Everything we know about Starfield, Bethesda’s upcoming sci-fi RPG

Bethesda is a studio that has found great success with its massive single-player RPG games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 3. While the company’s recent fumbles with games like Fallout 76 (and to a lesser extent, Fallout 4) might’ve dropped its stock with gamers, the studio is pushing forward and has some ambitious projects on the horizon. One such project is Starfield, a game that was first announced during Bethesda’s 2018 E3 presentation.

We still don’t know much about it, but we’ve gathered as much information as we could to bring you everything we know about Bethesda’s upcoming sci-fi RPG.

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What is Starfield?

It was probably surprising to see Bethesda unveil a new game — and one set in space, at that. Starfield is a single-player sci-fi RPG and is the studio’s first new game in 25 years. Though the developer attempted to create a game set in space in the ’90s, it ultimately failed and was canceled. It seems that Starfield won’t share the same fate, as the team has prioritized its development and aims to bring it to next-generation consoles. Currently, it’s the studio’s main priority, as a smaller portion of its developers continues work on Fallout 76 and The Elder Scrolls: VI. Bethesda has four main studios under its belt, located in Austin, Dallas, Montreal, and Rockville, Maryland — all of which are assisting with the game’s development.

Fans worried about multiplayer getting in the way of a quality single-player story (looking at you, Fallout 76) should rest easy. According to a Eurogamer interview with Bethesda’s Peter Hines, Starfield is “is decidedly single player.” We’ll get into this in more detail later, but the company has described Starfield as a core Bethesda game we’ve come to expect — only this time, it’s set in space, which is new to the studio.

It’s unknown if Starfield will come to PS4 and Xbox One, but Bethesda has hinted that it probably won’t. The team is currently working on the game, focusing on their vision, and will optimize afterward. Bethesda Game Studio’s executive producer Todd Howard told GameSpot that releasing for current generation hardware is “not out of the question … but there is a question there. I’m being honest, I don’t the answer to that yet.” When thinking about its possible release date, it’s very unlikely Starfield will be available for current-generation consoles — especially if it’s as ambitious as the company says it’ll be — but time will tell.

Speaking of next generation, the question of whether Starfield will be running on a new and improved engine has been on the minds of Bethesda fans since its announcement. After all, many of the studio’s past games have been notoriously buggy and have felt outdated, even at the time of release. With Starfield, it’s not clear how it’ll run, but Bethesda has gone on record to confirm it will use the same engine as Skyrim, Fallout 4, and Fallout 76, known as Creation Engine.

This might be an immediate turnoff to some, but when you consider the engine has evolved tremendously since 2011, it might as well be something totally new. As GamesRadar explains, Bethesda has added to the engine, so much so, that calling it the “same” isn’t as informative as you’d think.

“For Fallout 76 we changed a lot of it,” Howard explained. “All new renderer, new lighting model, new landscape system. Then when you go to Starfield, even more of it changes, and then Elder Scrolls VI, which is really out on the horizon, even more of it changes.” In short, the fact that Starfield is still running on Creation Engine might not necessarily be something to worry about.

We do know parts of Starfield are already playable as of E3 2018. That was two years ago, so the game is likely in even better shape now. “We know the game we’re making now, and one of the reasons we announced it is that it’s looking really awesome. We have runway in front of us and we know what’s happening,” Howard told GameSpot in 2018. When it comes to the gameplay and what to expect from Starfield in comparison to Bethesda’s other games, Howard concluded, “It has what you’d expect and more.”

“It’s different, but if you sit down and play it you would recognize it as something we made if that makes sense? It has our DNA in it. It has things that we like,” Howard told Eurogamer in 2018.

The studio is, of course, keeping it tight-lipped when it comes to revealing information about Starfield, but the main point is that it’ll likely satisfy those players who love “classic” Bethesda games. In recent years, the company has tried new things like The Elder Scrolls: Blades and Fallout Shelter — two games that were designed with mobile devices in mind. Starfield, on the other hand, will not be like that at all, though what we’ll be doing in it remains to be seen.

