While Xbox-owned studios have churned out some high-quality titles including Hi-Fi Rush, Pentiment and Microsoft Flight Simulator, Xbox players have yet to enjoy a title that really dominates the gaming conversation — at least until now. The arrival of Starfield this month looks like it could be transformative for the Xbox ecosystem.
Starfield is one of the first fruits of Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of ZeniMax Media, and the first new world from the RPG masters at Bethesda Game Studios in more than 25 years. It’s a game that arrives with not only massive player expectations but also a level of industry attention that only The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 can challenge this year. Starfield gets Xbox firmly back into the fight.
The significance of Starfield isn’t just down to its overall quality. Of course, the game being so darn excellent certainly doesn't hurt, but this sci-fi RPG represents a significant boon for Xbox as a platform, and its exclusion from the PS5 console is a major blow for Microsoft's main gaming rival. When considering all the factors, Starfield might be the most important Xbox Series X game of the entire generation.
Starfield was worth the wait
For any players diving into Starfield early access this weekend (or any ultra-patent types planning to wait until its full release on September 6), it gives me great pleasure to report that Starfield lives up to the hype. And then some.
After more than 30 hours spent with the open-world RPG over the past couple of weeks, it’s quickly become an all-consuming experience for me. When I’m not playing Starfield, I'm thinking about what I could be doing in the Settled Systems instead.
Yes, the game can be pretty accurately described as “Skyrim or Fallout 4 in space” but what an absurdly excellent combination. The sense of freedom to go where you want, and create your own character is what made those two RPGs legendary. And all that gaming goodness has been transported to a space setting that in my opinion might just be Bethesda’s most engrossing universe to date.
The stories you can discover and the adventures you can embark upon are the real selling points of Starfield. In my dozens of hours with the game, I’ve become an important member of various unique factions, worked as a double agent to bring down a gang of space pirates and even sabotaged a local brewery at the request of a long-suffering spouse. These memorable moments are just the tip of the iceberg. Remarkably nearly every single quest includes a compelling character or some sort of hook that made me desperate to see it through to its conclusion without delay.
Starfield is far from a revolutionary game, and it doesn’t move the RPG genre forward in the way that Elden Ring did last year or Skyrim did back in 2011. Plus, it suffers from the usual Bethesda gameplay quirks, but at least the core shooting has been improved enough to be mostly serviceable, rather than sluggish as it has been in Fallout 4. The crafting system also feels uninspired and included for the sake of checking a features box rather than because it adds to the overall experience.
Nevertheless, Starfield spectacularly delivers on its promise of transporting you to a whole new world and allowing you to become whatever character you want to be. In a year that has been downright fantastic for video games, it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best. If you have an Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, or one of the best gaming PCs, drop what you're doing and play Starfield now. Todd Howard has done it again!
Xbox really needs Starfield
Starfield’s importance to the Xbox game catalog also comes from the fact it’s a wholly single-player game. This is particularly important because for multiple generations the feeling among some console players has been that Xbox frequently comes up short when delivering blockbuster single-player experiences. In the past, the Xbox platform has been accused of being over-reliant on online-focused games.
However, it would be incorrect to suggest that Xbox’s first-party studios have not made some fantastic single-player games in recent years — the aforementioned Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment are both solo experiences, as is the excellent Psychonauts 2. Nevertheless, Xbox's biggest AAA releases over the last five years have primarily leaned toward the multiplayer space.
Redfall, Halo: Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Sea of Thieves and Gears 5 may have single-player elements, but playing with friends is a key pillar of their design. That’s not the case with Starfield, this is a game that aims to fully immerse you in its vast world without the distraction of a hothead teammate barking tactics over voice chat.
This one hurts the PS5
If Bethesda’s previous games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 are anything to go by, we’re going to be playing (and talking about) Starfield for a very long time. And that's definitely not true of all major releases, even one with plenty of pre-release hype.
Let's take the example of Hogwarts Legacy from earlier this year. The Harry Potter RPG had a mammoth launch but appears to be a flash-in-the-pan hit as its player count has dramatically dropped since February. Conversely, Bethesda-developed RPGs are notorious for having real staying power. And that’s not good news for PS5.
There's no sugar-coating it, the PS5 is missing out on one of the biggest games of not this year, but likely the entire console generation. And it’s also likely that we’ll get a Starfield: Special Edition later down the line, and then eventually a port to whatever console succeeds the Xbox Series X as well. Starfield is a game that is surely going to become part of the gaming lexicon for potentially more than a decade, and that’s without it being made available to the more than 40m PS5 consoles sold to date.
Of course, Sony still has its own major title to launch later this year. There’s no doubt that Spider-Man 2 will command as much attention when it swings exclusively onto PS5 next month. Plus, PS5 is still the place to play many of the biggest games of the year such as Resident Evil 4, Final Fantasy 16, Street Fighter 6 and Baldur’s Gate 3.
But being locked out of the Starfield party is definitely a blow to players who rely solely on PlayStation. For now, Starfield has got the spotlight fully focused on Xbox.