Starfield Still Looks Like a Lot of Empty Space
In space, no one can hear you say that maybe Starfield isn’t that exciting.
The latest trailer for Bethesda’s space-faring RPG Starfield announced that fans will finally be able to get their hands on the game September 6th, 2023. With this hotly anticipated game almost within reach, I can’t help but feel like the odd person out who isn’t on the hype train for Todd Howard’s next grand endeavor. Every time I look at trailers for the game I am left with a lingering question — What actually is Starfield?
I should clarify. I know what Starfield is conceptually: an RPG about exploring 1,000 planets and defining your own path through a vast space system with all the signature charm, freedom, and jank that comes with a Bethesda title. But that doesn’t tell me much about what it will be like to play Starfield and experience its world. With half a year left till the game’s release, I am starting to wonder if this will ever become clear.
The official launch date announcement trailer feels no different than any of the other trailers that have been shown off in the past. A handful of shots of admittedly gorgeous space, few actual people, and barely any gameplay. It can be summed up as - vibes only. Not to mention that the supposed joy of a release date announcement is also a sly reveal that the game has been delayed (again) from the previously stated first half of 2023 window.
Yet people are still excited for Starfield. Obviously, it demands attention as the next game from Bethesda helmed by Fallout and Elder Scrolls lead Todd Howard, but as far as I can discern the most enticing reason to be interested in this game is the promise that it will be “Skyrim in space.”
In fairness to Bethesda, gameplay has been shown off for Starfield and the team continues to describe what fans should expect. There are promises of factions to ally with and companions to recruit to your cause (little of which has been shown). The majority of the available gameplay footage highlights slow walking through empty planets in search of resources or a handful of more high-octane shootouts in first-person.
This does not assuage my worries, though. The promise of discovering and exploring planets, scrounging for resources, and searching after some nebulous universe-spanning mystery reads as a No Man’s Sky rip-off with graphics that you would expect from a studio with Microsoft-level money. The shooting sections are... fine... they are just your average gunfight. What is unclear is how any of these disparate parts fit together into a cohesive package that will be exciting to play. Instead, what I have seen from Starfield appears to be a collection of jigsaw puzzle pieces being thrown together in hopes that the correct connection happens.
Despite the importance of systems in video games, especially Bethesda RPGs, systems themselves are not a game. While much of what fans remember about Skyrim are the ways you could manipulate systems or build interesting characters there are an equal number of people who love Skyrim for its story of the Dragonborn. What is immensely lacking in Starfield’s promotional material so far is proof that this game has something to latch onto narratively that propels the player into the many systems of space-faring life.
In a June 2021 interview with The Washington Post, Howard admitted that at the beginning of development the team “struggled” to find Starfield’s identity. In the year and a half since that interview, I haven’t seen any indication that Bethesda has managed to find that identity.