Here’s Starfield’s announcement teaser trailer

We got our first — and pretty much only — glimpse at Starfield during Bethesda’s E3 presentation in 2018, and aside from conveying tone, it didn’t reveal much. Bethesda was actually reluctant to reveal the game so early but, as Howard explained during an interview with NoClip, fans had already suspected the team was working on Starfield, following its trademark filing in 2013. The team wanted to give fans a roadmap for what to expect from Bethesda Game Studios going forward, and decided to pull the cloak off — but maybe too early, as some fans have pointed out.

The more cynical side of the internet believes the company revealed Starfield when it did to distract from the announcement of Fallout 76, which didn’t have the best reception, even prior to its release. The company had to have known the community wouldn’t take kindly to an online Fallout game, so perhaps Starfield and The Elder Scrolls: VI were revealed to hold fans over. Bethesda would never admit that, of course.

Bethesda worked with Elon Musk to bring ‘authenticity’ to Starfield

At E3 2019, Todd Howard, Elon Musk, and The Game Award’s Geoff Keighley had a discussion about developing games, among other things — and Starfield was brought up. Howard told the audience he went to Musk’s company, SpaceX, to gather information and inspiration for Starfield. This means Bethesda is attempting to keep the game based in reality, while still making it fun to play. Howard used the word “authenticity” to describe the way Starfield is supposed to feel.

In the same chat, Howard described possibly using Helium-3 to fuel rockets in-game. This, ostensibly, hints that some sort of space travel will be available in the final product. “We have to game-ify it some, so it’s not as punishing as actual space travel,” Howard added. He compared space travel in Starfield to “flight in the ’40s,” in that it’s still fairly dangerous. All of this will be fully realized, thanks in part to collaboration with Musk’s SpaceX.

This talk occurred in 2019, so much of what was mentioned could change — as games typically evolve tremendously throughout their development. Certain ideas stick, while others — even if enormous amounts of time and resources are spent on them — might not ever come to be.

It has been in the works for over 10 years

Typically, Bethesda has multiple projects going on at once — with one getting the majority of the focus, while the others sit to the side and gestate. We know the company filed for Starfield’s trademark in 2013, which means it had to have been thinking about it for a while prior to that. In speaking with Eurogamer, Howard said the studio had been at least discussing the game since 2004, with Bethesda fully dedicating staff to it around 2015.

Despite the company having Starfield in mind since as early as 2004, that doesn’t mean it’s been actively working on it since then. But at the very least, we know it is past the pre-production phase and has been for around five years. Howard told Geoff Keighley during a Gamelab discussion, “It took us a while to get that cohesive ‘this is what Starfield is,’ and now that project is off and running in a good way and that was also why we felt good announcing it.”

For context, it took Bethesda at least around five years to complete development on Skyrim, assuming the team started work on it as soon as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion shipped in 2006. With that in mind, the current COVID-19 pandemic will likely have an effect on the game’s development, due to studios being forced to work remotely. This practice — although necessary — is one that has slowed the production of many forms of media, not just video games.

It could be light-years away

Okay, maybe not light-years away, but it’s still very far off, based on the way Bethesda’s public figures have been talking about it. During an interview with GameSpot, Howard advised that “everyone should be very patient” when it comes to getting their hands on Starfield. Bethesda doesn’t know when it’ll be able to show us more, which is partially why there was an internal debate concerning its reveal at E3 2018. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t expect to play Starfield until 2021 at the earliest.

Even if Bethesda was counting on shipping Starfield in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic would have likely slowed production, pushing it further out. A much more realistic time frame places it around 2022, given the circumstances. Following the poor reception to Fallout 76 in 2018, Bethesda is likely wanting its next game to be as refined and polished as possible, which will take time.

Pete Hines told Eurogamer that development times haven’t changed at all, when compared to the studio’s past games. In reference to when we’d learn more about Starfield, Hines said “timeframe-wise, it would still be about as long as you’d expect when you look at Fallout 3 to Skyrim to Fallout 4 to Fallout 76. It’s still going to be those periods of time, that hasn’t changed. Or at least, I don’t think it will change from that based on what I know.” That could point to a Starfield update coming within the next year or two. Keep in mind, that interview was conducted in 2018, prior to the pandemic, so things might have shifted around since then.

What we do know is that it’ll release for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X, the latter of which are scheduled to launch later this holiday. Aside from that, all we can do is speculate about when we’ll get to play Starfield. Hopefully, the wait will be worth it.

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