It’s been said already but it’s funny how momentum can shift in an instant for games like Starfield. In November 2020, director Todd Howard claimed that a reveal was still a ways off. Fast forward to just a few months later and you could swear that the space-themed RPG which had no official gameplay footage or details thus far was releasing this year. What exactly happened? How did Starfield go from being a title card at E3 2018 to an actual game? Is it releasing this year, next year or the year after?
Let’s go back a bit to where the rumors properly began. In February 2021, insider NateDrake said that Microsoft had a “strong hope and desire” to release Starfield this year. The impact of ongoing events on development was “anyone’s guess” but as of a few months prior to their comments, 2021 was the planned release window. Of course, NateDrake noted that they weren’t “100 percent” saying it was going to happen.
In March, GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb stated on Dealer – Gaming’s YouTube stream that there was a 90 percent chance of Starfield being revealed in full at E3 2021 and that it would release this year. Again, that was the plan at the time. Plans can – and often do – change.
In April, insider Rand al’Thor revealed on the Xbox Two Podcast that Microsoft and Bethesda were working hard to release Starfield by the holiday 2021 window. The game’s development was “essentially” done and the development team was reportedly in the middle of polishing it. Following up on comments from Xbox boss Phil Spencer about the Bethesda acquisition being about great exclusives on “platforms where Game Pass exists” (read: not PlayStation), Starfield was noted as being “100 percent an Xbox exclusive.”
In May, Microsoft was still reportedly targeting a 2021, if not early 2022, release. Insider Shpeshal_Ed said on the Xbox Era podcast that the publisher had purchased ad space for the title this year. This didn’t necessarily confirm its release for this year though – after all, ad time was purchased for Halo Infinite in 2020 before its subsequent delay.
A few days later however, Starfield leaks seemingly began to emerge. Screenshots from an apparent 2018 build (which some reported to be from 2019) emerged, showcasing both first person and third person perspectives, various space station interiors and different assets. The source was SkullziTV on Twitter who shared another screen or two in the subsequent days. Jeff Grubb would then respond to various messages about Starfield not being an exclusive by stating outright on Twitter that, “Starfield is exclusive to Xbox and PC. Period. This is me confirming that.”
Reports then began circulating about the game’s release date. Blessing Adeoye Jr. from the Kinda Funny Gamescast speculated that Starfield would release in Q1 2022 with Grubb later commenting on Twitter that he was “right” about the same. Luke Stephens then tweeted recently about how the game was “pretty much done” as of September 2020 and that Bethesda Game Studios had spent the year polishing and refining its next-gen port (which implied for the first time that it would come to Xbox One as well). “I’m told that they’re trying to ‘make up for Fallout 76‘ and deliver a game that’s ‘polished to perfection’,” said Stephens. “Coming this year…Watch.”
Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier – who has stated multiple times that no game release was set in stone for this year due to various events – finally weighed in on the matter. He tweeted that Starfield was actually “nowhere near done” as per several people familiar with its development. Though it will make an appearance at E3 2021, the currently planned release date was “way later than most people expect.”
But why wasn’t the game done as of last year? Considering it had been announced at E3 2018 – and rumored for a few years before that – it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to expect development to have wrapped last year. As Schreier noted, the “bulk” of Bethesda Game Studios including its Maryland office had been working on Fallout 76 until its launch. “Starfield‘s team was very small until 2019. Rumors that the game was planned for 2020 or far into production then are just not true,” said Schreier.
It does make sense, if you think about it. Fallout 76’s launch in November 2018 was disastrous, to put it mildly, and having the majority of Bethesda onboard to help fix it while producing new content and features, at least for the initial few months after launch, seems a given. It’s also possible that work on the Wastelanders update – which was more of an expansion that added human NPCs, dialogue choices and factions back in – had begun around early 2019 with the Maryland team possibly transitioning to Starfield in subsequent months.
None of this suggests that Starfield hadn’t made any progress at that point. It’s possible that pre-production with various preliminary assets and systems was already underway. How much of the game was developed by that point is unknown but if several recent triple-A releases have taught us anything, it’s that the bulk of development can occur in the last year or three before release. No one can say for sure. While this may not be the case for Starfield, Schreier’s comments on it being “nowhere near done” seem to indicate as much.
Schreier would next tweet about how Bethesda was planning to tease a release date at E3 2021. The date would be in late 2022 – the first time that any insider had suggested the same. He responded to a tweet from Direct-Feed Games who noted the current plan, based on information they had been given, was Starfield receiving a “2022” window at E3 and that the release window “could be as late as Q3/Q4 of 2022.” Schreier then reaffirmed that the publisher would announce a specific date at the event.
Of course, even this specific release date should be taken with a grain of salt. If its current internal release date is by November 10th 2022, for example, then this would be more of an estimate than a fixed date. After all, if development is still ongoing and plenty of polish still needed to be done, it could very likely be delayed further. Then again, a late 2022 release window could have been chosen to specifically account for any potential delay or last-minute issues.
All of this depends on a number of factors – the game’s scale; how easy or difficult development is with the Creation Engine, especially with its recent upgrades; how many platforms it will be releasing for (because even without PlayStation, it still needs to be optimized for three platforms, not counting Xbox One); and the obstacles of remote work. At the very least, it seems a given that Starfield will make an appearance at E3 2021. If the reveal is anything like Fallout 4 or Fallout 76, expect Bethesda to launch a teaser stream of sorts that will run for a good 24 hours or more, followed by a teaser drop and promises of a full reveal at E3.
It should be interesting to see how Microsoft plans its own reveals around it, especially with its E3 showcase being combined with Bethesda this year. Games like Perfect Dark, Everwild and Fable are reportedly a long way off from release. State of Decay 3 was stated to be in early pre-production when it was revealed in July 2020, so a proper gameplay reveal, if any appearance at all, seems unlikely. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 hasn’t received too much news since Ninja Theory shifted development to Unreal Engine 5 in June 2020 so its appearance is also up in the air.
While Forza Horizon 5 could finally have its long-awaited reveal and Halo Infinite may receive a proper release date, it’s possible that Starfield serves as a major show piece for both companies to generate hype in the coming year. E3 2021 starts on June 12th so we won’t have to wait for answers much longer.