Skip to main content

With Redfall’s stumbles, the pressure is on for Starfield

Judging by reviews and early impressions, Redfall is a resounding disappointment for Xbox and Bethesda. Hyped as Xbox’s first AAA release in over a year and one of the most significant things to come from Xbox’s 2021 acquisition of ZeniMax Media, Redfall isn’t quite living up to those lofty expectations. While I’m still working through the game myself, I’ve played enough to know that this open-world vampire shooter pales in comparison to Arkane’s previous titles and its co-op shooter peers.

Coming after one of Xbox’s roughest years ever in terms of exclusives and the failure of the Activision Blizzard acquisition, it’s not a good look. It puts an excessive amount of pressure on just one game in Xbox’s lineup: Starfield.

As a AAA game from ZeniMax Media’s premier studio, the successor to The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and Xbox’s biggest exclusive since Halo Infinite, Starfield needs to unequivocally succeed in most metrics to save Xbox. There are other games like Hi-Fi Rush and Forza Motorsport, but none are as critically vital on as big of a scale as Starfield. Bethesda Game Studios and Xbox can no longer afford to mess up the launch of Starfield.

Redfall’s failure is Xbox’s failure

While Redfall was in development prior to the acquisition of ZeniMax Media, it wasn’t revealed until E3 2021, making it the first new ZeniMax game Xbox has marketed as its own. The game has appeared at most Xbox showcases since its announcement, has constantly been pushed in Xbox’s social media and Game Pass advertising, and was even delayed by a year to improve its quality. As such, Redfall being a stinker hurts Xbox even further, as this is the biggest first-party game to be associated with Microsoft’s developer and publisher purchasing spree so far.

Although ZeniMax Media operates independently under Microsoft, to general audiences, Redfall will hold the same weight as an Xbox Game Studios exclusive like Gears 5. In fact, it’s even a bit more exciting as it could potentially be the start of a brand new exciting live service franchise, something Xbox players have needed since Sea of Thieves. Due to Redfall’s underwhelming nature, though, it doesn’t seem like it will captivate players beyond a cursory Xbox Game Pass subscription download.

Coming off an April where Minecraft Legends underwhelmed and the Activision Blizzard acquisition got blocked by the U.K., things don’t look great for Microsoft’s gaming efforts right now. Its 2022 was mostly devoid of big exclusive games, and many Xbox exclusives and day one Game Pass titles that were promised to come out before June 2023 haven’t — and likely won’t. The one exception to this seems to be Hi-Fi Rush, which came from the ZeniMax-owned Tango Gameworks and seemed like a viral hit after its surprise launch in January.

Its expertly executed rhythm action gameplay, charming characters, and distinct visual style kicked Xbox’s 2023 off on a great note and seemed like the first true benefit of Microsoft’s ZeniMax acquisition. Still, its financial success has been questioned, and in general, it’s winning on a smaller scale than games like Redfall and Starfield need to. Independently, Redfall may just seem like another flop that the Xbox division of Microsoft will be able to rebound from. And while that might be true, it may also be building pressure to the breaking point for Xbox as a whole.

Starfield can’t fail

Whether its a success or failure, Starfield‘s reception will be shouted from the rooftops. Bethesda Game Studios is a studio that has revolutionized the game industry with multiple titles and was the crown jewel of Microsoft’s ZeniMax acquisition. Starfield will take that developer’s ambition to space, promising a story and game that live up to Bethesda’s level of quality across over a thousand planets.

A space explorer stands in front of a mountain range in Starfield.

It’s an ambitious game, one that’s as hyped as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. As such, Starfield is a game people will be watching very closely before and after its release, and all of these factors impacting games like Hi-Fi Rush and Redfall only ratchet up the pressure that the title faces.

If Starfield fails, it could be the most devastating blow to the Xbox brand yet. It’d mean we’d go two years with no standout big-budget Xbox exclusive, despite heaps of money spent on acquisitions, game development, and the creation of next-gen hardware. It’d put the Xbox leadership team’s efforts into doubt as there will have been little payoff from the billions spent on game developer acquisitions since 2018. And Xbox making Redfall and Starfield exclusive, only for them to disappoint, would be a move unforgiving video game fans will never forget.

Xbox is doing great things for the industry with ID@Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, and its willingness to let studios pursue smaller passion projects. That approach may only be sustainable, though, with massive hits to balance them out. Starfield may be the most pivotal game for the future of the Xbox brand since Halo: Combat Evolved, all because of the string of failures that preceded it.

Editors' Recommendations

Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
Starfield, The Elder Scrolls Online devs are voting to unionize
starfield todd howard interview

Over 300 quality assurance testers at Microsoft-owned ZeniMax Media have begun to vote on whether or not they should form a union, according to a report by The New York Times.

