Starfield: Everything we know about Bethesda's next RPG

Starfield space game
(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

When Starfield hits in 2023, it'll mark Bethesda's first release of an original RPG in 25 years. Fittingly, the hype is astronomical. First teased back in 2018, we waited for years with only the tiniest tidbits of information being released about the Bethesda space adventure. As we approach its release, we're finally developing a bigger picture of what Starfield is all about.

Although Bethesda originally announced a 2022 launch, Starfield has been delayed into 2023. With some extra time on our hands before we go space-exploring, we'll continue collecting information about Starfield's story, factions, characters, locations, systems, and spaceships. Here's everything we know so far about Bethesda's next RPG.

What's the latest Starfield news?

There's hasn't been a whole lot of new information lately. We didn't get specific release date when the delay to 2023 was announced, and an appearance at Gamescom turned out to just be by the game's robot companion, Vasco, for photo-ops.

The lack of news doesn't mean fans have been idle. Prospective modders have already begun organizing to produce a fan patch (opens in new tab), something they've done for other Bethesda RPGs like Skyrim and Fallout 4. In the past these unofficial patches have fixed hundreds of different (mostly minor) bugs and glitches. I guess everyone's expecting Starfield to be a bit, well, sloppy.

Fans are also busy digging into Starfield's map, or what little we've seen of it, hoping to figure out where in the galaxy the action takes place. Only a few stars are known for sure (including our own sun, Alpha Centauri, and Porrima), but some clever Starfield astronomers think they've also identified Altair, Barnard and Sirius.

The last really big occurrence (besides the delay) was when Starfield showed up at the Xbox and Bethesda showcase in June and brought quite a bit of gameplay to show. We've pored through the Starfield footage (you can watch it above) and here's the newest of new things we've learned:

  • How big is it? There are 1,000 planets.
  • Character creation: It looks pretty detailed.
  • Traits: You have a lot of choices, from Empath to Alien DNA.
  • Skills: "Rank" your skills by using them. Remember Oblivion?
  • Ship customization: Change the look, layout, and crew.
  • Ship flight: Yes, you will be getting in the cockpit.
  • Crafting: Create weapon mods and conduct research projects.
  • Outposts: Build your own and hire characters to work there.
  • Lockpicking: Yes, it's back. Even in space.
  • Voice acting: No voice for your protagonist, sorry Fallout 4 fans.
  • Worshipping a giant space serpent: Confirmed.

What is the release date?

What is the Starfield release date?

Starfield is launching in the first half of 2023. Its original release date was planned for November 11, 2022. Bethesda announced the delay in May 2022, saying that "The teams at Arkane Austin (Redfall) and Bethesda Game Studios (Starfield) have incredible ambitions for their games, and we want to ensure that you receive the best, most polished versions of them."

Meanwhile, impatient fans have tried to figure out the exact date before it's announced. Right now, a theory (opens in new tab) is that Starfield will be released on March 23, 2023, but that's really just a guess based on some numbers shown in the trailer that may relate to the patent filed by the Wright Brothers for their flying machine back in 1906.

3-23-23 feels like a nice date for a Bethesda RPG launch (Skyrim was 11-11-11), but there's no real evidence for it. Hopefully we'll find out the actual date from Bethesda sometime soon.

Watch the Starfield trailers

Here's the first Starfield trailer from E3 2021

You can watch the Starfield E3 trailer above. It's a cinematic showing an astronaut climbing into a spaceship while a robot tromps around on the surface. We get a nice look at the ship while a voice over says "What you've found is the key to unlocking... everything," and "We've come to the beginning of humanity's final journey." The pilot sits at a console, flips a bunch of switches, and the trailer ends with rockets firing and the ship about to take off.

You can also watch the YouTube series called Into the Starfield, which breaks down their inspirations, shows off new concept art (including some gorgeous animated ones), and talks about the game. The second episode talks about factions and shows off some dialogue.

Starfield's gameplay and skills

(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

Here's our first look at Starfield gameplay in 2022

The 2022 Xbox & Bethesda showcase gave us our long-awaited first look at real Starfield gameplay, and Todd Howard brought plenty to show the class. On a desolate sulphurous moon called Kreet, we get our introduction to an interstellar Bethesda open world, which gives way to gunplay against space bandits. Clips of NPC conversations give us a sense of the player's overarching goal, and the factions they can join throughout their explorations.

