We are now less than one month away from the launch of Starfield, the new space-exploration RPG from Bethesda Game Studios – makers of The Elder Scrolls series as well as Fallout 3 and 4. And after an excellent and very well-received 45-minute Starfield Direct presentation in June, hype is running high. This is the first game from this team, led by decorated game director Todd Howard, in eight years (Fallout 4). It’s topped the Steam wishlist charts for the past two months. It is, by the developer’s own account, the biggest game it’s ever made (and for what it’s worth, from the hour I got to play it with Howard – first from the beginning and then quickly jumping between a couple of other save files – I saw nothing to doubt the team’s claims). And as the Xbox’s first-party/exclusive game journey continues to carve out its strange and unforeseen path, it’s turned out to be the most important launch for the platform in a long time.
And that’s what I wanted to talk about today. I don’t want to get into the tired old discussion about the lack of blockbuster Xbox exclusives again. But I do think it’s interesting, without dwelling on that, to see how far we have to walk back to get to a game launch as notable as the one Starfield is about to have. It’ll provide some good context for why Starfield matters so much.
First, let’s look at the existing Xbox Series generation. I’d argue that Starfield’s launch trumps anything we’ve had over the past (almost) three years. Halo Infinite in 2021 is probably the game you’d think of first, and while Halo 6 was certainly a big deal – it had been six years since the previous mainline Halo game was released, and it was excellent! – I’d argue there was way too much baggage weighing down Infinite’s launch for it to have been as big of a deal as it could’ve (and probably should’ve) been.
The other Xbox Series candidate – though it was a cross-gen game – was Forza Horizon 5. Its launch couldn’t have gone much better, really. It earned a 10/10 review score from IGN (among many other outlets), and it went on to win IGN’s 2021 Game of the Year award. But despite the accolades and player-count success, Forza’s car-game nature works against it when you’re looking solely at what game makes the biggest, most impactful launch.
That brings us back to the Xbox One generation. Again, the dearth of big exclusives is a story we need not retell, but what were the biggest and most important game launches for that system? Gears 5 in 2019? Gears of War 4 in 2016? While I personally adore The Coalition’s pair of Gears entries (here are both reviews to prove it) and feel they get a bad rap from the Xbox community, it is nevertheless true that Gears was not as big of a deal after the original trilogy (this includes Epic’s own Gears of War Judgment).
This brings me back to 2015 and the game I’ve landed on for this exercise: Halo 5: Guardians. While Halo 5 ended up being a Jekyll-and-Hyde of a product – its Locke-centric campaign was a massive letdown by Halo standards, while its brilliant multiplayer showed that 343 was pretty darn dialed in to the Bungie-developed glory days of competitive Halo play – it was nevertheless a huge launch. This was in no small part due to its brilliant marketing campaign, in which players were promised by both ads and the outstanding Hunt the Truth tie-in podcast that they’d be hunting down a renegade Master Chief. As we all know, the campaign couldn’t live up to the excitement and potential that the marketing campaign displayed.
Still, Halo 5’s launch was a big one. It was the first mainline Halo release for the Xbox One, its unique marketing campaign and podcast had players pumped up, and we’d had to wait two years into the console generation before it arrived. Demand was real and it was pent-up.
So too now is the community ready to pop off in support of Starfield. Bethesda Game Studios is the most accomplished blockbuster game development studio Microsoft has had since Bungie, Howard and team haven’t shipped their own game in eight years, and Starfield is their first original IP – and one in which, from my own observation, it looks like its scope will run both wide and extremely deep. We’ll know for sure on September 1, when Starfield is released for those players who purchase the pricier version of the game. It’s almost time to party like it’s 2015.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s executive editor of previews and host of both IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He’s a North Jersey guy, so it’s “Taylor ham,” not “pork roll.” Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.