After years of fervent rumors and speculation, Todd Howard announced Starfield during Bethesda’s E3 2018 conference. The first original IP developed by the prolific studio in over 25 years, Starfield is expected to redefine sci-fi RPGs with unparalleled ambition, considerable customization options and scale. I am as intrigued by this game as any avid space opera fan. Still, this “unrivaled ambition” worries me.
Sunday’s gameplay footage ended with what Bethesda probably thought was a big bang (pun intended). Players can land anywhere on any planet in any solar system of their choice or, as Howard enthusiastically put it, “Over 100 systems. More than 1,000 planets. All open for you to explore.” At that moment, the camera zoomed out, revealing countless nodes in an overwhelmingly expansive illustration of the universe. There is so much to do and see in Starfield, but will these experiences have depth?
This is not the first time a court of this size has outperformed the industry. Back in 2014, No Man’s Sky confidently showcased smooth interstellar travel, detectable alien species, and a game world of galactic proportions – I’m talking over 18 quintillion planets! Of course, this turned out to be too cumbersome a feature for both designers and players. The psychedelic color palette was impressive, but as Matt Miller aptly put it, No Man’s Sky was “the most beautiful side quest.” Fast-forward nearly six years, and Hello Games’ astronomical adventure is going strong with substantial content expansions.
So what does the past tell us about the future? Well, for one thing, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Starfield “No Man’s Skyrim.” Though Bethesda’s pedigree is littered with prestigious awards, I can’t help but imagine those myriad celestial bodies as uninspired, procedurally generated sandboxes. The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises raised the bar for open worlds packed with compelling primary and secondary narratives. Starfield follows in the footsteps of its predecessors with several exciting yet conventional mechanics such as crafting, base/ship/avatar customization, and unlockable abilities. I just hope it doesn’t show a cycle of quantity over quality.
Starfield will be released in early 2023 and I can’t wait to take down space pirates, jog through the overgrown cityscape of New Atlantis and dismantle enemy cruisers in a fiery atmosphere. I would prefer to keep my escapades within the confines of a single solar system. Although, I could take Bethesda up on the offer and see what adventures await me beyond Constellation’s reach, even if I end up flying through an endlessly empty void.