We get a glimpse of character creation, which Howard calls Bethesda's "most flexible yet." There's a skill system, where skills chosen with each level-up can gain additional ranks as they're used to provide more benefits. A crafting system will let players modify and customize their space guns. Players will be able to establish outposts as they explore alien worlds, using mechanics that seem more elaborate and fully-implemented than the base-building in Fallout 4.

Then, Todd brings the big guns and unveils Starfield's ship customization. Players completely customizing their look, layout and performance of their spacecraft, down to individual modules from different manufacturers. The gameplay reveal closes out with an explanation of Starfield's scale. Players can land and explore anywhere they choose, on any planet, in over 100 star systems—meaning a fully-explorable galaxy of over 1,000 planets.

Starfield will have more handcrafted content than any other Bethesda game

In an interview with IGN (opens in new tab), Todd Howard addressed concerns that followed the news of Starfield's 1000 planets, and whether the procedural generation they'd involve would mean a dearth of polished game to play. While Howard made a point that procedural content was nothing knew for Bethesda games, noting Skyrim's procedural Radiant quest engine, he said that Starfall would have more handmade content than any of the studio's other games.

Howard quantified the amount of handcrafted content with some numbers, saying the game's at "over 200,000 lines of dialogue." Elsewhere in that interview, Howard estimates the length of Starfield's main story as being around 20% longer than the main quests in Skyrim and Fallout 4.

Starfield's character creation, skills, and traits

(Image credit: Bethesda)

We got a pretty good look at creating and leveling a character during the June Xbox & Bethesda showcase. We saw some templates, body shapes and sizes, skin tones, and hairstyles for your character's physical appearance, though not the details of their faces.

You'll choose a background—options like combat medic, bouncer, professor, or homesteader, which all come with three starting skills. Character skills are things you'll recognize as Bethesda RPG staples: medicine, lasers, persuasion, bargaining, and the like. 

As for leveling those skills, Todd Howard says that Starfield's system "combines the best from our previous games" meaning that you'll unlock new skills as you level up and then upgrade those skills by using them or "completing challenges".

If that's not enough roleplaying, Starfield also has traits, another system familiar from past games. These are optional choices for your character that come with pros and cons. "Spaced" gives you increased health and endurance while in space but decreased on the surface, for instance. According to Howard, these traits are "problems you can solve" if you get sick of them—each trait will apparently have an optional quest to nullify it, removing both its positive and negative effects.

And different religions, including one that includes the worship of a space serpent, are present in Starfield. These are chosen during character creation and have a couple traits linked to them. "Raised Universal" is a trait that gives you a discount at "the church store" but means you can't use "the Enlightened store." The Enlightened may be another religion or perhaps a group of space-atheists, we're not sure yet. Either way, choosing one religion seems to put you in opposition to the others.

Will Starfield be multiplayer?

Unfortunately, Starfield will not have multiplayer. Since its first reveal, Starfield has been planned as a single-player action RPG. Bethesda currently has no plans to develop competitive PvP or co-op features for space explorers this time around. Other than Fallout 76 and The Elder Scrolls Online, it's quite rare for Bethesda games to offer multiplayer functionality.

Right now it's looking like a no, but that doesn't mean that multiplayer won't ever exist in Starfield; it's still a possibility that Todd Howard and the Bethesda crew will announce some sort of online collaborative or competitive elements in the coming months. Even if they don't, maybe modders will pull another Skyrim Together miracle a decade after Starfield's launch.

Starfield's ship combat is inspired by FTL and MechWarrior

In an interview with IGN, Todd Howard described Starfield's ship combat as having a slower tempo—think gunships hurling munitions at each other more than nimble starfighters. Howard made explicit call-outs to games like FTL and the MechWarrior series, indicating that combat will involve switching power between your ship-board systems.

In practice, this might look something like shifting power from your ship's shields to your weapons, ensuring you can score a finishing blow against an enemy ship on its last legs. Or if you're in a tough spot, maybe you'd move all your ship's available energy to its thrusters, to give you a better chance of outrunning hostiles.

Worth noting is that, if you do manage to disable an enemy ship, you can take it for yourself. Bethesda's Pete Hines confirmed that it's possible to board other spaceships and fly off with them (after you've dealt with the crew inside, presumably).

