After years of speculation and mounting hype, Starfield finally got its grand reveal during Microsoft and Bethesda’s E3 2021 show. Well, sort of.
Todd Howard took the stage at the top of the show to introduce a new two-minute trailer for the game. The clip shows an astronaut walking around a spaceship as a voice-over teases some of the universe’s lore. After some long interior shots (including one close-up of a very detailed sandwich), the pilot reaches the cockpit of the ship and looks out at a planet’s sprawling surface as a mech trots by. We finally get a glimpse at the game’s 2022 release date and then the title.
It was twice as long as the original one-minute teaser, but barely offers any new information. Despite the prime-time showcase, there still aren’t many reasons to get excited about actually playing Starfield — and that’s a problem that’s run through this year’s E3 in general.
The Starfield teaser Bethesda showed on Sunday may as well have been the same vague logo reveal we saw three years ago. Functionally, it wasn’t much different; we’re only left with assumptions about how it’ll play. A shot of a gun signals that it’ll be a shooter, while the sprawling planet shot teases its open-world element.
There were only two pieces of new information in the teaser, but neither were related to gameplay. We know the game is slated for a November 11, 2022, launch and that it’ll be an Xbox exclusive releasing on Game Pass on launch day.
It was a weak payoff after three years of waiting. Those hoping to finally see the game in action simply have to keep waiting. The moment wasn’t even about Starfield; it was a way for Microsoft to open its show by flexing the value of Game Pass and its newfound Bethesda acquisition with a bombshell exclusivity announcement (which players had largely assumed already).
Why should we be excited about Starfield at this point? For many players, the fact that it’s being developed by Bethesda Game Studios is enough. The team is responsible for both The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series over the past two decades, so the expectations are high. The assumption is that the studio will bring its signature brand of RPG to space, creating what could be the next Skyrim.
It’s a dangerously high expectation considering how little we know. This is the same studio that created the heavily critiqued Fallout 76, after all. Quality is never guaranteed in the world of gaming, regardless of a developer’s pedigree — just look at last year’s Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco. Without actual gameplay or firm details about Starfield, Bethesda still hasn’t given us a reason to start counting down the days until next November.
The art of the trailer
This wasn’t just a problem with Starfield at E3 this year. It’s been a persistent issue throughout the show. Ubisoft closed its showcase with a cinematic look at Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. It was gorgeous, but may as well have been a clip from the film itself. Most players wouldn’t even realize it’s a first-person game based on the clip.
The mile-a-minute Microsoft showcase fell into that pitfall several times. Games like Contraband got vague trailers that left us with little more than a title. Perhaps the worst offender was The Outer Worlds 2, which got a meta trailer that joked about how there was nothing to show viewers.
None of this is new for gaming. Vague teasers are a hallmark of E3 conferences and they can be a lot of fun when used sparingly. Redfall, Bethesda’s more promising announcement from the show, got an especially fun cinematic trailer that successfully piqued players’ interest with its tone and setting. We may not know what the gameplay looks like, but it gives a full sense of what kind of energy it’s bringing to the table.
There’s an art to making a successful video game teaser trailer. Bethesda is hit-and-miss when it comes to that skill. Until we actually see footage that gives a sense of what Starfield looks like outside of prerendered cinematics, it’s hard to blindly climb aboard the hype train.
Avoiding another Cyberpunk 2077 situation starts with players setting their expectations based on what they’re shown, not what they expect to see.
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