Starfield needs to be so much more than Skyrim in space. Not because Skyrim is a bad game, if it was, they’d probably not be able to release it across 3 generations of consoles, but because even in 2011, it didn’t feel modern.
Flash forward to Fallout 4, and while the storytelling is solid, the role-playing aspect of the game felt even further stripped back, leading fans to wonder what the point of Bethesda Game Studios was if the role-playing depth didn’t make up for the extremely shoddy technical performance.
It’s worth remembering that the last game in BGS’ main franchises, Fallout 76, was met with huge critical backlash, and a series of controversies that followed the title for years, to the point where at the following E3, apologies were made on stage from Todd Howard and the team. Not since 2015 have the team released a game that was (at least at the time of release) well-received by its fanbase.
This sense of nervousness and trepidation wasn’t helped by the baffling decision to announce The Elder Scrolls VI, despite, by the admission of Todd Howard himself, the game barely existing. While Howard said it was so that players stopped asking them about it, all it has done has layered extra pressure onto their new IP.
The way Starfield is received critically, and the impact it has on fans is going to directly affect the development of The Elder Scrolls VI, and more importantly, it’s going to be difficult to play Starfield without wondering how the new systems and mechanics that are introduced bleed into the next game.
Despite being completely aesthetically different, you can see how Fallout 3 and Skyrim share DNA. While Fallout 4 didn’t have its companion game to compare to, Starfield is going to lay the foundation for Elder Scrolls VI and eventually Fallout 5, which, if Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda is anything to go by, is likely coming sooner than we think.
Bethesda Game Studios has been incredibly cautious about what it’s shown from Starfield, but whereas when it did this with Fallout 76, it felt like it was to hide what the game actually was, Starfield seems to be about retaining a sense of wonder.
Outside of what is presumably the player character exploring their ship, a brief glimpse of a weapon and some hints as to the wider world, very little is known about what is sure to be a massive game. Players can play in first or third-person, which is Bethesda tradition, although Howard has conceded that he believes the game is better in first.
“Starfield is going to lay the foundation for Elder Scrolls VI and eventually Fallout 5, which, if Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda is anything to go by, is likely coming sooner than we think.”
But beyond that, there’s genuine excitement over what the game is going to be, and we can’t wait to explore it for ourselves. It feels like a game that two players can go off and start their adventure, then come back hours later with two completely different stories about where they went and what they did. That sense of freedom is what draws people to Bethesda games.
How many people play BGS games and follow the main storyline to the letter? The games are about that hour you got lost exploring a mountain in Skyrim, or the strange town you found in Fallout 4 that happened to begin a quest about 50s radio-play superheroes who think they’re real.
Just how players are going to travel from planet to planet is another aspect of the game that has yet to be explored. Will planets and space stations feel like The Outer Worlds smaller, more focussed levels, or will they play off of Fallout’s sense of scale, allowing players to wander for hours?
While the later works in The Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3, where players could wander for hours, but were pretty much penned into a square landmass, letting a player wander off into the void of an endless planet doesn’t seem conducive to engaging gameplay or well-told stories.
The brief glimpse at the world we see in the reveal trailer shows off a small base amidst rocky terrain, so it’s probably safe to assume that while planets will be large, this isn’t No Man’s Sky, and for a game like Starfield, that’s certainly a good thing. Todd Howard has said that he wants to keep expectations in check and that they’ve built cities in the way that they usually do, but how that manifests from planet to planet is one of the biggest questions surrounding Starfield.
It’s genuinely exciting to think about how varied these planets could be, especially when we cast our minds to the huge number of well-hidden quests and areas in Fallout and Skyrim, that managed to surprise, even when held back by the aesthetics of that world. With the free reign of going from planet to planet, the only real limit is what the writers can come up with, which has been one of Bethesda Game Studios strong points for almost 25 years.
Starfield is going to set the stage for the next 25 years of Bethesda. Whether that be from a storytelling perspective, or a gameplay one, Bethesda looks to shape its new image. The buggy, broken games of old need to stay in the past, while the studio looks towards the future. Starfield is the first step in that. Just how much things will change from the Bethesda playbook is yet to be seen, but for the sake of The Elder Scrolls VI, and the looming shadow of Fallout 5, which Microsoft will be keen to get moving sooner rather than later, they need to be huge.
While the universe of Starfield may not be endless, the types of stories told in it need to be. So too do the experiences of players. That sense of discovery made Obvilion such a revelation. It’s the reason that Skyrim has been re-released three times. It’s a feeling that players want to have without fighting against a formula that is long outdated.