Starfield brings back the strange metaphysical lore of Bethesda with its ending
The Elder Scrolls has a rich history with exceedingly peculiar lore. Not peculiar in the sense that a tentacle monster might attempt to tempt you with...
The Elder Scrolls has a rich history with exceedingly peculiar lore. Not peculiar in the sense that a tentacle monster might attempt to tempt you with cursed books, although that does exist as well. Peculiar in the sense that everything is the result of a dream, and those enlightened to the truth of reality can transcend to a primordial state of being, becoming gods, or simply vanish from existence once the horrors of life's inherent meaninglessness become apparent.
However, Bethesda has long moved away from existential and abstract ideas of creation and opted for traditional settings that we have seen in countless fantasy stories. Subsequent Elder Scrolls games mention very little about the nature of their world. Starfield, on the other hand, returns to the realm of wondrous and more bizarre elements.
Spoilers for Starfield’s main quest follow.
At first, I thought the story of Starfield was a generic and uninteresting sequence of fetch quests. Go there, find an artifact, return, go "oooh shiny," repeat the process. The sprinkling of magical abilities felt like a mere attempt to retain echoes of Skyrim, albeit in a far less compelling manner: go here, find a sphere, return, go "oooh shiny," repeat the process. However, by sticking with it, a narrative unfolds that addresses the abstract, forsaking traditional science fiction and instead unfurling a rich fantasy that dissolves any semblance of realism and tangibility in favor of an ethereal philosophy about our self-awareness and ultimate purpose.
You encounter two characters aboard unidentifiable spacecraft believed to be intelligent extraterrestrial beings. However, as you delve deeper, you discover that they are alternative versions of existing characters. There's Aquilus, the priest from the Sanctum Universe, who has now become a jaded hunter, killing in exhaustion to obtain what he desires from the epic Groundhog-Day cycle he's trapped in. And then there's Sarah Morgan, the leader of the Constellation. They are both trapped in a multiversal loop, where the same story unfolds repeatedly. Each of them pursues the artifacts for their own purposes across infinite realities.
We learn that the artifacts lead to Unity, a massive sphere of light that resides at the center of creation itself. It is a concept that has spread across every religion in the inhabited systems, none of which truly comprehend the extent of what they preach. Perhaps there is a creator, or maybe there is an afterlife, but Unity is the heart of reality, and unlocking its powers unleashes divine potential. Those who embrace its immaterial nature become Starborn, near-immortal beings with supernatural abilities, capable of surviving timeline after timeline. Sarah desires to control who receives this privilege, while the hunter wishes to embrace the chaos.
After we find it, we are invited into an eternity of endless space. Galaxies shimmer in the distance, merging into incomprehensible bursts of light, while the once magnificent and seemingly infinite expanse of space becomes a mere speck on the horizon. Unity is so far removed from our familiar existence that it feels timeless, existing in a state between realities. Everything feels frighteningly small and insignificant. Our purpose all along was to ascend, but for what?
When we see ourselves on the same path in different realities and then dive into New Game+ to find the same faces leading the same life, the concept of self and free will begins to waver. We have always been moving towards this moment. We are just one of infinitely many who have succeeded.
We could endlessly debate about what it all means, something I haven't felt in a Bethesda ending for years. For me, it's a story about finding purpose in emptiness. With infinite possibilities and an immeasurable number of ourselves striving for the same goal, it's what we do in the smaller, quieter moments that counts, not the grand scheme of things. For you, it could mean something entirely different. In comparison to Fallout and Skyrim, where the ending boiled down to the hero killing the villain or the hero finding their father, it's a refreshing change.
It wouldn't feel out of place in The Elder Scrolls, where reality is upheld by towers that are simultaneously tangible and metaphysical, where "Dragon Breaks" allow for all endings, even contradictory ones, where opposing beings trapped in the void give birth to gods who sacrifice themselves to become planes of existence on which we tread. Unity is Bethesda's modern interpretation of The Elder Scrolls' CHIM, the ascension made possible through the realization that existence is a dream, and the acceptance of this fact, an obscure detail hidden within the mythical and more bizarre creation stories that I thought we had long moved beyond.
It gives me hope that The Elder Scrolls 6 will depart from the generic settings of Vikings and high fantasy settlements with tropes seen everywhere.
For over a decade, theories have been circulating that the Thalmor are attempting to dismantle those mentioned towers to undo reality and elevate the High Elves back to godhood, while erasing humanity from existence. I always thought these ideas were far-fetched, too outlandish for a modern Bethesda that is more interested in Satan equivalents, dragons, and the search for each lost family member.
However, in a sci-fi game grounded in functionality and a future rooted in our reality, Starfield told an equally philosophical story as Bethesda's classics. I never expected to see a CHIM-like elevation outside of dusty textbooks hidden on remote shelves.