At my tête-à-tête with the Skyrim Anniversary Edition in November 2021 I realized once again how special the role-playing games from Bethesda Game Studios are. There is simply no other developer who offers games with this sometimes crude, often charming and always highly fascinating mix of unpredictability, sandbox and madness on the one hand and linear storytelling, theme park and motivation on the other. Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim just feel very different than a Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition. The same applies to Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, which also have this unique Bethesda DNA.
In the first half of the coming year, for the first time ever, we will enter a universe that was designed, expanded and implemented by Bethesda Game Studios itself without legacy or predecessors. For this special, we’ve rounded up everything we know about Starfield so far to get to the bottom of the question: how much Bethesda DNA is in the upcoming sci-fi RPG?
A big advantage of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series has always been the high degree of freedom. There are people who are still at the very beginning of the main story after 100 hours. We are always just as free in choosing our way of playing or how we approach the quests and challenges in the world. But the enormous freedom also includes “little things” such as the ability to change perspectives at any time or the use of cheats and mods.
And there’s a very good chance that Starfield will also have a big emphasis on freedom:
- Mod Support was confirmed by Todd Howard back in November 2021.
- The gameplay scenes from the Showcase event on June 12 show the change between third-person and first-person perspective.
- There will be several factions you can join: the United Colonies (sort of an idealized republic in space), Freestar Collective (frontier dwellers with a “Space Western” vibe), Ryujin Industries (mega-corporation), and the Crimson Fleet (pirates).
- In the second episode of the video series “Starfield – Ins Sternenmeer” the developers explained, that an immersive universe awaits us, where the player can do whatever he wants.
- According to Todd Howard, we can expect more than 100 systems with more than 1,000 planets that we can explore freely.
- You can build your own outposts on planets and hire people to take care of the posts.
- In addition, you can also build your own spaceship and hire crew members for the ship.
Even though the Bethesda role-playing games have a strong story focus and always tell a multitude of (often very entertaining) subplots in addition to the main story, there is always this feeling of sitting in a sandbox where there is always something unexpected can happen. Starfield seems to want to offer this mix again:
- Starfield will have more than twice as many lines of dialogue as Skyrim (150,000 versus 60,000 rows).
- Conversations will feature a sort of persuasion and seduction mini-game that goes even further than the comparable persuasion system found in Oblivion.
- As in Elder Scrolls and Fallout, a simulation should also take place in the world of Starfield. Unexpected situations can always arise, for example because a comet suddenly hits somewhere.
- According to the developers, interactions with NPCs in the world should feel as real as possible, and romances will also be possible in Starfield.
- There will be character creation that aims to offer more options than other Bethesda RPGs.
- We should be able to influence the world with our decisions.
- Like in Skyrim or Fallout 3 your hero will also be mute in Starfield. All other lines of dialogue are set to music by voice actors.
- There’s crafting (weapon upgrades) and research, a lockpicking mini-game, an experience point system, and skills you can learn. Once you have learned skills, you can upgrade them several times by using them or by mastering special challenges.
- Starfield Skills also include a “Starter Home” trait that was already present in The Elder Scrolls Online: Daggerfall (source). This trait provides you with a small house on a peaceful moon and a credit injection.
The combat in Elder Scrolls and Fallout games feels significantly different than in many comparable RPGs from other developers. Another quirk is Bethesda’s infamous Creation Engine, which has been in use since Skyrim. Before that, the predecessor engine Gamebryo was used. In both cases one can state: Technically, Bethesda RPGs were never the spearhead of the games industry. On the contrary, many of the titles at launch left a mixed impression in terms of texture quality, loading screens, performance and stability. What awaits us at Starfield?
- The Creation Engine is used again in Starfield. According to Todd Howard, however, this should biggest overhaul since Oblivion got donated.
- Xbox Showcase gameplay scenes were stuttering here and there. In terms of performance, hopefully there will be further optimization before the launch.
- Graphically, Starfield actually makes a leap forward compared to Fallout 76. Visibility is high. The character models much more detailed. Still, Starfield certainly won’t be the most graphically impressive game coming out in 2023.
- Bethesda again relies on a minimalist interface that takes up little space in the field of view most of the time.
- Shooting, throwing grenades, changing weapons, high jumps – the fights seem much faster than in Fallout. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of VATS. The AI still seemed…improvable in the fights.
- Not only can you fly your spaceship yourself, you also have to defend yourself against or attack other ships in space.
Colleague Zam said after the gameplay showcase that he felt strong “No Man’s Sky” and “The Outer Worlds” vibes. I also feel reminded of Star Citizen or Elite Dangerous. Still, Starfield does seem to have the Bethesda DNA we’ve come to love from the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, especially when it comes to the mix of story focus and sandbox freedom.
I’m skeptical about the scope of the game though. Other SciFi titles have impressively proven in the past that procedurally generated universes can become very boring very quickly. I also think it would be extremely difficult to spread quests and tell cool stories across such a large universe, and lead the players to those quests and stories without feeling like they’re being taken by the hand all the time.
Because that’s exactly what the Bethesda RPGs are about: setting a goal for the next trip, only to be distracted by umpteen points of interest where something exciting or unforeseen happens. However, if the umpteenth planet in a row only offers dust, ash, ice and a few resources, then the fun of exploring could quickly be slowed down. I’m very excited to see how Bethesda will approach this challenge in detail. If they succeed, a SciFi hit awaits us next year. What about with you?