When it comes to Starfield’s expansive open world, you shouldn’t be scared of the isolation in this vast universe. In fact, the loneliness you may encounter hopping from one desolate world to another is exactly the tone developer Bethesda is going for.
Rather than focusing on the horror of solo space travel, Bethesda wants to highlight its magnificence in Starfield. During a recent interview with Lex Fridman (opens in new tab), Todd Howard, the game’s head director, explained how the team at Bethesda embraced the “beautiful desolation” of Starfield’s massive open world.
From what the official gameplay trailer (opens in new tab) showed us, there will be “over 100 systems” with “over 1000 planets” in Starfield. That means the intergalactic explorer is set to be 20% bigger than Fallout 4 or Skyrim. While this sounds amazing, is there such a thing as a game that is too big? Considering that Starfield is set to be a single-player game, millions of planets seem like lonely work for just one person.
Loneliness isn’t the only problem the developers faced when making Starfield. Such an expansive universe isn’t easy to develop; hence there was a decision to be made. Either “you can’t land on all the planets you see”, or the universe you explore is a “very controlled small world space”, Howard explained during the interview.
It was decided that the latter would probably set “the wrong tone,” Howard said in the interview. Instead of focusing on the limitations, the development team instead chose to look for ways in which “we can say yes”. The best way around the complications of making a playable and detailed expansive open world was by focusing on creating it tile by tile. By rendering these small tiles of landscape offline, the development team was able to make a patchwork of intricate ecosystems that could be woven into the universe of Starfield.
These tiles solved the first issue of creating a universe that felt and looked like reality in Starfield, but that’s not to say it was smooth sailing from there on out. Having an expansive open world is one thing; making it engaging to players is a whole other issue.
According to Howard, Bethesda had to make sure that landing on each planet would be a fun experience, even if the said planet were empty with only the prospect of some resources. At the end of the day, the layover of having such a massive open world is that you’ll get some planets that “can be a lonely experience” for the explorer. But Howard went on to note that there is also “a strange beauty to being the only person on a planet”, and that is precisely what you should focus on.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this tone set in a Bethesda game. If it’s beautiful desolation you’re looking for, then the Fallout series comes to mind. The entire experience of walking through a ruined wasteland is incredibly eerie but also beautiful. I loved walking around the abandoned towns of Fallout 4, not knowing what I would encounter and just taking in the dead silence surrounding the decaying town.
I can’t wait, then, to explore the vast universe that Starfield will offer when it releases in early 2023. Hopefully, I’ll get that same feeling once more.