The great unknown

Bethesda dev might have accidentally confirmed the Starfield release date

The long-awaited space exploration game might actually arrive soon.

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Starfield has remained one of Bethesda's most secretive projects to date. The now Microsoft-owned publisher has only released a cryptic trailer of the space-themed back in 2018, and it has dropped a few vague hints about what it'll entail.

But all of that changed Thursday morning when Bethesda Managing Director Ashley Cheng may have inadvertently confirmed months worth of Starfield leaks, including a release date window.

The Bethesda employee appeared during the livestream for the Develop: Brighton award ceremony, where company executive Todd Howard accepted the Develop Star Award. Eagle-eyed Redditor Rynderend noticed during Chen's brief stream that he was wearing a Starfield shirt with a familiar insignia on the sleeve. The symbol's design is identical to a seal seen in a batch of allegedly leaked Starfield screenshots that had been circulating online since September.

Here's a side-by-side look of what Cheng was wearing and the pivotal image that is likely prototype Starfield gameplay:

The symbol seen on Cheng's sleeve, enhanced.YouTube
The patch seen on the astronaut shoulder is a perfect match to Cheng's shirt. The only difference is that it's colored.Reddit / wooshthem

The image of the astronaut stems from the Discord of a gaming news YouTuber named SkullziTV.

A leaker by the name ElectricalAd8659 dropped the Starfield images into the Discord server along with a message, which was screenshotted and posted to Reddit by user wooshthem in October.

"There were more then what was seen already, game is targeted for 2021. Enjoy," wrote the leaker.

Before Cheng's livestream appearance, there was no evidence to support the images posted and claims made by ElectricalAd8659. But now that the astronaut's symbol was seen on official Starfield merchandise, it's possible that a portion — if not all — of the leaks are legitimate.

That would inadvertently include the sci-fi adventure's targeted 2021 release date. But is this a realistic launch date window for a game that Bethesda has frequently touted as one of the more ambitious projects to date?

A closer look at the the 'Starfield' symbol. The caption at the far left should read "E3 2018."Reddit / _hardboy

The Inverse analysis — Starfield was first teased at E3 2018 with a trailer that only included a logo for the game and snippets of some music. The most recent development news from Bethesda came from Howard, who said the space exploration title would completely overhaul Bethesda's Creation Engine that was used to develop The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4.

Tweaks on the engine could have begun in preparation for the next-generation PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles that will be released in November and work on Starfield most likely began before Bethesda announced the title. That suggests work to support the title could have started three or more years ago.

Starfield has long been hyped as a seminal Bethesda game, which makes a turnaround in four or so years seem suspicious. To top it off, the company hasn't released any other trailers or visual teasers for the game that are typically showed off a year before launch.

As it stands, it seems unlikely that Bethesda will ship Starfield in a year, 2022 or even 2023 seem like much more realistic timelines. But the company could be preparing a surprise announcement to try to win back fans' favor after the catastrophic launch of Fallout 76 in 2018 and the poorly received Fallout 76: Wastelanders update that was an effort to save the online spinoff of the post-apocalyptic franchise.

We'll need to wait for an official word from Bethesda to know for sure.

Starfield is rumored to be released sometime in 2021.

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