Fans have high expectations for Bethesda’s Starfield, and it’s easy to see why. The upcoming sci-fi RPG and space game is Bethesda Game Studio’s first new AAA release since Fallout 76 in 2018. It’s also the first new IP from Bethesda’s in-house studio since 1994 and the publisher’s biggest and most ambitious game so far. Many fans are, therefore, eagerly awaiting the Starfield Direct showcase on June 11.

There’s been a lot of talk about Starfield’s gameplay and procedurally generated planets. However, Bethesda also gave fans a rough idea of its story, which sends players on a quest to recover and decipher ancient artifacts scattered across the galaxy. However, this could be a problem if Starfield implies that humanity’s progress is the result of an outside source.

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Starfield Should Not Focus on Its Precursor Race

Starfield Artifacts

Ancient alien precursors are a staple of science fiction, and video games have quite a few. Halo has the Forerunners, Mass Effect has the Protheans and the Reapers, Assassin’s Creed has the Isu, and so on. Advanced precursors create a good central mystery to build the story around, a convenient source of ancient horror from beyond the stars, and an excuse to litter a sci-fi setting with RPG dungeons. Beyond that, there’s just something captivating about uncovering a lost civilization.

However, the problem with precursors is that they tend to take over the plot. Halo’s Covenant is essentially a cult worshipping the Forerunners, and Forerunner artifacts play a central role in every game. Mass Effect’s Reapers were created by an even older race called the Leviathans, and the Reaper invasions are just the galaxy paying for the Leviathans' mistakes. Meanwhile, the conflict between Assassins/Hidden Ones and Templars/Order of the Ancients is supposedly ideological, but they spend most of their time fighting over precursor artifacts.

It also robs humanity of a lot for its agency. The alien precursors in Halo, Mass Effect, and Assassin’s Creed no longer rule over humanity but nevertheless have a massive role in shaping human development. Meanwhile, the events of those games makes it clear that humankind’s destiny is shackled to civilizations that died out millennia earlier.

If Starfield’s alien artifacts are just a plot device encouraging players to explore the galaxy, that’s fine. However, Bethesda should be careful that its entire universe doesn’t revolve around its alien precursors. They shouldn’t appear in the game directly, and Starfield would be best served by avoiding the implication that humanity’s evolution and technological development has been guided by a previous society.

Starfield Needs to be a Game About Humans

Starfield New Atlantis

While Starfield may take place in space, its focus should be on humanity. Science fiction does not need aliens, ancient ruins, or galactic threats to be engaging, and Starfield is the perfect AAA game to prove that. This also isn’t an unreasonable ask for Bethesda. Despite their flaws, the plots of Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 were about conflicts between humans. Fallout 4’s Far Harbor DLC also proves that Bethesda can write compelling stories about characters and ideas rather than just saving the world.

Fortunately, there are some positive signs. Unlike some science fiction franchises, Starfield’s universe does not revolve around its ancient aliens. The artifacts driving the game’s plot seem to be a relatively recent discovery, so humans presumably reached the stars without needing to follow in someone else’s footsteps. Meanwhile, the conflict between Starfield’s significant factions of the United Colonies and Freestar Collective seems to be ideological rather than a tug of war over alien desk ornaments.

Starfield should focus on these human conflicts and the struggles of humanity expanding into space. Starfield has an opportunity to explore some big ideas about mankind’s place in the universe and what an interstellar society could or should look like. It would be a real shame if Bethesda passed that up in favor of its alien scavenger hunt.

Starfield releases on September 6 on PC and Xbox Series X/S.

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