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I can’t help it. I’m beginning to build up Starfield in my head. We haven’t seen much of Bethesda’s space-exploration adventure, and that leaves plenty of room for the imagination to run wild. Typically, I would hold a new, unknown game at a distance. After all, what is the point of setting myself up for disappointment. Like I said, though — I cannot help myself even if I see some potential pitfalls for Bethesda.
My excitement for Starfield is due to a couple of core factors. For one, it’s from Bethesda Game Studios. And while that team faltered with Fallout 76, it’s still the developer that created The Elder Scrolls games as well as Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. In a video about Bethesda’s approach to Starfield, the studio emphasized that much of its senior staff have worked together for decades. This isn’t a situation where the studio name is the same but all of the key creative talent is new. That’s not to say Bethesda isn’t bringing in new blood. It is, and the video emphasizes that many of those people grew up on Bethesda games.
Starfield should end up feeling like a Bethesda game even if game director Todd Howard confirmed that many of the mechanics in the game are new. Those additions may change the way players interact with the world, but Howard also confirmed that Starfield will still have its physics-based world where players can pick up and manipulate every object. To me, that suggests a continuity from Fallout and Skyrim, even if Starfield is a drastic change in setting and style.
And that setting is the other major reason for my excitement. I love the fantasy and post-apocalyptic environments of Bethesda’s other releases, but space exploration is even more enticing to me.
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Starfield will launch in the shadow of Skyrim
I’m going to let myself get excited for Starfield. The worst that could happen is that it comes out and disappoints me, and I can live with that. If does live up to my high expectations, it could end up as something special. And maybe that puts extra pressure on the studio, but I don’t think it’s anything compared to the pressure that Todd Howard and his team are putting on themselves. After all, how could anyone make a game that could live up to Skyrim?
The legacy of Skyrim is that it is a decade-old game that has not fallen off with time. It’s something that thousands of people still play every day. And that is without any online multiplayer or live-service components. The world is simply so compelling that people find themselves going back for years.
That longevity is something that Bethesda stumbled into.
“I feel like our games have two lives,” Starfield art director Matt Carofano said. “We create this game, and we put everything that we possibly can into it. When we hand it off to the players, they play it, but then they take it and make it their own. They tell their own stories, but then they make their own stories with our tools.”
But Howard acknowledged that this is now something that he thinks about when designing a game.
“I think we underestimate how long people are going to play,” said Howard. “You look at Skyrim — we sit here 10 years later, and it keeps having this life. It changes how you want to create something.”
That gives me pause. Bethesda did not end up with Skyrim by setting out to build an everlasting world. It designed a dynamic world with the expectations that it would fill out an average playtime of 20-to-50 hours. But now Howard says he wants to change how he creates things to cater to that longevity. What if it’s one of those things that you could lose by chasing it?
Stepping out into Starfield … twice
I have similar worries about Starfield’s “step out” moment. That’s the sequence in games like Skyrim or Fallout where players first step out into the open world. For Starfield, Howard says that the game has two of those. And while that probably looks like stepping out onto a planet and then flying out into space, I hope Bethesda doesn’t elongate its introduction in an effort to double that effect.
Of course, it’s easy for me to fixate on potentially imaginary concerns. This is mostly about my own anxieties. And the reality is that I believe that Bethesda Game Studios knows how to make a Bethesda game.
“Even though we want to make a game that is very big and very long and you can play for years, it’s all the paths you didn’t take that makes it special to you,” said Howard. “So when you finish a quest, you feel like you accomplished something.”
When I hear Howard say something like that, it restores my faith a little. He gets it, and I just hope he doesn’t lose sight of it trying to recapture the magic of Skyrim.