Starfield: Everything we know about Bethesda's next RPG

Starfield — A spaceship engages its FTL drive, with the expected kaleidoscope of light streaks and lens flares.
(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

2023 is here, which means we can say it: Starfield is coming this year. We don't know when exactly, but it's only a matter of months before we're cruising between a thousand planets in our hand-crafted starships. Assuming there aren't more delays, of course.

Bethesda's first new RPG franchise in a quarter century, the open-world (worlds?) space adventure is surrounded by some fittingly astronomical hype. As release creeps closer, we've been getting a more expansive image of Starfield's space exploration. Until Starfield's launch later this year, we'll be collecting information about Starfield's story, factions, characters, locations, systems, and spaceships. Here's everything we know so far about Starfield.

Starfield release date

Is there a 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." A recent update to Bethesda's support website (opens in new tab) confirmed that Starfield's release is still targeted for the first half of the year.

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.

How much will Starfield cost?

With Sony, Activision, and now Microsoft raising the standard game price to $70 USD, we're entering an extremely expensive era of gaming.  Starfield will also cost $70, maintaining this price as a new normal, and not a temporary spike. Luckily, Microsoft has made it a habit of putting its latest AAA hits on Xbox Game Pass from launch. Starfield has been confirmed as a day one addition to Game Pass.

Starfield trailers

Here's our first look at Starfield gameplay from 2022

The 2022 Xbox & Bethesda showcase gave us our long-awaited first look at real Starfield gameplay (opens in new tab), and Todd Howard brought plenty to show the class. We get our introduction to an interstellar Bethesda open world on a desolate moon, 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.

We get a glimpse of character creation, and Starfield's skill system: you'll choose skills with each level-up, which 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. Then, Todd brings the big guns and unveils Starfield's ship customization, which will let you make your own dream ship to fly between Starfield's 1,000 explorable planets.

Here's the first Starfield trailer from E3 2021

Starfield's first trailer (opens in new tab) was a cinematic teaser 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.

Starfield gameplay info

Starfield's ships and guns are player-customizable

Starfield ship customization menu

(Image credit: Bethesda)

You won't just be choosing from a selection of ships to pilot in Starfield,. As shown in Bethesda's gameplay reveal, players can completely customize the look, layout, and performance of their spacecraft with tons of ship customization options. With the game's shipbuilding tools, you'll be able to design your ideal starship, down to the placement and appearance of individual modules from different manufacturers, each with their own attributes.

A similar crafting system will let players modify and customize their arsenal of space firearms. A glimpse of in-game crafting mechanics showed different tiers of researchable barrel, grip, optic, and muzzle mods that could be applied to a submachinegun. 

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 2022 Xbox & Bethesda showcase's gameplay reveal. 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.

What Elder Scrolls/Fallout mechanics will be in Starfield?

Starfield pickpocket close up image showing option to steal from enemies

(Image credit: Bethesda)
  • NPCs can be pickpocketed. Shown in only a single frame of the Starfield gameplay reveal, a pickpocket prompt appears when a pirate steps in front of the crouching player character, visible for barely a fraction of a second before the pirate is perforated with space bullets.
  • Lockpicking's back, too. Or technically "digipicking", if you're going by the name of Starfield's lockpick equivalent. 
  • There's a persuasion minigame, but supposedly more involved than Oblivion's dialogue pie chart. As Starfield lead quest designer Will Shen says in Into the Starfield episode 2 (opens in new tab): "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."
  • There will be recruitable NPC companions. As in earlier Bethesda games, they'll assist in combat. And yes, some of them are romanceable.
  • You'll be able to join factions. Their questlines will be independent from each other, unlike the Fallout 4 factions that locked you out of other questlines.
  • You can build outposts, shown briefly in Starfield's gameplay reveal. What we saw looked similar to the basebuilding in Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, but we don't have any specifics yet.

Starfield companions will hopefully have more depth

(Image credit: Bethesda)

As is tradition in Bethesda RPGs, Starfield will have companion characters to join you on your travels. Our first introduction to a Starfield companion character was with Vasco, a robot companion shown off in a video from earlier in 2022 (opens in new tab). The expeditionary robot will presumably be Starfield's default companion, similar to Dogmeat in Fallout 4. Refurbished to handle the rigors of expeditionary space travel, Vasco sounds like he's more of a workhorse, with storage capacity and a variety of gear to aid you in exploration. He still has weapons, though.

