Without a doubt, one of the hottest games of 2023 is Starfield, the latest RPG from the masterminds at Bethesda Game Studios. In signature fashion, this sprawling sci-fi epic offers an endless list of quests to complete, 1,000 different planets to explore, and so much more. In Starfield, player freedom is the top priority, allowing you to tackle obstacles however you’d like, living out your ideal space adventure. Obviously, Starfield is far from the first sci-fi RPG ever made, but it’s already clear that it’s one of the most popular in recent memory.
According to Bethesda’s development team, including the executive director, Todd Howard, Starfield is heavily inspired by classic sci-fi novels and modern space films like Interstellar. However, several retro games were key influences during development, and those games might surprise you. Countless retro games have laid the groundwork for Starfield to succeed, including several underrated classics. In celebration of the old-school games that paved the way, let’s take a look at some of the retro games that inspired Starfield‘s creation!
The Retro Games That Inspired Starfield
1. SunDog: Frozen Legacy
According to the top dog himself, Bethesda’s executive director Todd Howard, SunDog: Frozen Legacy has been a major influence on Starfield since the very beginning. Developed by FTL Games and originally released on the Apple II in 1984, the game is far more simulation than fantasy. Once you take a look at SunDog: Frozen Legacy and a few of the other retro games that inspired Starfield, it’s clear that Bethesda was interested in a realistic approach from the start.
In SunDog: Frozen Legacy, players control Zed, a young glass miner who inherits a spaceship from his Uncle Brock. In order to be free of the mines for good, Zed must complete contracts as a trader and merchant. Starfield is very similar; players begin as a miner, obtain a ship, and the story unfolds from there. In many ways, Starfield is the modern evolution of SunDog, but with many more RPG mechanics piled on top.
Like SunDog: Frozen Legacy, Elite was released in 1984 on platforms like the Apple II, IBM PCs, and more. According to Starfield‘s design manager and lead writer, Emil Pagliarulo, Elite and its sequels played a big part in how the game was created. That’s not a huge surprise, though, as the Elite franchise has been cited as an inspiration for other major games like EVE Online, No Man’s Sky, and even Grand Theft Auto III.
Stunning the competition with its then high-tech 3D graphics, Elite was a huge deal in the 1980s. Like Starfield, Elite offers a sci-fi sandbox for players to live out their wildest dreams. You can engage in regulated trading and piracy, go bounty hunting, mine asteroids, and much more. Factions like the Galactic Navy can be joined as well, offering exclusive quests and rewards. Elite‘s influence is blatantly clear in the majority of Starfield‘s progression and focus on player freedom, and it’s all the better for it.
3. Wing Commander: Privateer
While SunDog and Elite were big in the 1980s, Wing Commander: Privateer was the frontrunner sci-fi RPG in the early 1990s. Developed by Origin Systems and released in 1993, Privateer is the fourth game in the Wing Commander series, and marks a distinct departure from the regular franchise formula. Instead of controlling a pilot enlisted in the military, Privateer puts you in charge of a freelancer carving their path through space by any means necessary. Sound familiar?
In Privateer, you explore the Gemini Sector, a space system dominated by seven major factions. As a freelance pilot, it’s your choice whether you want to be an upstanding merchant, a bounty-hunting mercenary, or a ruthless space pirate. The game has a main story to follow, but players are also encouraged to explore space on their own, even after the plot has concluded. In the lineage of open-ended sci-fi RPGs, Privateer is easily one of the most influential in the genre, with its influence clearly apparent throughout the entire experience of Starfield.