Yesterday, Xbox and Bethesda showed off current Starfield gameplay for the first time, along with fresh information about how much larger the game was in scope than many initially thought.
In addition to robust base and ship-building systems, along with space combat, Todd Howard revealed that Starfield has 100 systems and 1,000 planets to explore, planets where you can land anywhere on them, and explore the entire thing.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because No Man’s Sky promised something similar, albeit with no upward limit on its planets and systems, as they’re quite literally infinite due to a procedural generation engine. But the reveal has sparked a secondary debate about the game: how big is too big?
To get something out of the way, yes, it’s true that like No Man’s Sky, Bethesda is using some measure of procedural generation on its 1,000 planets, meaning every square mile of all of them is not crafted by hand. This should not be too much of a surprise, but it has to be said. What this means is that yes, there will be vast regions of these planets that are autopopulated by No Man’s Sky-like mining outcroppings or wildlife, or in Starfield’s case, maybe randomized pirate outposts and things like that, who knows.
I have been a proponent of “Games Too Big” syndrome as of late, where certain games tend to overwhelm me with their sprawling maps and millions of icons to clear, which is why I have not finished an Ubisoft game since 2018.
However, I think what Starfield is doing here at least has the potential to echo the joy and wonder of No Man’s Sky-style infinite exploration, but given the hard cap of 1,000 planets, that opens up some additional aspects that I think make it better in many ways.
Yes, it is true that if you, a solo player, tries to explore every inch of all 1,000 planets to find something hidden and cool, you will probably die of old age before getting through a quarter of them. However, with the cap of 1,000, we have monkeys on typewriters syndrome. The larger Starfield community of millions of players will all be exploring these 1,000 planets simultaneously. As such, if Bethesda was smart, and I have a feeling they will be, they could hide say, some totally unique and awesome ruin with some rare boss and weapon on the ass-end corner of planet # 976, and someone will eventually find it, and then it will in turn be spread through the community. One person finding something cool can then translate into hundreds of thousands of players doing the same.
This really can’t be done in No Man’s Sky because that game is infinite, so it will usually not put a singular unique thing on one planet because most players can physically never even find or get to that planet, so every planet is just discovering cool combinations of the procedural system. That’s fine, but that’s different from the potential Starfield offers with its large, but ultimately limited collection of planets and systems.
I am of course, having to guess somewhat at Bethesda’s intentions here. It’s possible they don’t do this and it’s just a bunch of boring mining and same-y enemy encounters. But given that Fallout and Skyrim are built on a core of exploration, I have to believe that’s what they have in mind by expanding the system to this scale. We’ll find out in a year, it seems.
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Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.