Starfield – All the new details we learned about the ambitious RPG

Bethesda spent 45 minutes detailed its ambitious new sci-fi RPG Starfield as part of the 2023 Xbox Game Showcase. Here's what we learned.
Starfield Direct Xbox Game Showcase Bethesda

Xbox Bethesda Softworks showcased a lengthy, 45-minute presentation focussed on Bethesda’s upcoming sci-fi RPG, Starfield, following the 2023 Xbox Game Showcase. The Starfield Direct detailed aspects of the game’s flow, narrative, procedurally-generated planets, and many of its intricate customisation systems.

Introduction to Gameplay

President Todd Howard opened the showcase, speaking about Bethesda’s longtime aspirations for an ambitious game where you go anywhere and do anything, suggesting it’s far and away the most ambitious title the studio has ever done.

Starfield is a Bethesda RPG through and through, said Howard, only it’s over a thousand worlds now, instead of one. A quick montage showed several different planets and possibilities – which are procedurally generated. Howard talked about the new lighting models and animation systems, which have been newly built for the title.

As the gameplay demonstrations kicked off, footage of both first- and third-person perspectives were shown. It began with the protagonist landing on a planet, mining some resources, and stumbling across a base populated with enemies called ‘Spacer Punks.’ Whipping out a submachine gun and pistol, the character flies around the base with their jetpack to gain a tactical advantage and take them out.

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After collecting a bunch of individual objects from the world, a detailed look at the inventory was then shown, where every item is rendered in detail – including the many items of space-age food. The protagonist then returns to their ship.

Bethesda describes the style of Starfield as ‘NASA-Punk’, where everything is grounded but stylish, with the intention to make everything feel analog and lived-in.

A look at the world map was then shown, beginning on the planet, then pulling out into a solar system map, and then further still to a galaxy map, showcasing the sheer quantity of explorable locations – though you’ll need an upgraded ship to jump to locations further afield.

The demo then took the ship to a planet in Alpha Centauri called New Atlantis, the game’s primary city, from the perspective of the very chunky-looking analog cockpit.

The Story of Starfield

New Atlantis is a very futuristic, space-age city, which the studio boasts as being the biggest city they have ever built, while emphasising the importance of the tiny stories it tells within it, which are what help to make it feel like a real place.

This kicked off an explanation of the story, which involves an organisation called Constellation whose primary objective is space exploration. The story revolves around a set of mysterious artefacts, which potentially serve as evidence of life outside of the settled human systems, vast as they are.

A brief rundown of Starfield’s cast of supporting characters was then shown, and following that, a quick rundown of a number of cities, factions, and colonies. These encompass various themes and presumably narrative styles, include a mining town, a Western-themed town, and a cyberpunk-themed ‘pleasure city’. Bethesda then detailed several uncolonised systems, which are populated with several different criminal factions.

Starfield Character Creation

A brief segment was devoted to the character creator and its improvements over previous Bethesda character creators, including the increased diversity of the characters and better-looking ethnicities. A look at the creator showed options for just about everything, including teeth.

The character system also involves background stories for your character, which can come in handy throughout the game, and also traits, which can affect how the world interacts with you in different aspects – religion, family, and combat prowess. Traits can come with both advantages and disadvantages and can be removed throughout the course of the game under certain circumstances.

The system shares much in common with the character creation system of past Fallout games.

Skills and levelling up

The character skill system was then detailed. As you level up your characters, you’ll earn points which allow you to unlock skills. Once you have a skill unlocked, completing designated challenges with that skill will unlock ranks within it, which will improve its effectiveness – a mix of previous Bethesda RPG skill systems.

Several skills were detailed, including alien mind control, pickpocketing, powerful punching, jetpacking, and persuasion via speech checks. A bit of time was then given to draw attention to the science-based methodology used to create the worlds of Starfield.

Ships and Companions

A focus was then given to the various starships that players can build, fly, and customise. Using spaceports located on various planets, you can buy, sell, and modify your ship based on your needs within the game, for example, starfighting or freight hauling. A brief demo for the shipbuilding mode was then shown, as individual components, compartments, and weapons were modified.

The different modules don’t just affect the stats of a ship, but alter physical space within it – we’re talking about bedrooms, mess halls, armories, and more, which you and your crew members will need to inhabit.

A variety of bizarre ships, like one shaped like a platypus and another like a very cumbersome mech, were shown to demonstrate the creative possibilities.

Companions were then given a focus. Many of the supporting characters can join you on your ship, come with their own traits, and are romanceable. You’ll also be able to recruit seemingly more generic crew members from cities, and find them out in the word, where you can then assign them to duties on outposts, in the ship, or in the field.

A brief glimpse of ship combat was then shared, which can take place in third or first person perspectives, and will make use of several different components like shields, weaponry, and engines to dictate your abilities, all of which are installed via the shipbuilder.

Destroying other ships in space will allow you to loot them directly from your cockpit, and you can destroy them for scrap materials, but you can also dock the ship personally, take down its inhabitants, and steal it for yourself.

You’ll be able to dock with friendly ships and space stations to explore them, conduct general piracy on innocent vessels, and generally meet a bunch of quirky characters and get sidetracked by their quests and stories.

Starfield Collector’s Edition, Controller, and Headset

A brief segment was dedicated to the physical collector’s edition of the game, which comes with a replica watch, identical to the one in the game. It’ll connect to your smartphone to display messages and notifications.

A look at the custom Starfield Controller and Xbox Headset was then shown. These are largely white, with some thematic details on them.

Planets and Outposts

Some details about the procedural planet system were then shared, which will generate resources and some handcrafted elements to give each random planet at least some personality. No two experiences will be the same, allegedly, but some elements will be common to all experiences.

A brief demo on a procedural planet quickly shifted into a combat sequence on an enemy base, and then showed some more resource mining, exploration, and flora/fauna surveying. The option to build bases on these planets to take advantage of natural resources was also described.

These base outposts can serve as harvesting facilities, as well as homes. You can assign crew members to look after them, and they’ll be built with an improved base-building system from the one seen in previous Bethesda games, featuring a top-down perspective for easier planning. Outposts can also undertake research projects.

Some additional time was then given to the lighting model, which aims to create a cinematic look and feel to the game.

Combat and weaponry

Focus was then placed onto the weapons of the game, which are moddable, customisable, and upgradeable. We got a good look at silenced weapons, explosive weaponry, and plenty of automatic weapons too.

Some attention was then given to the different levels of gravity on each planet, and how they will affect combat. Essentially, you can jump higher and use that to your advantage. Zero-gravity environments however will affect gunplay quite a bit more – bullets will send you flying back, but energy weapons won’t. There is also a collection of magnetised weaponry in the game, as well as plenty of melee options and heavy weaponry.

A quick montage showed off a variety of enemies, including some kind of alien T-Rex.

The overall takeaway seems to be that Starfield is very much a Bethesda Softworks-style RPG, but on a much, much larger scale.

Starfield will be released on 6 September 2023 for Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran