Any new single player RPG being made by Bethesda Game Studios is going to be a game that the entire industry will have its eyes on. This is the developer that has delivered multiple genre-defining games over the years, from Morrowind and Oblivion to Fallout 3 and Skyrim, each a revelation in and of itself that pushed the envelope for the genre and for games as a whole in a multitude of ways. When a studio with that kind of a track record puts out a new game, it’s only natural that everyone is going to sit up and take notice.
So Starfield would have been a gargantuan release regardless of any other circumstances- and yet the circumstances around it make it feel like an even bigger deal than it would have been in the ordinary course of things. Multiple factors are coming together here and coalescing into a massive ball of hype and anticipation in a way that, in any other year, would have been all-consuming and left little oxygen for any other major game. Of course, 2023 is a year that’s been dominated by releases of that nature- but that’s a different topic.
So what is it exactly about Starfield in particular that makes it a release of such epic proportion, beyond the fact that it’s a new Bethesda Game Studios title? Well, for starters, it’s the studio’s first new IP in over 25 years. For as long as BGS has been around, the studio has been first and foremost with The Elder Scrolls, while a decade and a half ago, it threw Fallout into the mix as well- which, of course, wasn’t a new IP. For the first time since Bethesda put out the first Elder Scrolls title, BGS is working on an entirely new, major IP that it’s built from scratch. Given the team’s pedigree, that’s an exciting prospect. From the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Fallout to the rich fantasy settings of The Elder Scrolls, Bethesda Game Studios has built some of the most immersive and compelling worlds and experiences in games over the years, so it’s not surprising in the slightest that the idea of the studio concocting something completely new in a massive, new, space-faring setting is one that’s caught the eye of so many.
Something else that adds even greater stakes to Starfield’s launch – probably to a significantly greater degree, in fact – is that it’s going to be the Bethesda Game Studios’ first new game as a first party Xbox studio. Bethesda in general hasn’t had the best start to life under the Microsoft banner so far – Redfall was an absolute disaster, and though Ghostwire: Tokyo and Deathloop were far better (to say the least) they both also launched as PlayStation console exclusives, due to previous contractual obligations – and Xbox as a whole has had a pretty rough go of it over the past year or year and a half, especially where major first party releases are concerned. To say that there’s a lot riding on Starfield would be a bit of an understatement.
And though you can never be absolutely sure of any game’s quality until you’ve actually played it yourself, Starfield does inspire a great deal of confidence. Until about a couple of months ago, that may not have necessarily been the case, but the excellent Starfield Direct in June served as an excellent showcase for the sci-fi RPG, and was the moment that pretty much everybody seemed to collectively hop aboard the hype train. In a year that’s seen the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Baldur’s Gate 3, it’s obviously going to take a lot for any game to be able to have a legitimate shot at vying for the top honours at the end of the year, but based on the significant amount that we’ve seen of it so far, Starfield does seem to have that legitimate shot.
Size and scale are what Bethesda Game Studios’ RPGs have always been known for first and foremost, and those things are what those experience always emphasize more than anything else, but Starfield seems to be taking that to a whole different level. Set in a massive collection of star systems, it’s set to have over a thousand planets that players will be able to go up and visit- and yes, a great many of them are going to be uninhabited rocks floating in space, with procedural generation being used to deliver quests to populate the play space. But Bethesda has said that 10% of all planets in Starfield will be inhabited locations with handcrafted content, and while 10% might sound like a fairly small proportion at first, that still accounts for a hundred planets.
Clearly, even for those who choose to completely ignore the game’s procedurally generated offerings, there’s going to be no shortage of content to dive into. Given BGS’ knack for creating immersive worlds that are rich with lore and effective worldbuilding, the prospect of exploring the Settled Systems, seeing all of its varied sights, exploring its vast expanses, and learning more about its many factions, is an exciting one, to say the very least. And with Starfield making some big promises with how flexible its role-playing systems will be – not only in terms of progression, but also how you’ll be able to shape your character’s background, and how that will affect your experience – it looks like players are also going to have quite a bit of freedom in how they want to approach exploring the Settled Systems.
The one big hurdle that we’re all obviously hoping Starfield will clear is the technical state it will launch in. Massive open world games – especially ones operating on this kind of scale – are always going to have rough edges, but BGS’ games obviously have a knack for being a bit too rough. All too often, we’ve heard criticism of the studio’s ageing tech, the significant bugs and glitches its games launch with, and how, on a visual and technical level, they have fallen behind the curve as time has gone by. Will Starfield finally be the game that breaks that trend? More than a few times, Bethesda Game Studios has made lofty promises on that front for its next game, and more than a few times, that next game hasn’t quite lived up to those promises. Sure enough, the developer has said offered assurances over the technical state that Starfield is going to launch in, but will it actually make good on that? Hopefully, this time, with the full backing of Microsoft and all of its technical support, it will.
If it does, and if Starfield turns out to be the impressive achievement it has looked like in what we’ve seen of it so far, there’s no doubt that it’s going to be one of the biggest and most notable releases of 2023, which, for a year that’s been so overwhelmingly crammed with stellar, high-quality releases, is saying a lot.
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