Starfield is a massive game. With hundreds of planets and solar systems to probe, Bethesda’s spacefaring RPG tasks you with traveling from galaxy to galaxy. Unfortunately, for all the space exploration the game has you doing, doing this by fast traveling amounts to a series of loading screens that trivializes interstellar travel. There’s a better, more immersive way to get around the stars.
Starfield has two main methods to fly through space: taking advantage of fast travel’s conveniently instant leaps between systems, or manually gravjumping the routes yourself. (You could attempt to fly to a distant planet, but as Sony Santa Monica writer Alanah Pearce discovered, you’ll basically fly through the rock instead of landing on it.) Sure, fast travel is, well, fast. It’ll get you to wherever you’re trying to go in maybe a minute or two. But I’m arguing that opting for the ease of fast travel compresses space, barring you from the many encounters you could have while gravjumping from one nebula to the next.
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Manually gravjumping, in which you select a destination from your scanner and hold a button to initiate hyperdrive, is the superior method here. To skip it is to miss out on extraneous incidents, both big and small. One time, while gravjumping through galaxies, I warped into a dogfight between some Spacer Punks and the UC Vanguard, Starfield’s space police faction. The UC Vanguard was getting bodied, so I decided to offer backup in my Cowboy Bebop-inspired Swordfish I spaceship. After making short work of the small assortment of puny ships, the UC Vanguard thanked me for the assistance, kicked some credits my way, and let me pillage the remains. And I got some nice XP out of it, too.
Another time, after manually gravjumping between a couple of star systems, I flew into a school bus piloted by Mrs. Whitmore who asked for supplies to repair the ship’s flight systems. The kids, curious about who their teacher was talking to over comms, wondered if I was a pirate. I told them I was with the Crimson Fleet but wasn’t interested in robbing them. Unfortunately, Mrs. Whitmore, in all her fearful nervousness, said she wasn’t looking for help and hightailed it out of the system we were in. I guess you can’t be a helpful pirate.
There was also this other time I came across a couple arguing in their spaceship over directions to some planet. After I gravjumped in, the couple hailed my ship, asking me to weigh in on who was right in their disagreement. I sided with the wife, the husband chuckled and said he’d never live it down, and the two were gone as quickly as I arrived in the galaxy they were stranded in.
I’ve been chased across the black cosmos by bounty hunters. I’ve come across lonely pilots singing songs about returning home, wherever that might be for them. I’ve participated in my fair share of dogfights helping this faction or that spaceship. I’ve been stopped by any number of couriers seeking package delivery assistance. Other folks have run into Space Grandma, ships that take forever to gravjump out of the system, and a “mysterious captain” in a ship that looks eerily like The Frontier, the very first vessel you’re gifted in the game. Forbes writer Paul Tassi even reportedly warped into a legendary ship battle with a massive starship. Space is full of mysteries waiting to be discovered.
Now, contrast all of these encounters with the convenience of fast travel. Sure, it’s relatively quick, zipping you from planet to cockpit to space and back with ease. But using fast travel flattens space, making it feel minuscule. When you fast travel, you miss out on the many random encounters the game has in store for you. Not only that, but you also skip the landing and takeoff animations. Hell, when you fast travel, you don’t even get to see your ship power up for a gravjump. Instead, you get a loading screen and boom, you’re instantly in the galaxy or on the planet. It creates this isolating feeling, a reminder that Starfield is a video game and not this deeply immersive open space rife for exploration.
That’s Starfield’s main conceit: space exploration. Constellation, the primary faction behind the game’s campaign, fancies themselves as explorers of the galaxy after all, so exploration is paramount to the game. But pulling up your scanner and fast traveling around the star system doesn’t feel like exploring, as much as it feels like waiting to explore. And in that way, fast travel makes Starfield’s hundreds of galaxies and planets seem emptier, lonelier, and tinnier than space already is. If you were to put more work into manually gravjumping, that couldn’t be further from the truth, particularly when you’ve got such wholesome and dreadful encounters beckoning you throughout the galaxy.
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While you still can’t manually land on a planet, opting to instead manually gravjump across the galaxy is the best way to experience Starfield’s vast black cosmos. Space is lonely enough. The random encounters make it feel less so.