Bethesda has recently released the second episode of its “Into the Starfield” series, which features in-depth developer commentary on the forthcoming sci-fi RPG Starfield. Fans are stoked for the upcoming title, as it marks the studio’s return to the single-player, open-world RPG genre that it helped defined with 2002’s The Elder Scroll’s III: Morrowind. The developers explicitly mention Morrowind during the interview, reminding fans of the studio’s pedigree.
It’s been a long time since Bethesda Game Studios released a new RPG. Their most recent single-player outing, Fallout 4, came out in November of 2015. That was almost seven years ago now, and fans are eager to see what the storied developer has been working on.
Game Director Todd Howard and lead artist Istvan Pely also note that Starfield’s player characters will have stats and characteristics akin to old-school RPGs. Traditional RPG mechanics have enjoyed a renaissance recently, with games like Elden Ring embracing the stats of Dungeons and Dragons character sheets.
Howard explains that the studio was excited to develop Starfield’s more old-school RPG mechanics. “It’s nice with Starfield to go back to some things we didn’t do — the backgrounds, the traits, defining your character, all of those stats,” the director says in the video. “There are so many games that do those things that people are ready for something that does a lot of the things that older, hardcore RPGs — some that we used to do, doing those again in a new way.”
The developers explicitly call out their prior experience on games like Morrowind, noting that Starfield may hew more closely to its role-playing roots than fans might expect. For instance, player characters will engage in more complicated persuasion dialogue trees with NPCs. Howard notes that these “minigames” will feel like a natural conversation to onlookers, but will be tense battles of wits in reality.
New Character Designs
Those old-school stats will power very modern-looking characters. Lead artist Istvan Pely explains that Bethesda has “leveled up” its graphical tech, using photogrammetry scanning of real-world models to create lifelike digital avatars. This will allow the player to feel as though they’re controlling a real person in a believable fictional world, and help them feel like their actions have genuine consequences.
Design Director Emil Pagiarulo notes that Bethesda doesn’t “just make RPGs–we make simulations!” They want the game to feel immersive and alive, and the new graphical tech will support this endeavor from a visual standpoint.
The video is intercut with tantalizing brief shots of the gorgeous-looking game, including a photorealistic player character at the controls of a personal starship. Players can look forward to customizing their avatar and plotting their adventures among the stars. But what will players do in the vast, unknowable cosmos? Well, for one thing, they’re going to cross paths with many rival factions.
The developers have finally pulled back the curtain on some of the game’s spacefaring civilizations. Lead quest designer Will Shen notes that the team had to embrace the chaos of its various factions, as the player’s actions can bring the disparate groups into galaxy-spanning conflict with one another.
The varied groups will include a wide range of philosophy and visual styles. For example, the United Colonies sport a futuristic, angular art style and represent a “future space republic, idealized.” Concept art for this faction shows they use pristine technology and blocky, bulky ships. Players who want to follow the rules and act as enforcers for the law will likely prefer to start with this group.
The Freestar Collective will fill the role of “space western fantasy,” frontier settlers who explore the outskirts of known space. This group appears to utilize grimier tech than the United Colonies and inhabits cramped living spaces and open-air freeholds. Players wishing to play as space cowboys will surely flock to this allegiance.
Ryujin Industries rounds out the three starting factions the developers showed off in the video. The group represents the corporate power of the spacefaring civilization. Players who want to fashion their characters as executives living the life of luxury will start from this collective. Ryujin Industries-aligned areas are defined by glowing neon signs, glittering high-rise buildings, and well-dressed businessmen.
Playing Both Sides?
Howard also notes that Bethesda wanted the game’s in-universe groups to feel like a natural part of the world. “What makes the world feel whole? What are the groups that would make it feel whole and believable, and how does the player interact with them?” he muses. He even points out that players can join the villainous Crimson Fleet pirate faction if they want to roleplay as a villain.
“You know, what we’re doing with the pirates, the Crimson Fleet, as well, they’re not just this foe. Let the player join them!” The video shows off concept art of vicious space pirates, the game’s default enemy faction, repairing their ragtag ships, and dealing with underworld contacts.
Pagliarulo adds that players can play both sides against the middle.
“What if you’re a good person, you want to be a good player, and you don’t want to play as a bad guy? You can side with the pirates, or you can report back to your superior, and basically be a space cop. It lets you be a good person and still play with the bad guys!”
“No matter what stories we write, the one the player tells themselves is the one they think about and love the most,” Howard says. “And the companions. So one thing we really leaned into on this game is how those other characters felt about you.”
“That’s probably my favorite part,” adds Pely, “when you’re exploring and out and your companion makes some comment off the cuff about something you’re checking out or something that just happened. It just feels so perfect for immersion, so believable, it makes you think they’re a real person.”
Starfield’s companions have also benefitted from the new character modeling tech Pely remarked on earlier. The trailer briefly shows a robotic companion who looks like a realistic mechanical helper. The robot politely addresses the camera, “Hello Captain,” indicating that it will likely be an early ally to the player character after they earn their first ship.
Why Are Fans Excited?
Fans are looking forward to Starfield’s release in late 2022 because Bethesda has a proven track record of making excellent games. The Elder Scrolls series is one of the most beloved long-running RPG franchises in history. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been ported to every system imaginable and remains one of the best-selling games in history.
It’s impossible to overstate the sprawling open-world title’s influence. Nearly every RPG that has followed it has borrowed at least a few elements from its sweeping narrative, countless dungeons, or open-ended character creation. Skyrim’s modern-day re-releases are often the best games on their respective platforms. If Starfield is anything like its predecessor, it’s going to take the gaming industry by storm.
Starfield is also landing at a great time. Fans are more interested in RPGs now than ever before. Dungeons and Dragons live streams like Critical Role enjoy shockingly high viewership numbers. Elden Ring is one of the biggest games of the year and has sold over 12 million copies already. Final Fantasy VII’s gorgeous PS4 remake is one of Sony’s heaviest hitters.
Microsoft Needs a Smash Hit
Starfield will be the first Bethesda title to hit store shelves after Microsoft’s landmark acquisition of the company earlier this year. The game will release exclusively for Xbox and PC, avoiding Sony’s PlayStation platform. This is a major shift for the previously system-agnostic Bethesda, and the first evidence of their new parent company.
Microsoft understands it needs more juggernaut first-party titles to contend with Sony. The Xbox Game Pass gives Microsoft the edge in terms of game quantity, but the studio wants to compete in terms of quality, too. PlayStation players enjoy bleeding-edge AAA titles like God of War, Spider-Man, and Final Fantasy VII Remake. Microsoft has struggled to land heavyweight first-party hits of its own, with Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 among the very short list of “must-play” Xbox exclusive titles.
Sony recently announced it will purchase Bungie, the studio that makes the popular online shooter Destiny 2. This acquisition is ironic to longtime Xbox fans, as Bungie also developed the original Halo title and managed the series until they departed from Microsoft in 2010.
By adding Bethesda to its pool of in-house talent, Xbox has positioned itself as a serious rival for Sony’s PlayStation Studios. Starfield is likely to be a massive hit for the platform, and it’s not even Bethesda’s only upcoming open-world RPG.
The company is also working on a follow-up to Skyrim. So far, Bethesda has only revealed The Elder Scrolls VI’s title card and a nondescript pastoral region in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it teaser. However, it was more than enough to get fans thinking about how cool a next-gen Elder Scrolls title will look on the Xbox Series X system.
Until then, players can get ready to dive into the vast cosmos in Starfield. Bethesda will release the game on Xbox and PC later this year.