You have a robot companion called Vasco

(Image credit: Bethesda)

In a recent video (opens in new tab) Bethesda showed off Vasco for the first time. This expeditionary robot for constellation will presumably be Starfield's default companion, similar to Dogmeat in Fallout 4. Originally built by Lunar Robotics, Vasco was refurbished to handle the rigors of expeditionary space travel, and while he still has some weapons, it sounds like he's more of a workhorse (opens in new tab), with storage capacity and a variety of gear to aid you in exploration.

In the same video, lead artist Istvan Pely calls Vasco one of the team's "favorite companions". It seemed safe to assume there would be a handful of exploration partners to choose from in Starfield (like in Skyrim or Fallout 4) but now we can count on it for sure.

"Something we really leaned into on this game is how those other characters felt about you," Todd Howard said in one of Bethesda's videos. Companion characters will also comment on your surroundings or things happening around you.

There's a persuasion minigame, but not quite Oblivion's

In its Into the Starfield episode 2, Bethesda gets to talking about a persuasion system in Starfield. That may bring to mind the funny dialogue pie system from Oblivion, which wasn't originally intended as an evolution of Oblivion's system "but there are a couple of beats there," says lead quest designer Will Shen. "You have to think about 'what's my risk here?' We didn't want it to be a system where there's definitely a right thing to say." 

"It feels like you're having a conversation where you're actually trying to persuade somebody of something," Todd Howard adds. "As far as new systems in dialogue, I think it's definitely one of the most successful ones that we've had."

Bethesda is taking pages from older hardcore RPGs

In the second episode of the development diary 'Into the Starfield' that released recently, Todd Howard talked about Starfield. Covering a variety of subjects—from different factions to Starfield's dialogue system—he also focused in on the depth of character backstory and creation: "...some things we didn't do [in older games]: the backgrounds, the traits, defining your character, all of those stats". Starfield's aiming for "a lot of the things that older hardcore RPGs, something we used to do, doing those again in a new way."

Starfield setting and locations

What we know about the major Starfield locations

(Image credit: Bethesda)

One of the recent trailers breaks down the region of space known as the 'Settled Systems', a 50 light year radius around our own solar system where humanity has spread out. It's divided up between two major factions—the United Colonies and the Freestar Collective—who are at an uneasy peace after a recent war. It also touches on some of the other threats the player might face: "Ecliptic mercenaries, pirates of the Crimson Fleet, violent Spacers, or even the fanatical religious zealots of House Va'Ruun."

In the short videos called "Location Insights", design director Emil Pagliarulo introduced some of the settlements you'll be visiting in Starfield. Each video is less than a minute long and is just Pagliarulo giving a quick summary over some concept art, so they're not much to go on. That said, one of them does seem interesting. Neon was originally built as a fishing platform on an aquatic world, but was retooled as a pleasure city by its owner, the Xenofresh corporation, when they discovered an alien fish with valuable psychotropic qualities. This literal dopefish is now only legal on Neon.

The other videos introduce New Atlantis, the capital of the United Colonies, and Akila City, the capital of the Freestar Collective, which is walled to keep out "alien predators that are a cross between a wolf and a velociraptor."

Starfield also has factions

Space is a dangerous place, so it's no surprise that the Settled Systems will have any number of groups angling to meet their own ends. We don't know anything about Starfield's main story yet, but there are definitely going to be factions at play in the world like other major Bethesda RPGs. 

We don't know much yet, but we have heard the names and brief descriptions of a few groups that we may meet or hear about along the way. That alone was enough for Lauren Morton to decide which faction she plans to join. Have you made up your mind yet?

  • United Colonies: "the future space republic, idealized."
  • Freestar Collective: "space western fantasy, people out there on the frontier."
  • Ryujin Industries: A mega-corp, one of the possible starting factions.
  • Crimson Fleet: A group of pirates that you can either join or betray.
  • House Va'Ruun: A group of fanatical religious zealots.

Starfield has more than double Skyrim's dialog 

During the Tokyo Game Show, Howard told the audience that Starfield will launch with a complete Japanese localization and that it has over 150,000 lines of dialog. As Nibellion pointed out on Twitter (opens in new tab), that's more than twice as many lines as Skyrim, which had 60,000 of them. It's more than Fallout 4's 111,000 lines of dialog as well. This is going to be one chatty RPG.