ZeniMax Media is the parent company of developers like Bethesda Game Studios and Arkane Studios, who are working on some of Xbox's biggest upcoming first-party exclusives like Starfield and Redfall. Specifically, Axios' Stephen Totilo confirmed that the following studios are part of this union vote:

Read more
Microsoft’s price hike on Xbox games will apply to PC, Steam
Redfall Cover

Microsoft confirmed to Digital Trends that the impending price increase on its first-party games will apply to its PC releases as well. The change will happen in 2023 and affect upcoming titles like Starfield, Redfall, and Forza Motorsport.

This morning, IGN reported that Microsoft will be raising the prices of Xbox Series X|S games from $60 to $70. Digital Trends asked Microsoft if this would also apply to the PC versions of its games. A Microsoft spokesperson said, "Yes, starting in 2023, our new, full-priced games will be $69.99 across console and PC storefronts. This price reflects the content, scale, and complexity of these titles, regardless of platform. These games will also be available on day one with Game Pass.”

Read more
I don’t need Starfield because I have The Outer Worlds
The spacer looks out over a vast horizon in The Outer Worlds 2 key art.

Starfield will be one of the biggest games of 2023, but I'm not that excited to play it yet.
While  Starfield's spotlight at the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase this year highlighted some impressive features, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd already gotten everything I'd want from a traditional sci-fi RPG like this from another game: The Outer Worlds from Obsidian Entertainment. Ironically developed by another Microsoft-owned studio, The Outer Worlds showed that bloating up a sci-fi game with thousands of planets isn't necessary when a "less is more" mentality can still result in an expertly designed sci-fi RPG. 
Although The Outer Worlds might not be as nearly as grand as Starfield in scope, it still leaves an impression every time I revisit it. It's a focused, replayable, and hilarious adventure without much bloat, which is what I want from my RPGs. It does this while emulating Bethesda's classic The Elder Scrolls and Fallout games too, beating Starfield to the punch.
Starfield could impress me when it launches, but what I've seen of it hasn't got me that eager to play it when I'm so content with replaying The Outer Worlds while avidly waiting for its sequel.
Starfield: Official Gameplay Reveal
Fewer worlds, more fun
From the moment your escape pod accidentally lands on a bounty hunter that's supposed to help you, it's clear that The Outer Worlds is a tongue-in-cheek, satirical take on capitalism, colonization, and the sci-fi genre as a whole. While Bethesda Game Studios' narratives have their fair share of humor, much of its writing tends to be more serious and dryly written. We haven't seen enough of Starfield's dialogue or narrative to get a sense of its thematic identity yet.
Starfield's narrative could be more playful than we've seen so far, but the game's massive scope is what really worries me. During the Microsoft showcase, Todd Howard boasted that there are over 1,000 planets to explore. Because Starfield is so huge, I worry that it risks feeling unfocused. Will I get bored on planets that aren't very handcrafted and don't have as much to do? It's the same potential issue that infamously plagued No Man's Sky at launch.
Meanwhile, The Outer Worlds and its upcoming sequel are intentionally designed to avoid those bloat issues, according to former Obsidian Entertainment Narrative Designer Nitai Poddar in a 2019 Game Informer interview. "There is a lot of value in having an open-ended game that is still structured around individual discreet levels," he said. "It also tends to be easier to develop, and I'm always a fan of making the most of a budget that you have."

The Outer Worlds' developers didn't have a huge budget, and kept the game small but very tightly designed as a result. You might not be able to explore entire planets or fly between them, but you'll definitely remember what you did on every single one you visited. This smaller scope allowed the studio to make the world more reactive to each dialogue choice and player decision.
Playing a combat-focused build in The Outer Worlds gives you an entirely different experience than a dialogue-driven playthrough. You can also murder or scorn everyone you meet in The Outer Worlds, and the game accounts for it in tangible, narrative ways. This makes The Outer Worlds a great sci-fi roleplaying experience, and I'm hopeful its sequel will be too. I'm not as hungry for a sci-fi RPG on such a potentially problematic large scale anymore when The Outer Worlds and its handcrafted worlds and narratives are so enjoyable moment-to-moment, just like classic Bethesda games. 
Where both games will boldly go
As far as sci-fi experiences go, Starfield can stand out from The Outer Worlds with its combat, base-building and shipbuilding, and space combat. But when it comes to the core tenets of Bethesda's best RPGs -- compelling characters, well-written narratives, and lots of reactive and choice-driven moments -- The Outer Worlds beat Starfield to the punch without any additional fat. I already have the Bethesda-like sci-fi experience I always wanted.

Read more