Bethesda’s Starfield Already Looks Like Gaming’s Next Polarising Would-Be Masterpiece

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A promo screenshot for Starfield.

“We know that everyone has been eager to see Starfield,” said Microsoft Gaming bossman Phil Spencer as Xbox and Bethesda’s 2022 showcase reached its climax. He continued, “our show today has highlighted gameplay, so it’s only fitting that we end it with an extended first look at one of the most anticipated games in Xbox history.”

“This is Starfield.” he declared, and lo, it was.

However, for many of the millions watching around the world, it seems the long-desired glimpse into Bethesda’s interstellar labour of love offered to us by once-exalted gaming deity Todd Howard didn't quite do it. Whether you were a games journalist offering your professional opinion on Twitter or a fan reacting to the reveal via sites like ResetEra, the voices discussing Starfield in the immediate aftermath of the showcase seemed to have as many negative opinions as they did positive.

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Whether it was Howard’s lofty promise of “over 1000 planets” to explore sounding a lot like his “16x the detail” claim from Fallout 76’s E3 announcement, the pretty barren-looking landscapes shown in some or the footage or something else, people had doubts and, given gaming’s recent history when it comes to releases of Starfield’s magnitude, who can blame them?

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Someday, Everything Is Gonna Be Different, When I Make My Masterpiece

Since the sci-fi RPG was officially announced in 2018, gigantic would-be masterpieces purporting to change the medium forever have been on somewhat of a mixed run. Cyberpunk 2077 is the obvious negative example to point out, with its ungodly hype giving way to a game that failed to run on a lot of hardware and was very broken, leaving many players with a more pessimistic view of Cyberpunk than my own assessment that it was made up of droplets of brilliance drowning in a sea of wasted potential. In many ways, this is the worst-case scenario for Starfield. A massive, ungainly project quickly gaining such a toxic reputation that it essentially has to be buried as soon as is feasible.

Then again, even the category’s supposed success stories of the past few years aren’t without issues, with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 having wowed many with its massive world and focus on realism, but also fallen short in other areas. Whether it was features like horse testicles shrinking in the cold prompting more confusion than admiration, revelations about the crunch required to implement such mechanics or its online element failing to attract the same level of profitability as the older GTA Online, things haven’t all been rosy in cowboy paradise.

A promo screenshot for Starfield.
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This brings us back to Starfield, a game that seems to have a similar scope to these titles, both of which were subject to significant delays. This has also been the case for Bethesda’s RPG, which was originally supposed to arrive this year, but now won't be seen until 2023. While a studio taking the time to ensure that its huge game is as polished as can be before launching it into the terrifying galaxy of public opinion is generally something to be applauded, in my view, the effects that Starfield’s lengthy development has had on the development cycles of Bethesda’s other powerhouse IPs are getting harder to ignore.

The Elder Scrolls Dilemma

Let’s start with the fans awaiting a game that the publisher also teased at E3 2018, during the same broadcast in which Starfield made its debut appearance. The Elder Scrolls 6 is basically more of a meme than a game at this point. The constant re-releasing of 2011’s Skyrim, a landmark title that’s over a decade old at this point has done nothing to satiate a fanbase filled with players desperate for a single-player fix that The Elder Scrolls Online just can’t offer them. It’s easy for the uninitiated to dismiss these fans, of which I am admittedly one, as ungrateful children throwing their toys out of the pram over receiving a game they didn’t ask for before the one they want, but I don’t think that conclusion is the correct one.

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A promo screenshot for Skyrim.
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Credit: Image via Mobygames.

Consider that the gap between the release dates of Oblivion and Skyrim was just over five years and that the time between Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls 6 is already close to doubling that. Those concerns don’t seem so ludicrous now. This is without mentioning the fact that YouTubers creating content around the series are now openly discussing the possibility of running out of existing in-depth topics from within the worlds and lore of the existing games to discuss before the next game finally arrives to give them new material. Plus, given the massive influx of new players attracted to the series by Skyrim, waiting over a decade to put out a non-MMO sequel probably hasn’t been in the best interest of Bethesda’s wallet either, even if the game is a guaranteed money maker no matter how long they dilly-dally.

How the Fallout Has Affected Fallout

The other series that hasn’t exactly benefitted from Bethesda’s sojourn in space is Fallout, which Howard recently revealed will see its next entry whenever The Elder Scrolls 6 is finished. While the situation of Fallout fans is nowhere near as dire as those poor Elder Scrolls folks, with 2015’s Fallout 4 providing a more recent entry to return to and 2010’s Fallout New Vegas still catering to the pickier hardcores like myself, it still isn’t exactly ideal. 2018’s Fallout 76, having shed most of the negative baggage caused by its disastrous release, remains a more polarising title to fans of the mainline Fallout games than TES Online is among the Elder Scrolls faithful. Then again, that doesn’t mean Bethesda has nothing to worry about when it comes to those who only like Fallout.n a few more years, the fanbase will be in precisely the same position as Elder Scrolls fans are in now.

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A promo screenshot for Fallout 76.
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Credit: Image via Mobygames.

Both of these groups are full of people who’ll give Starfield a chance, regardless of whether sci-fi is their thing or what they’ve thought of the snippets of the game they’ve seen thus far, simply because it’s a game made by Bethesda. If the game is good, that's what guarantees it an opportunity to really stake a Witcher 3-level claim to the coveted spot at the top of the Western RPG food chain. However, it’s also a double-edged sword. As CD Projekt Red themselves have proven with Cyberpunk, having the kind of hype and attention that these would-be masterpiece titles command directed at a new IP with lofty goals can be a recipe for disaster and disappointment.

Everything returns to the tide of expectation and eagerness that Spencer alluded to in his introduction of the game at Xbox and Bethesda’s showcase. Starfield could turn out to be a good game and still fall short of making fans feel as though the substantial delays caused to their beloved established franchises have been worth it. That’s a harsh and some would say underserved reality, but it’s the hand that the game’s been dealt by its creators. That said, whatever ends up happening in early 2023, I think the one thing that’s guaranteed is that those of us in the gaming space will inevitably be talking about Starfield for a very long time.