Starfield's inspirations

The art style was called "NASA-Punk" internally

"Early on in this project when we were trying to establish the overall aesthetic of this game, we sort of coined the term 'NASA-Punk' to describe a sci-fi universe that’'s a little more grounded and relatable," Starfield lead artist Istvan Pely told Xbox Wire (opens in new tab). "We wanted a very realistic take. You can draw a line from current-day space technology and extrapolate from there into the future so it's believable and relatable."

It may sound like a silly name, but it caught on with the team as a useful shorthand for Starfield's rough-hewn and gritty depiction of the future. "What's really interesting is how much we all latched onto that concept," said lead animator Rick Vicens. "When you said NASA-Punk, the Art team could instantly take those two words and make them work. It was just the perfect term for our art direction and keeping everyone in same flow and working with a consistent style."

Starfield is more hard scifi than space fantasy

Compared to scifi universes like Star Wars and Destiny, whose space magics and laser swords have a loose relationship with scientific rigor, Starfield will slant closer to realistic science and physics for its inspirations. Asked in a Bethesda Q&A video (opens in new tab) whether Starfield is a hard scifi game, Todd Howard said it's "hard to us," describing how he spent time reading quantum physics papers to inform the design for the game's warp drives.

Still, Howard made sure to add an asterisk, saying Bethesda is definitely prioritizing fun in play over scientific accuracy. "It's a trap question, right? It's a video game. A hard science fiction video game would be: you die in space cold," Howard said.

Starfield's inspirations date back more than 40 years

In the Bethesda Q&A video mentioned above, Todd Howard laid out the major inspirational touchstones for Starfield, which stretch back over four decades. "SunDog (opens in new tab) is a big one—amazing game," he said, referencing the Apple II space sim from 1984 that featured spaceship management and planetary exploration.

Howard also mentioned Traveller (opens in new tab), a scifi pen-and-paper RPG first published in 1977. Coincidentally, wanting to make a Traveller video game provided Howard with one of his first forays into Apple II game development.

Starfield is "like Skyrim in space," says Todd Howard

We don't know a whole lot about Starfield's story yet. Speaking to The Washington Post (opens in new tab), Todd Howard said Starfield is "like Skyrim in space," and will feature factions, with Constellation, a group of human explorers, being the main one.

"It's like NASA meets Indiana Jones meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a group of people that are still searching for answers," Howard said.

"There are a lot of factions in the game but [Constellation is] the main one that you'll become a part of. It’s kind of like Skyrim in terms of the structure of the game, where you're going to be who you want to be, and then there's different factions that you can join, and really carve your own path."

Also like Skyrim and Bethesda's Fallout games, Starfield will be playable both in first and third-person perspectives.

(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

Todd Howard traveled to SpaceX to bring 'authenticity' to Starfield

In the same E3 chat between Howard and Musk mentioned above, Howard said that he toured Musk's company SpaceX for Starfield research and inspiration. It's not clear how this inspiration will manifest, but Howard did mention that Helium 3—a speculative fuel for nuclear fusion—could be the isotope used to fuel Starfield's ships, or at least is something to be debated.

The look of the ship in the trailer shows futuristic yet still recognizable tech. Lots of buttons and switches like the cockpits we have today, as opposed to super-exotic technology we see in games like Mass Effect.

Starfield has been in development for years

Back in 2018 Todd Howard said (opens in new tab) that the project had moved out of pre-production and was currently in a playable state internally. The teaser shown at E3 2018 was mostly designed to give us a sense of the game's atmosphere. In an interview with The Guardian (opens in new tab), Howard says, "We’ve been talking about it for a decade, we started putting things on paper five, six years ago, and active development was from when we finished Fallout 4, so two and a half, three years.”

Even more Starfield details

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Starfield is built in Creation Engine 2

The trailer begins with the words "Alpha in-game footage | Creation Engine 2" showing on the screen. Bethesda confirmed that Starfield is the first game to be built in the new engine (opens in new tab).

We don't know much about Creation Engine 2, or how much it differs from the engine Bethesda has been using and updating for years for everything from Skyrim to Fallout 76. Since Bethesda's RPGs have been highly moddable, we sure hope Creation Engine 2 continues the tradition.

There's a brief making-of feature you can watch below that shows lots of interesting concept art.

What other tidbits have come down about Starfield?

In November at the Skyrim 10th Anniversary Concert, we got a surprise look and listen at some of the music of Starfield and a bunch of new concept art. It's worth a look at both the relevant part of the concert and new images of Starfield concept art.

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.

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