During the 2022 Xbox and Bethesda Showcase, Bethesda’s Todd Howard finally revealed a substantial amount of new Starfield gameplay footage. We still don’t know the game’s new release date (it’s coming to Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Game Pass in 2023), but our first real look at Starfield‘s gameplay at least answered a lot of questions about what kind of game it really is. While such a reveal likely would have torn the house down in front of a live E3 crowd, the fans watching the first Starfield gameplay footage via Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook at home had a more…mixed initial reaction.
To be clear, “mixed” isn’t necessarily a negative. It just means that the biggest reveal of the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase drew wildly different reactions from quite a few people. Many were impressed by Starfield‘s RPG elements, customization options, and massive size. Others couldn’t help but focus on the game’s obvious technical issues, familiar gameplay ideas, and their fears that Bethesda may be putting themselves in a prime position to overpromise and underdeliver. At this point, there are legitimately good reasons to be optimistic about Starfield. However, there are at least as many reasons to be a little worried about what we’ve seen of the game so far and what we’ve heard about its troubled development.
The Starfield reveal has also inspired an overwhelming amount of memes, because of course it has. You can’t share anything in the modern age without thousands of people finding some way to turn that reveal into an easily digestible joke ready to be spread. Again, that’s hardly surprising or even a bad thing, but I do find it funny that some of the most popular jokes about Starfield are the ones that call the game some kind of variation of “No Man’s Skyrim.” The joke itself is obviously pretty great, but what’s really funny is that there seem to be quite a few fans who think that’s inherently a bad thing.
I’ll tell you right now that if you’re expecting Starfield to be significantly different than other Bethesda RPGs (specifically Skyrim and Fallout 4), you’re probably going to be disappointed by large chunks of the final product. From the start, Bethesda has been very open about the fact that Starfield will be a classic Bethesda Game Studios RPG in most respects. At the very least, Bethesda wants you to know that means the game will include a massive open world, an epic single-player adventure, and tons of role-playing. In reality, fans know that means the game will likely feature a ton of bugs, uneven writing, and “spongey” combat. It’s really not a bad idea to think of Starfield as Skyrim or Fallout 4 in space, even if the final product will inevitably alter and expand upon those games’ formulas in some ways.
The No Man’s Sky comparisons also appear to be largely accurate, if a bit surprising. If the reveal that Starfield will feature 1000 explorable planets didn’t trigger your No Man’s Sky reaction, the gameplay footage of the player’s character mining resources and navigating largely barren landscapes almost certainly did. Indeed, it really does look like most of the time that you’ll spend away from Starfield‘s more scripted content will be spent gathering resources, crafting items, and building impressive structures and ships. It remains to be seen if Starfield‘s exploration and crafting elements will be anywhere near as deep as No Man’s Sky‘s are (that game is built around those survival mechanics), but it’s clear those concepts will be significant parts of the gameplay experience.
In short, if you’re someone who got burned out on Skyrim/Fallout 4 (or never got into those games in the first place), hate the basic No Man’s Sky experience, crave fast-paced shooter action, or demand the absolute best modern visuals and performance possible, Starfield will probably not be the game for you. Even those who accept its apparent “No Man’s Skyrim” pedigree could obviously end up being disappointed by the things the game does or doesn’t do.
Yet, I still find it difficult to not get excited about most of what I know about Starfield, even if the game doesn’t turn out to be much more than that blend of somewhat familiar experiences it is shaping up to be.
First off, it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a proper Bethesda RPG, and there aren’t exactly a lot of studios out there who have been willing and able to fill that void. Part of the reason that Bethesda can get away with all those Skyrim re-releases over the years is that there really aren’t a lot of other games out there that offer what Skryim offers. Games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Greedfall, The Witcher 3, and even Elden Ring feature elements of that BGS formula, but few games properly replicate it. There are times when you want to lose yourself in a massive single-player open-world filled with traditional RPG elements, a ton of quests, many secrets, and Triple-A design qualities. Even in what we have to assume will be its most basic form, Starfield is poised to offer just that. It’s kind of hard to fault a company for sticking to a successful formula that nobody else seems entirely capable of delivering.
I also wouldn’t judge those No Man’s Sky comparisons too harshly. Granted, there was a time when No Man’s Sky was synonymous with the word “bust.” Since its 2016 debut, though, the game that overpromised and underdelivered on a historical level has grown into a sci-fi epic that simply delivers. Not everyone vibes with its exploration and survival-based gameplay, but No Man’s Sky has shown that you can deliver a massive universe exploration experience without having to resort to a Star Citizen-style scam. Granted, that game is still filled with countless planets that don’t offer much more than barren landscapes and a few resources, but that’s not always a bad thing. The thrill of seeing what is on the next planet typically remains high on those games, and the promise that the next one will feature something truly fascinating is delivered often enough to keep you hooked.
Actually, if No Man’s Sky has been missing anything over the years it’s exactly what a BGS RPG typically offers: an epic narrative-driven RPG experience with tons of scripted content and gameplay-driven discoveries. No Man’s Sky has grown to incorporate more of those ideas across numerous updates, but again, there are very few companies that can make the kinds of games that Bethesda makes in that department.
That’s the thing about Starfield. I love what No Man’s Sky has become, but there are times when it still feels like a playable concept for another kind of game. Starfield may not offer everything No Man’s Sky does, but it’s easy to imagine the Starfield team using the No Man’s Sky template to supplement the core RPG experience that we know Starfield will still focus on. Honestly, the things that No Man’s Sky does and does well might just work even better as the “other” components of a more narrative-driven open-world RPG. I’ve always wanted a Bethesda RPG that offers expansive end-game options that go beyond the scope of the game’s scripted content without feeling entirely divorced from those aspects of the experience, and a No Man’s Sky-style exploration system could give Starfield exactly that.
Mind you, I’m not entirely sold on Starfield quite yet. The game could still be a technical disaster, it could be a big empty nothing that relies too much on procedurally generated content, and the whole thing could fail to learn from Fallout 4‘s biggest mistakes and struggle to deliver that kind of pure RPG experience that the best BGS game should offer. There are so many questions about this game that still need to be answered and so many valid concerns that still need to be addressed.
However, if Starfield is really shaping up to deliver No Man’s Sky meets Skyrim…well, that’s not a meme; that’s a dream.