Over the weekend we got our first look at how Starfield will play. Now, director Todd Howard has shared a bevy of more granular details in a new interview with IGN. The main takeaway is that Starfield is bigger than any of Bethesda’s previous games, and aims to let you do everything from roleplay as a space chef to fight pirates in MechWarrior-style ship combat.
During Sunday’s Xbox and Bethesda Showcase, Howard took prospective players on a tour of Starfield’s galaxy, from warehouse shootouts to neon-lit cities and beyond. The presentation ended with the line that Starfield will have over 1,000 planets you can visit. It got a huge reaction, exciting some, and instilling in others–like me–cautious concern. In a deep-dive interview with IGN, Howard went into more detail about what he meant and what players should expect from other aspects of the game.
Howard was pretty frank in the interview that many of Starfield’s planets will be procedurally generated and unexceptional. Players can visit them to get resources, or hang out because they like the view and want to build their base there. Time on these planets was likened to revisiting The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall with “some gameplay, and some random content.”
While most will be procedurally generated, the ones that are designed by hand will be clearly signposted so players won’t get lost fooling around on a mostly empty space rock if they don’t want to. Howard also said that there’s not a huge gap between procedurally generating one planet and procedurally generating a whole bunch, suggesting it might not be the huge drain on development resources some skeptics have worried it could be. “We have done more handcrafting in this game content-wise than any game we’ve done,” Howard said.
A running theme in the interview was that everything about Starfield is bigger, and that includes its critical path. The main quest chains in games like Fallout 4 were sub-30 hours, but Howard said Starfield’s main story could take some players closer to 40. While final tuning on the game is ongoing—it still doesn’t have a precise release date in early 2023—Starfield’s main quest chain currently has a lot more content. “It’s more quests, so it might be 20% more than our previous ones,” he told IGN. Time will tell if it’s more memorable than the others.
While Starfield has over 1,000 planets, Howard confirmed there are only four main cities, the biggest of which is New Atlantis. It’s the home of the main Constellation faction, which Howard describes as “NASA-meets-Indiana Jones-meets-The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” There you can practice the culinary arts, work on your ship, and no doubt pick hundreds of locks. Howard is promising that New Atlantis will be Bethesda’s biggest bustling RPG city yet.
By far the most interesting nuggets from the interview were on the topic of space flight. Howard confirmed that you won’t travel seamlessly back-and-forth between the surface and the stars. “If you try to really spend a lot of time engineering the in-between, that segue, you’re just spending a lot of time on something that’s really not that important to the players,” he said. But once you’re in space there’s plenty to do including engaging in dog fighting with other ships.
Players’ spaceships will have a limited power supply that can be routed into three different weapons systems, engines, shields, and a grav drive that allows you to dodge in space. Howad described the pacing as similar to MechWarrior, and said players can dock and board other ships they discover or steal them outright. There will also be unique dialogue and quest beats that can occur in these parts of the game.
As I said, the main takeaway is that Starfield is bigger than any of Bethesda’s previous games. How that will translate into interesting storytelling and memorable player moments remains to be seen. One thing Howard wasn’t asked about during his interview was what toll, if any, Starfield’s creation is taking on the development team, or why it was delayed from November 11 into 2023.
As Kotaku reported last week, Fallout 76’s buggy launch was the product of a messy production cycle, and some internally could see the eventual trainwreck coming a mile away. Bethesda and Microsoft have so far chosen not to comment on it. Meanwhile, the Todd Howard content roadmap is already teasing Fallout 5 in the far, far future.