It has been about a year now since we got our first glimpse of Starfield's "No Man's Skyrim" gameplay. Today, ahead of the game's planned September 6 launch, Bethesda's 45-minute Starfield Direct presentation offered a deep dive into the game's galactic scale and many of the systems that will power exploration on and between "over 1,000 planets."
The presentation began with game director Todd Howard talking up Bethesda's first completely new universe in 25 years. Howard said Bethesda wanted to keep the company's trademark "feeling of being who you want to be and exploring a new world" but take it into space.
Art Director Istvan Pely was on hand to talk about the game's "NASA punk" aesthetic, which he said was intended to evoke "the romance of the golden age of early space flight." That means adding a sort of retro-analog touch to the ships where everything feels used, worn, and "lived in."
A character-building exercise
The game's core plot—at least early on—seems to focus on Constellation, a legendary group described as the "last true explorers in the galaxy." This rogue's gallery includes a number of archetypical characters ranging from a space cowboy to a theologian to a businessman who's funding everything.
Individual members of Constellation can serve as crew members on your ship, unlocking unique quest lines and granting their abilities to help complete those quests. You can also pick up new crew members from spaceports or simply meet eager crew additions when exploring inhabited worlds. And Bethesda promises that the friendships you make with crew members can even "blossom into romance" (looking at you, Mass Effect fans).
With Constellation's help, you'll hunt down pieces of a mysterious artifact that seems to hint at the existence of a previously unknown intelligence. But that core questline will be dotted with Bethesda's usual character-based quests driven by individual NPCs you stumble across throughout the galaxy.
The story unfolds across a galaxy divided into three main groups. The United Colonies consider themselves "the true children of Earth" and are centered on the city of New Atlantis, which Bethesda calls "the biggest city we've ever made." Outside of the colonies, the Freestar Collective presents more of a frontier, offering a sci-fi take on an Old West aesthetic. There will also be unclaimed systems full of hostile factions like the Crimson Fleet, which bristle under the control of the Colonies.
For Starfield's character-creation engine, Bethesda says it scanned faces from a variety of age groups and ethnicities to make a system that the developers themselves used to create every character and NPC you see in the game. After choosing from one of 40 preset characters to start, you can modify everything from piercings to teeth settings to skin blemishes using a series of sliders.
Beyond physical traits, you'll also be able to pick a background for your characters with options ranging from cyberneticist to chef. These can come in handy at unexpected times during missions; maybe someone is asking for a specific dish during a particular quest. You can also pick from a number of optional "traits" that each come with their own pros and cons—being "hero worshipped" means that fans may give you gifts, but it also will annoy you with non-stop praise and commentary.
Completing in-game challenges grants the usual array of points that can be applied to a wide-ranging tree of skills to let you customize your play experience. Specific builds highlighted in the presentation include using a boost pack to fly over enemies and shower them in explosive mines; buffing up "neurostrikes" to punch through combat; building up stealth skills to pickpocket your way through challenges; or talking your way out of scrapes with charisma.