Todd Howard spoke more about Starfield companions in a lengthy video interview (opens in new tab) from the end of November 2022, discussing the value of the time and emotional investment spent with companions in games—both Bethesda's and others. Howard confirmed companion romance in Starfield, and noted the studio's interest in giving those relationships some additional complexity.

Bethesda romance tends to be a binary state. Gather enough affection points to cross an arbitrary threshold, and you're in a loving relationship. Lose enough of them, and your romance might as well have never happened. Hoping to move away from that, Howard said that four of Starfield's companions will offer a bit more depth. "I won't say super complex, but more complex relationships than we've had," Howard said. "Not just some state of 'they like you' or 'they don't like you.' They can be in love with you and dislike something you did, and be pissed at you temporarily."

You have a robot companion called Vasco

In a video from earlier in 2022 (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.

Will Starfield be multiplayer?

Starfield will not have multiplayer. Since its first reveal, Starfield has been planned as a singleplayer 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 setting and locations

Starfield will have over 1,000 planets

In the gameplay reveal for Starfield, Todd Howard said that the fully-explorable galaxy in Starfield will contain over 1,000 planets. Made possible with a mix of hand-crafted content and procedural generation, each planet can be landed on and explored on foot. Will a lot of them just be wastelands with minerals to harvest? Probably. But so are most real planets.

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" (opens in new tab), design director Emil Pagliarulo introduced some of the settlements you'll be visiting in Starfield. Each video is less than a minute long, with Pagliarulo giving a quick summary over some concept art, so they're not much to go on. That said, there are some interesting nuggets of lore, like a fishing settlement on an aquatic world that became a "pleasure city" following the discovery of a psychotropic spacefish.

Also introduced are other Starfield cities and locations: 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."

What do we know about Starfield's 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 much about the main story yet, but there will definitely be a healthy number of factions at play in the world, like in other major Bethesda RPGs.

Constellation, a group of human explorers, seems like the game's main faction. Todd Howard has described the group as "like NASA meets Indiana Jones meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a group of people that are still searching for answers."

We don't know much yet, but we've heard the names and brief descriptions of a few Starfield factions that we may meet or hear about along the way. That alone was enough for some of us to decide which faction they plan to join. If only all the space clubs had a fair for prospective members.

According a Bethesda video Q&A with quest designer Will Shen (opens in new tab), Starfield's faction questlines will play a bit more like Skyrim than Fallout 4. By the sounds of it, they'll all be independently playable, without getting locked out of a faction's questline by story progress.

Even more Starfield details

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Here's every Starfield tidbit from Todd Howard

In the long months leading up to Starfield, Bethesda's been releasing Todd Howard from his dream factory to bestow some carefully-selected scraps of Starfield info. Here's a collection of Todd's teasers.

In an interview with IGN (opens in new tab), Howard described Starfield's ship combat as having a slower tempo, making explicit call-outs to systems-juggling in games like FTL and the MechWarrior series.

Howard also took the time to address concerns about Starfield's big 1,000 planet number, and about how much polished gameplay that'd involve. According to Howard, Starfield will have more handcrafted content than any other Bethesda game.

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.

Speaking to The Washington Post (opens in new tab), Todd Howard said Starfield is "like Skyrim in space," and like Skyrim and Bethesda's Fallout games, Starfield will be playable both in first and third-person perspectives. "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."

In an interview with The Guardian (opens in new tab), Howard says, "We’ve been talking about [Starfield] 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.”

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," but 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."

In the Bethesda Q&A video mentioned above, Howard laid out the major inspirational touchstones for Starfield, which stretch back over four decades. 1984 Apple II space sim SunDog (opens in new tab) was named, as well as mentioned Traveller (opens in new tab), a scifi pen-and-paper RPG first published in 1977.

Todd Howard has toured Elon Musk's company SpaceX for Starfield research and inspiration. Similar inspiration informed Starfield's art style, described internally as "NASA-punk," as lead Starfield artist Istvan Pely told Xbox Wire (opens in new tab).

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.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

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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