Starfield and space lore: An exploration of the story behind the United Colonies

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Starfield is by far one of the most anticipated releases of 2023, with the game already having been pushed back by developers on a few occasions. Bethesda seems keen to make sure that the product we’re getting in September will live up to the lofty expectations fans have for it.

Aside from solid gameplay and mechanics, fans will be looking for Bethesda to really portray a compelling story that goes along with the world(s) we’ll get to explore once Starfield drops. With a series like The Elder Scrolls under their belt, it’s clear that Bethesda knows how to create an RPG brimming with lore. From what we know so far, it seems like Starfield will be no different in this respect.

There is already a trail of information to suggest that the lore behind one of 2023’s most anticipate games will be quite compelling, so it only makes sense to explore some of it in the lead up to the game’s release. The game itself is set 300 years in the future and is set to take players on a journey to reveal “humanity’s greatest mystery”.

The game itself is set to take place in what’s called the “Settled Systems”  within the Milky Way Galaxy , some 50 light years from Earth itself. With the game set to have thousands of worlds to explore, Bethesda will have had to work hard to fill each with a backstory and some sort of native culture or another that helps prop up the over arching story arc the game offers.

Of the varying lore available to us pre-launch, there are some very interesting stories to explore. There are five main factions we are aware of at this point in time that are joinable by the player, many of which have a conjoined history that has built the story the player character will be a part of during the game. Taking the Freestar Collective and the United Colonies as an example, these two factions have an interlocked history that is defined by a civil war called the “Colony Wars”. This war led to the birth of the United Colonies as the epitome of military and political power within the game.

The United Colonies’ (UC for short) history is one that draws upon imperial and Roman systems of governance to maintain power. This is something that Bethesda are no stranger to, with the Cyrodilic Empire of the Elder Scrolls Universe drawing heavily from Roman history,  both culturally with their pantheon of deities, down to the very armor their soldiers donned on the battlefield.

A “galactic republic in transition” would be the best description one could give to how the UC is governed and organized. Above the republic itself sits what’s called the Military, Administrative and Scientific Triumvirate (MAST). This is another ode to the variety of triumvirates that Ancient Rome played host to when the then-Republic’s most powerful sought joint control. This could possibly set the stage for strife amongst the members of the MAST, as well as members of the Republic itself. I think fans can expect a heavily politicized story that will be filled with a struggle for power that the player character will have the opportunity to influence, much like in previous Bethesda games.

The capital of the UC is known to be New Atlantis, the crown jewel of the republic and its 169 year old empire. It is said to be the largest city the game has to offer and will undoubtedly be a hub where the player character will spend much of their time and efforts in terms of the main story. Concept art reveals that the city, and in extension the UC itself, is very wealthy and powerful.

With the Freestar Collective being one of their main adversaries and a previous rebellion already catalogued in the history books, one might begin to believe that the idealized republic, while wealthy and providing stability, is far from perfect, and their generalized motives might not be as ideal as one might expect. Enduring conflicts could see the story take the player character through yet another major military conflict between the two factions.

The main point of divergence between Starfield and Bethesda’s other releases will have to come down to the actual story-telling. Bethesda, as we’ve mentioned, have become experts at world building and creating a bedrock of lore steeped with creative fantasy flair that takes elements of our real world experiences throughout humanity’s existence and seamlessly adds them in as details of their own, fictional worlds. Where they have come short at times, in my view, is in the telling and execution of stories.

Taking Skyrim for example; the game remains one of my favorite releases to this day, but that isn’t due to the main story. I’ve always found Skyrim’s base story to be rather vanilla and bland, with the DLCs adding much needed flavor. The struggles against both Harkon and Miraak in Skyrim’s case are far more compelling than the journey to defeat Alduin. The lore that Bethesda lay as the foundation for Starfield will undoubtedly give them the tools to build a compelling story, so here’s hoping we don’t have to wait until DLCs to get that over the line. The information we have so far has the notes of a story where humanity will struggle with past models of governance and existence in relatively untested waters, and that is a lot to work with off the bat.

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In a world where humanity has been inexplicably unable to escape from their past, Starfield will not only be a reflection of our own history, but a future where humanity has clearly not been able to deal with their own tribal nature. High society will still have notes of the primitive, which will likely illustrate a tale full of conflict for the player character to have a direct say in mediating or perhaps exacerbating. I, for one, am extremely excited to see just how these faction-based relationships play out and what role we, as they players, will have in writing the future of this unstable and unfamiliar spacial environment.