After being under wraps for so long, we got an absolute deluge of information on Bethesda's next game at the Starfield Direct in Microsoft's summer showcase. I am now more apprised than I have ever been in my life about the NASA-punk future's rad-as-hell jetpacks, cold fish companions, and fun off the beaten path.
That being said, there's still things we don't know, and some of the reveals in the trailer raised even more questions than they answered, so here's our—checks notes one last time—nine biggest unanswered questions after the Starfield Direct.
What's up with Earth?
Starfield's big boy, main hub, Imperial City city looks to be New Atlantis in Alpha Centauri. Alright, fair enough but it also looks like we're going to be visiting the mining colony of Cydonia on Mars. It feels like we're tiptoeing around the Pale Blue Dot here!
Starfield could be doing something similar to the original Mass Effect, where you can load into our home solar system but only visit Earth's moon, but that doesn't seem to jive with Starfield's open-ended nature. Did something horrible happen to Earth, and will we visit that wreckage? Is Starfield a sequel to Fallout? No, that'd just be dumb.
On the post-apocalyptic front, there's this one shot from the showcase of a giant archway in the middle of a reddish desert. Now, I just parsed it as "Maybe it's more alien crap, but it sure does look like the St. Louis Gateway Arch," but as PCG features producer Chris Livingston pointed out to me, what if it just is the St. Louis Gateway Arch? You maniacs! You blew it up!
While we're on the subject, what about the other six planets of our home solar system (sorry Pluto)? That seems like a tall order to simulate, but it'd be weird to only visit Mars there, wouldn't it?
What does in-system/in-planet exploration look like?
Starfield had its very own "You see those mountains? You can go there" moment with Todd Howard stating that you could fly from a planet's surface to its moon and back, but he didn't actually show what that'd look like.
Ditto for just flying around a planet's surface, what's it like in-between the major points of interest on a planet, or when you're flying between the planets of a system manually instead of using your star map?
So what's the word on modding?
Last we heard about modding was in 2021 when Todd Howard said "Our plan [is to] have full mod support like our previous games. Our modding community has been with us for 20 years. We love what they do and hope to see more make a career out of it." We also know a bit about what prolific Bethesda game modders want to see in Starfield, but that's about it.
I hope Bethesda has already put in the work to consult with its modding community on what tools and improvements they'd like to see in the new Creation Engine. Thomas the Tank Engine as a pilotable ship is a given, but I know Bethesda modders have a deep well of creativity ready to tap and act on.
Is this world really as reactive and deep as they made it sound?
One of the more low-key exciting things from the presentation was how much more attention to detail Starfield's world seems to have when compared to Fallout 4's, despite the exponential leap in scale. If background and trait choices really factor into side quests and NPC interactions, well that almost sounds more like an Obsidian joint than a Bethesda one.
Ditto for being able to sneak around in vents or otherwise find alternate paths, or make esoteric-sounding skills like "Xenosociology" into a core part of your build. Thing is, these all sound like the expectations I had for CD Projekt's Cyberpunk 2077, and while I love that game to bits, it wasn't even close to the "70% of a fully open world Deus Ex" I'd been hoping for. How will Starfield measure up to a similar challenge of meeting sky-high expectations?
How substantial are the faction questlines?
The game centers on the space Boy Scouts, Constellation, and Bethesda has previously stated that you can even join villainous groups like card-carrying bad guys, The Crimson Fleet, but how will this compare to factions in previous Bethesda games?
Many of us have fond memories of doing literally everything in Oblivion and Skyrim, becoming some kind of one-person Tamriel deep state with control of both the Dark Brotherhood and the Mage's Guild, but I'm guessing re-upping your membership in the Crimson Fleet will preclude you rising through the ranks in Lawful Good space hall monitor confederation, the United Colonies.
What I am really hoping for are expansive questlines like those Oblivion and Skyrim guilds. Give me something that feels like its own main quest, with twists and turns and a cast of characters all its own. I'd be bummed as hell if we get something more in line with Fallout 4's factions. I was not a fan of having just one or two handmade quests and a neverending deluge of procedurally generated, "radiant" objectives for the Railroad.
What's even happening in that main quest?
I've had a close encounter of the third kind with some manner of angular alien thingamajig, and now the powers that be have taken an interest and want me to find more extra terrestrial bits, boobahs, and doodads. Are we sure we aren't talking Mass Effect here?
Jokes aside, are these alien artifacts (weapon), alien artifacts (trippy consciousness-expanding), or alien artifacts (other)? And will all of this Contact-type stuff feed back into the political situation of the Settled Systems, or is the relationship more tangential and separate like Skyrim's main quest?
May I see the aliens?
Starfield doubled down on showing us extraterrestrial creatures in the showcase. We saw large insect-like creatures made of stone, duck-billed dinosaurs with fluted back fins, a giant crab creature, "swarming dragon," and a thing with elephant skin but a rocky shell. That's all great but are there any humanoids that aren't actually human
From everything we've seen so far it sure seems like the answer is: no. Space is full of sentient life, apparently, but none that care to talk to us. Starfield didn't need to go full-bore Star Wars or Star Trek, but I can't help but think wistfully of the many humanoid species in their Elder Scrolls Lore. I had hoped their "first new RPG setting in 25 years" might have wilder worldbuilding than that.
Are we really locked in for September 6?
Hey, look, I don't want to jinx it either, I'm just asking questions here. I'd say I'm 90% sure that date's gonna hold, but I was probably around 85% right before Starfield got delayed the last time, and there was never really a formal acknowledgement of it slipping from "first half of 2023" to September—but I remember.
What happens if you fly too close to a gas giant, or a star?
Probably nothing good, but it would be rad as hell to skim some hydrogen oceans every once in a while!