Microsoft’s bow in the annual flurry of early June game announcements, streamed on YouTube on Sunday, came with a surprising asterisk: a focus on “games you can play over the next 12 months.” But while the company had a lot to announce for Xbox Game Pass subscribers in 2022, the biggest Xbox console exclusives shown on Sunday appear to skip 2022 altogether.
Bethesda Game Studios tempered fans’ expectations last month by confirming that both of its biggest previously announced “Xbox console exclusive” games, Starfield and Redfall, had been delayed to 2023, and now we know that both should arrive by June of next year. After reviewing Starfield‘s Sunday gameplay reveal, we honestly wonder whether that time window will be sufficient for Bethesda to finish the game, because Starfield looks massive.
At the end of his presentation, Bethesda veteran Todd Howard gestured to a map of one of Starfield‘s major star systems, Alpha Centauri, which appears to include four “major” planets around its sun and an additional eight or nine moon-like celestial bodies. Then the “galaxy map” zoomed out to reveal six named solar systems, along with dots for an additional dozen, and Howard said the full game map includes “over 1,000 planets for you to explore.”
That’s shy of the 18 quintillion planets you’ll find in the 2016 space exploration game No Man’s Sky, and Howard clarifies that many of Starfield‘s planets will be “barren” sources of crucial resources. Thus, we’re left wondering exactly how many of these planets will be designed with the verbose cities, fortresses, settlements, and quests hinted at in this trailer, especially since Bethesda didn’t offer a size estimate compared to its other major RPG launches (ie “50 percent more dialogue than Skyrim“).
Still, thanks to Sunday’s 15-minute presentation, we’re finally able to imagine how Starfield will play. The trailer’s most promising content revolves around players’ ability to both build and operate their own spaceships. A detailed ship-building interface allows players to bolt ship components together, and each portion impacts variables like cargo storage space, hull and shield integrity, number of supported crew members, combat proficiency, and “gravity jump range,” as measured in light years. This interface includes requirements to balance engine power and “reactor” energy demands, while Howard hints to crew enlistment being a key factor to managing your long-distance voyages.
With a spaceship built, players can not only blast off into space but also contend with interstellar combat. Bethesda Game Studios has never shipped a game with dogfight support, so we’ll be curious to play this mode and see how flexible it is on a maneuverability and weapon-targeting basis, but at first blush, Starfield‘s spaceship combat sure looks cool.
We’re less excited about ground combat in Starfield thus far, however, as it appears to revolve around basic military weaponry (pistols, assault rifles, grenades), as opposed to the wild battling technology we would expect in a 24th-century universe that has mastered things like “gravity warp drives.” Yet other interface teases, including a combat-focused skill tree and a weapon-crafting interface, suggest that later-game Starfield weapons could be boosted with upgrades like massive magazines and “ballistic laser” elements. We do appreciate that the skill tree system offers additional rewards when players repeatedly use an ability they’ve unlocked, thus “ranking” those abilities higher to get increased damage and other perks.
Sady, Bethesda’s demo didn’t include a VATS-like system that might emphasize loadout-specific tactics or give non-combat character archetypes a fighting chance. A peek at the game’s character-creation system confirms character types like “diplomat” and “chef,” who will arguably battle quite differently than “bounty hunter” and “ronin.” These “backgrounds” will be combined with selectable “traits” that might give players town-specific perks or special traversal abilities. Hilariously, Bethesda revealed one trait that makes players stronger… so long as they continuously hop when they walk across planetary surfaces. It describes your character’s need to jump as “an addiction.”
On a story basis, it sounds like your Starfield character figures into the plot by being the first human to discover an “artifact,” which “appears to be one of many,” a quest giver suggests. This quest begins on the apparently major hub world of Constellation, and from there, you’ll build up both your personal abilities and an increasingly powerful spaceship to traverse the galaxy in search of additional artifacts—while contending with warring cross-galaxy factions who have different ideas on what to do with these artifacts. That says nothing of the “visions” artifacts apparently produce for people who find them, which will likely figure into the plot one way or another.
While some of the worlds are dotted with fantastical beasts and massive, detailed cities, Bethesda Game Studios seems content to keep its chatty characters in a more dated realm of plasticky, dead-eyed animations. But, hey—if the story and dialogue are up to Bethesda’s usual standards, we can forgive faces that look like they’re at least two console generations behind.