Starfield Brings Back Bethesda’s Weird Metaphysical Lore With Its Ending

The Elder Scrolls has a rich history of extremely weird lore. Not weird in the sense that a tentacle monster might try and tempt you with cursed books, though there is that too. Weird in the sense that everything is the result of a dream and those enlightened in the truth of reality can return to the primordial state of being and become gods, or simply blip out of existence after the horrors of life’s meaningless nature become apparent.


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But then Bethesda left existential and abstract ideas of creation behind long ago, opting for traditional settings that we’ve seen across myriad fantasy stories already. Later Elder Scrolls games make very little mention of the nature of its world. Starfield, however, is a return to the wonderful and bizarre.

Spoilers for Starfield’s main quest follow.

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At first, I thought Starfield’s story was a generic and uninteresting string of fetch quests. Go here, find an artefact, come back, go ‘oooh shiny’, repeat the process. Magic abilities sprinkled into the mix just felt like an attempt to keep Skyrim’s shouts, only with far less interesting ways of getting them: go here, find a sphere, come back, go ‘oooh shiny’, repeat the process. However, sticking with it unfolds a story that taps into the abstract, unpacking not traditional sci-fi but a rich fantasy that rips away all semblance of realism and tangibility in favour of ethereal philosophy about our sense of self and very purpose.

UC SysDef general standing at the foot of the Vanguard control room in Starfield

You meet two characters in unidentifiable spaceships, assumed to be intelligent alien life, but as you press on, you discover that they’re alternate versions of existing characters. There’s the Sanctum Universum priest Aquilus, now a jaded hunter who kills to get what he wants out of exhaustion with the Groundhog Day cycle of epic proportions he’s found himself in, and Sarah Morgan, the leader of the Constellation. They’re stuck in a multiversal loop, the same story unfolding time and time again, each hunting the artefacts down for their own purpose in endless realities.

We find out that the artefacts lead to the Unity, a giant ball of light housed at the centre of creation itself. It’s a concept that has spread to each religion across the Settled Systems, none of whom understand the true scope of what they preach. Maybe there is a creator, or maybe there is an afterlife, but Unity is the heart of reality, and tapping into it unleashes god-like potential. All who embrace its intangible nature become Starborn, near-immortal beings with supernatural powers who can survive timeline after timeline. Sarah wants to control who earns this right, while The Hunter wants to embrace the chaos.

Upon finding it, we are invited into an eternity of endless space, galaxies rippling in the distance as they meld together into unintelligible flickers of light, the once grandiose and seemingly unending stretch of vast space now a blip on the horizon. The Unity is so far removed from our known existence that it feels out of time, in a limbo between realities. It makes everything feel so harrowingly small and insignificant. Our purpose all along was to ascend, but to what end?

Andreja in Starfield.

Seeing ourselves across different realities on the same path, and then plunging into New Game+ to find the same faces living the same lives, throws the idea of self and free will into disarray. We were always headed towards this moment. We’re just one of the infinite who made it.

We could sit here and debate endlessly about what it all means, something I haven’t felt with a Bethesda ending in years. To me, it’s a story about finding purpose in nothingness. With an infinity of possibilities and an unending number of our own selves striving for the same goal, it’s what we do in the smaller, quiet moments that matters, not the bigger picture. To you, it might mean something completely different. Compared to Fallout and Skyrim, where the ending amounted to hero kills bad guy or hero finds their dad, it’s a nice change of pace.

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’ make all endings, even contradictory, happen, where opposing beings trapped in the Void birth gods that would sacrifice themselves to become the plains of existence we walk. Unity is Bethesda’s modern take on The Elder Scrolls’ CHIM, the ascension brought about by realising existence is a dream and accepting that fact, an obscure detail tucked away in the mythical and bizarre creation stories that I thought we were long past.

A space ship floats above a planet, nearby some debris floating in space.

It gives me hope that The Elder Scrolls 6 will lean away from the generic settings of Vikings and high-fantasy settlements peppered with tropes we see everywhere else.

Theories have spread for over a decade that the Thalmor are trying to tear down those aforementioned towers, undoing reality to return the high elves to godhood and leaving mankind to fizzle out of existence. I always thought these ideas were far-fetched, too out-there for a modern Bethesda more interested in Satan equivalents, dragons, and finding whichever family member you’ve lost this time.

Yet, in a sci-fi game built on functionality and a future rooted in our reality, Starfield told a story as philosophical as Bethesda’s classics. I never expected to see a CHIM-like ascension outside of dusty textbooks hidden away in out-of-sight shelves.

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