Bethesda’s Starfield seems to be a different kind of sci-fi game than we’ve seen before. Science fiction is often obsessed with the far-flung future, eager to hurl us into an almost unrecognisable interpretation of our world, one where humanity’s humble origins are little more than footnotes in history books and mentions upon monuments amidst myriad metropolises. While you can delve into literature for a more comprehensive imagining of our potential future, games and film often settle for the outlandish. The exploration has already been done, with the human race having already made their way across the stars to find the elusive final frontier. A new life has begun, and thus a sense of comfort has been established long before we pick up the controller.
Starfield has different ideas, taking place in a future that isn’t too different from our own. Even in the latest trailer, much of the technology, language, and architecture can be traced back to this current reality, one where scientists and inventors are still toying with the possibility of venturing beyond our solar system. It’s a terrifying proposition, and it seems Starfield is eager to lean into the circumstances of reaching for the stars to discover something new. For our hero, it could end up being a one-way trip, and we’ll be unearthing all of the wondrous new possibilities alongside them.
I’m probably jumping the gun a little bit in terms of predicting what Starfield is going to be all about in terms of story and setting, but Bethesda has already provided a number of clues in regards to where its fictional world sits in relation to our own. The game takes place 300 years in the future, and follows a group of ambitious explorers as they embark on an epic journey across the stars in search of humanity’s greatest mystery. Such a premise could be taken in so many different directions, but I can see it relating to our very creation, or perhaps a signal has been broadcast to our planet’s surface that teases that perhaps there is indeed life out there beyond our own.
There’s so many answers to be found, and the only way to uncover them is to cautiously venture into the unknown in search of them. At E3 2021 we only saw a small trailer for the game, but it appeared to show an astronaut on the lunar surface of the moon preparing to embark on an adventure much larger than they could ever imagine. “What you’ve found, it’s the key to unlocking everything” – says the narrator, noting that we are now part of an organisation known as Constellation. I imagine this outfit is passionate about exploring the further reaches of space, no longer satisfied with a planet we’ve tapped clean of resources.
“This is all we’ve been working towards, we’ve come to the beginning of humanity’s final journey,” she continues, making it clear that whatever mission we’re embarking upon is a dangerous one, with its resolution bound to have a staggering impact on the universe as we know it. I adore exploring the unknowable, and it’s something that Fallout and Elder Scrolls have often failed to capitalise upon because their respective universes have always been drenched in endless lore and events written into history long before we arrived. Starfield is a new beginning, one where Todd Howard and company can carve something out of nothing.
It’s a Bethesda RPG, so I’ll keep my expectations firmly in check, but the potential is certainly here for something special. The technology within our spaceship is heavy, deliberate, and covered in distinct markings that make them feel used. Messages are scrawled upon lockers, while food is left behind on surfaces as we waltz towards the cockpit. This place is lived in, much like the Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s Alien or the Serenity in Firefly. Unlike many sci-fi settings, I could imagine myself living here, carving out a life away from our planet as I toil away on lunar farms or form connections with yet undiscovered races.
The closest comparison I think of in Vault 101. While archaic by today’s standards, in 2008 it felt like a location defined by a long and arduous history. One of humanity’s final untouched bastions lived in solitude, away from the harsh outside world that threatened to tear them asunder. Starfield reflects this, but instead of locking ourselves away inside, we’re grabbing hold of the reins and hurtling towards the sky. Our home in Starfield is likely the one we’ll find amongst the stars, since we seemingly have no choice but to abandon our home planet in service of a much greater purpose.
I adore science fiction like this, a piece of media that isn’t afraid to task you with assembling this newfound universe instead of stumbling across a puzzle that has long been completed. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but after the relatively underwhelming nature of Fallout 4 and its subsequent expansions, it’s great to feel excited about a Bethesda RPG again, even if so many questions sit without answers.
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