Earlier today, Bethesda confirmed what almost seemed inevitable: the much-acclaimed Starfield, the developer’s next big project and first new series forever, will not be making its release date of November 12, 2022. and Redfall, the new game from Arkane Austin, both have been pushed back to the first half of 2023 to offer “the best, most polished versions” of both.
Bethesda and Polish are two words that don’t really belong in the same sentence, but studios should never be criticized for delaying a product that needs it. With Starfield, it’s simply that many saw it coming from a mile away, despite repeated denials to the contrary. The game is apparently a massive, expansive new IP that supposedly marks a major technological leap, but six months after launch we hadn’t seen anything. Even at the end of 2021, this was arousing suspicion, leading Todd Howard to say that the release date was written “in ink, not pencil” – words that now seem false at best.
After the delay, Phil Spencer made a pretty interesting statement about it. Obviously Starfield is happening in the context of Bethesda itself being acquired by Microsoft, and reading between the lines, it could be that Microsoft made the call here.
“These decisions are difficult for the teams that make the games and our fans,” wrote Spencer. “While I fully support giving teams time to release these great games when they are ready, we have listened to feedback. Delivering quality and consistency is expected, we will continue to work to better meet those expectations.”
It’s an odd statement: will Microsoft deliver more consistent delays? Jokes aside, Spencer is clearly sensitive to the accusation that this belated announcement doesn’t live up to its stated goals of authenticity and transparency from Microsoft Studios – as well as the fact that this leaves Xbox without its flagship release of the year.
Another intriguing detail came from gaming journalist Jason Schreier, who says he spoke to some Starfield developers ahead of last year’s E3 when the date was announced, and they were concerned about it. The term used was apparently ‘Next Cyberpunk’.
Last spring, before E3, I spoke to some people at Starfield who were extremely concerned about committing to an 11-11-22 date based on the progress they had made so far. (“Next Cyberpunk” was the term thrown around.) Good for Bethesda for delaying even after announcing that specific date. https://t.co/QdWFf0zGIYMay 12, 2022
Cyberpunk 2077 was a highly anticipated, cross-platform ‘revolutionary’ game that, of course, turned out to be… well, if we’re being kind enough, it was decent and buggy. But that was all. (PCG scored Cyberpunk 2077 79% at launch.) It’s also particularly relevant because Cyberpunk was intended to be the glorious start of a new franchise for developers CDPR, their cool futuristic alternative to the grizzled fantasy of the Witcher. Cyberpunk 2077 sold well enough to deserve the inevitable sequel, but selling this one will be a lot harder. Releases like this have knock-on effects that CDPR will have to deal with in the coming years.
And Bethesda is a company with a reputation for releasing games that are essentially very weird when they come out. There was also a change in the atmosphere around that. It seemed that with Oblivion and Skyrim, at least, the bugs were as fun as they were annoying, and the community helping to ‘fix’ parts of the game was part of the charm (although bad luck for anyone who bought Skyrim on PS3). In Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 in particular, it seemed that the public had much less patience for games released in a less-than-ideal state.
After all, Bethesda was once a pioneer in these types of open world RPGs, but now there’s a lot more to choose from, with this year’s Elden Ring being a prime example, and if they can be released in a decent state (what, some PC stuttering aside, he did), so why should people accept another ‘hot coming’ project from Bethesda?
Given recent history, another buggy game release from Bethesda has the potential to backfire massively. It’s not the beginning of the Microsoft years that its owner would like. And neither is this situation, where people get angry not because a game was delayed, but because it was delayed after Bethesda’s highest representatives reaffirmed the 2022 date and gave the impression that the game was almost done.
Ultimately, all that matters is whether Starfield is a good video game, and with that delay, it’s more likely to be one. It’s hard not to feel, however, that Bethesda knew this would happen years ago rather than months ago, set an impossible goal anyway for the token value (the November 12, 2022 release date would have set the from Starfield almost exactly 11 years beyond Skryrim’s 11/11/11 release), and then would stick his head in the sand whenever he was asked. Sounds like bad management as much as anything else.
I had another article I was going to write this week, now consigned to the big dustbin in the sky. The title would be ‘Why Bethesda’s Starfield Marketing Is So Awful’, and the argument was basically that these Into The Starfield videos she’s been producing are self-congratulatory rubbish and suggest something isn’t right with the game. I’m no Nostradamus, but today’s announcement seemed absolutely inevitable when a project of this scale was still being promoted by talking heads and old game footage so close to launch.
Along with the announcement of the delay, Bethesda said it hopes to show Starfield a “deep gameplay dive” soon. We hope so, and that there’s actually something here besides Todd Howard claiming the game asks existential questions (no, really). The stakes with Starfield are huge for Bethesda and Microsoft. We’ll soon find out what you’re playing with.