After years of waiting, Bethesda has finally shown off Starfield -- and it looks both expansive and generic.
It may seem harsh to call out Starfield from its first gameplay reveal, but there’s little in the demo unveiled at the Xbox Bethesda Showcase that speaks to the personality of the world. The moon the player lands on, Kreet, is a grey rocky world, with a research station that’s been taken over by space pirates. It’s a setup that we’ve been seeing in games for years – we could just as easily be looking at a scene from Mass Effect Andromeda, Elite Dangerous, or No Man’s Sky.
The player fights their way through the research station, blasting down enemy pirates with pistols, grenades, SMGs, and a double-barreled shotgun. Again, this doesn’t feel like it’s breaking the mold. It could be footage of Obsidian’s Outer Worlds. Bethesda has been working on this game for more than two decades, so it is a little disappointing.
This attack on the research station takes place early in Starfield – the pirates the player is killing are only level two – and Bethesda’s Todd Howard tells us that you’ll later be invited to join an organization called Constellation, the last group of explorers in the galaxy.
The footage then skips to meeting the members of Constellation in a city called New Atlantis. It’s weird how, despite being a significantly better-looking game than previous Bethesda games, these NPCs still look like the characters we’ve been talking to in Bethesda games since Oblivion.
Howard then takes us through character creation, where similar to other Bethesda games, you’ll customize the look of your character, and answer some questions about your background that defines your starting skills. You can also add up to three optional traits to your character to provide buffs, such as Introvert, that gives you increased endurance if you play without any party members.
As you level up in Starfield you’ll be able to unlock new skills for your character and as you use those skills you will rank up their powers. This is an evolution of the skill systems in previous games and, while a welcome development, I don’t think I’ll be alone in hoping for something a little more exciting after all this time.
There's more at play here than simply a Bethesda game in a sci-fi setting, however. After going through character creation and teasing a story where you’ll be searching the galaxy for vision-granting artifacts, Howard starts explaining some of the systems that surround the by-the-numbers sci-fi story.
As well as crafting weapons and modular upgrades for your gear, you can build settlements across the different planets in Starfield, and you can recruit characters to work in those settlements. So far so Fallout 4. But on top of that, you can also build star ships, buying parts from different manufacturers, letting you tweak and upgrade the stats of your vessels, increasing their cargo space or engine power, say, or adding a suite of weapons to their exterior. You can then also hire a crew to fly the ships. And, naturally, you can fly the ships yourself.
The gameplay demo then shows off space combat, which can be controlled from both first and third-person perspectives. This is something that is definitely new for a Bethesda game. And, considering there are 1000 worlds to explore in Starfield, it seems there will be a lot of time spent in the space between planets fighting pirates, so hopefully, the team gets the combat right.
After all this time, it’s great to get such a broad look at Starfield. But I hope in the future we get a better sense of what Bethesda is doing that makes the game special. While it may be a huge step forward for the developer and be the most ambitious RPG for that team to date, we’ve been doing everything that was on show in this reveal in Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky for years.
Starfield may end up being a great RPG but at the moment it looks like Bethesda’s fallen behind in the space race.
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Julian's been writing about video games for more than a decade. In that time, he's always been drawn to the strange intersections between gaming and the real world, like when he interviewed a NASA scientist who had become a Space Pope in EVE Online, or when he traveled to Ukraine to interview game developers involved in the 2014 revolution, or that time he tore his trousers while playing Just Dance with a developer.