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Game On: Xbox & Bethesda Showcase gives hope for the year ahead

After coasting on the long-running success of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, Starfield is the first new IP from Bethesda Game Studios in 25 years. The game is for release for Windows PC and Xbox Series X|S in the first quarter of 2023.  (Courtesy Bethesda Softworks)
After coasting on the long-running success of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, Starfield is the first new IP from Bethesda Game Studios in 25 years. The game is for release for Windows PC and Xbox Series X|S in the first quarter of 2023. (Courtesy Bethesda Softworks)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

The Xbox & Bethesda Showcase came and went on Sunday, with Microsoft revealing a massive swath of trailers and teasers for video games planned for release “within the next 12 months.” Let’s be honest, a few of them will likely be pushed back, but it’s an impressive lineup nonetheless.

The sheer variety of games on display was impressive. Mojang announced Minecraft Legends, an action-strategy spinoff that looks to expand the lore of that timeless and uniquely-charming world. After literal years of scant details, Blizzard saw fit to show off some very impressive gameplay for Diablo IV – they’re not reinventing the wheel, but why should they?

As a steadfast believer in Arkane Studios, I was excited to finally see some gameplay for Redfall, a cooperative shooter that places players on an urbanized island off the coast of Massachusetts overrun with vampires and cultists. But the biggest reveal was undoubtedly Starfield, Bethesda Game Studios’ upcoming open-world sci-fi shooter with a focus on space travel and personalizing every facet of your adventure.

Game Director Todd Howard’s comment regarding the completely customizable spaceships – “yes, you can fly it” – was likely a dig at the Destiny franchise, and honestly, it’s warranted. It seems silly to design a big game based around exploring the cosmos and relegate the spaceships to cutscenes and loading screens alone, but that’s just what Bungie did with Destiny – twice.

It’s a good feature for Bethesda to draw attention to, because it could prove to be what makes Starfield unique. The gameplay trailer looked solid, but there’s already a surplus of games of the same ilk – explore, do quests, shoot monsters, return to town, upgrade your character and so on. It seems to be a winning formula, but a little more innovation would be welcome.

But even with the veil lifted, there’s one big aspect of Starfield we know little about – the nature of its story and setting. With similar games like The Outer Worlds and Bethesda’s own Fallout, the quirky tone was advertised upfront – The Outer Worlds offered a pretty blatant critique of wealth gaps and unregulated capitalism, and Fallout has always portrayed the “what if” scenario of global nuclear devastation with a retro-futuristic aesthetic.

We don’t know much about Starfield, which has only been described as “NASA punk,” whatever that means. On one hand, Bethesda is so renowned for its grandiose and cohesive world-building that they may not feel the need to blow the lid off of it all just yet. But my cynical side tells me that if they aren’t showing it off now, there’s a chance the events of Starfield will take place in a wholly uninspired world.

This would surprise me though, because for all of the faults many AAA games have displayed over the past few years, most of them have been ambitious if nothing else. Then again, it could be another Outriders – solid game mechanics, but boring, boring, boring in the story department.

Regardless, Starfield is likely to please the tens of millions of gamers who have enjoyed sinking countless hours into The Elders Scrolls and/or Fallout. It’s shaping up to be a more traditional game, not a massively-multiplayer world with predatory microtransactions like The Elder Scrolls Online or the abysmal Fallout 76.

I’m not huge on those types of games, but the Xbox & Bethesda Showcase still left me with a good feeling. Titles like Flintlock: Siege of Dawn and A Plague Tale: Requiem looked like typical crowd-pleasing, story-driven adventures, but innovative games like Ereban: Shadow Legacy, a stealth-driven platformer, and Lightyear Frontier, a farming simulator with mechs, piqued my interest.

In terms of sequels, Blizzard finally gave a date for Overwatch 2 – early access begins Oct. 4, and I’m cautiously optimistic. Ark: Survival Evolved still enjoys a healthy player base, but gamers will get to sink their teeth into the next dinosaur-taming adventure sometime next year. Initially planned as DLC for the original, the “Metroidvania”-style Hollow Knight: Silksong will finally be released in the early half of 2023 – four years after its announcement.

All of these games and more will be released for Xbox and PC soon, with most of them also available for PlayStation and Nintendo Switch.

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