact Bethesda have spent years ploughing money and resources into a project which players didn’t ask for instead of concentrating on a new Fallout or Elder Scrolls game, titles which there is a definite appetite.
Clearly, Microsoft and Bethesda realise the gravitas of releasing a broken game, hence the delays to Starfield’s release. Currently, the official line from both parties is it’ll be out in the first half of 2023, which is a window unchanged since Starfield’s original delay was announced in May 2022. Of course, speculation is rife, with rumours and misinformation aplenty. Bethesda remaining tight lipped fuels speculation too of course, with the most prominent rumour at present being that Starfield is set to receive another delay to the latter half of 2023. At the same time though, Bethesda have recently created a support page for Starfield indicating the game is still on target for a first half of 2023 release. So, right now, it’s anyone’s guess when Starfield will eventually come out.
Rumours and speculation aren’t really the meat and bones of this feature though; the majority of players should agree that most important is that whenever Starfield does gets released, it needs to release in a fit, playable state. It’s purported 1,000 or so unique planets across an unimaginably vast universe must be ready for glitch free exploration.
Games of this size will inevitably be bug-ridden though – somewhat hilariously too as is often the case with Bethesda titles – but these bugs will of course be patched, leaving a smooth-running game in the long run. Thankfully for Bethesda too, there is already a community of modders primed and able to swiftly step in to push a community patch that’ll address any of Starfield’s issues post-launch.
It must be said though, even with Starfield releasing in 2023 in perfectly playable state, it still faces a tall order to compete with Sony and PlayStation. Not that Sony are inarguably releasing more enticing games this year. No, it’s just that whichever side of the fence you’re on its undeniable both Xbox and PlayStation platforms are targeting a bumper year. Sony’s major 2023 offerings include the sequel to PlayStation 4’s best-selling game Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Can Microsoft’s headline-grabbing first-party offerings – Redfall and Forza Motorsport 8, in addition to Starfield – do enough to compete with Sony’s? Starfield’s pressure and expectation to push players into buying Xbox consoles seems even more desperate when comparing 2023’s platform exclusives, and that isn’t yet taking into consideration PS5’s improving availability and resultant burgeoning sales either.
This description of an ultra-competitive console market is not intended to paint the picture of a losing battle for Microsoft and Bethesda though. Far from it, don’t forget Microsoft’s runaway success with its subscription service Game Pass. As Bethesda are now a first-party studio for Microsoft, this means that Starfield will be playable on both Xbox and PC Game Pass services on day one. This is an immensely valuable offering which will surely entice a lot of players to subscribe if they weren’t already. Sony, for all their attempts at rejuvenating their own PS Plus service are playing catch-up to Microsoft in this regard.
There is still a minor elephant in the room for Starfield though, and that centres on its originality. Opinion, sure, but there’re plenty who would’ve viewed Starfield’s gameplay reveal last year and felt a tinge of deflation that most of the action was so FPS focused. With endless talk of evocative planets and dynamic, multi-dimensional space opera narratives, it’s a shame generic gunplay was the thing Bethesda felt the need to showcase first. Procedurally generated planets has been done already too with No Man’s Sky, and looking back on the gameplay trailer’s dimly lit space station corridors only serves to conjure images of the recently released survival horror games, whilst Starfield’s narrative foundations of an in-game universe besieged by war is borrowed from their own titles.
Hopefully, all these trepidations will be addressed in the upcoming Starfield deep-dive showcase. The game didn’t feature in January’s Xbox & Bethesda Developer Direct livestream, presumably because there’s simply so much to see in Starfield that it couldn’t possibly be stuffed into an event intended to showcase the breadth of upcoming Xbox titles.
Hopefully, in this deep-dive showcase we’ll get to see some of the more unique features of Starfield’s customisation options, such as its modular ship building. Plus, more time spent showcasing the allure of otherworldly planets and space travel wouldn’t go amiss. Clues into how well the seemingly disparate narrative threads of following and opposing duelling factions will cohesively tie into an epic story – one which culminates in solving one of humanity’s greatest mysteries – would be nice too, although this might be something we have to wait until we play Starfield to find out. One thing’s for sure, with so much promise and ambition, should Bethesda pull this off we might be looking at one of the greatest games of this generation.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.
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