The Reality of Exploration in Starfield.
For a long time, Starfield’s promotional campaigns have been centered around the phrase ‘The 1000 Planets’ and how you can explore all those planets and delve into the depths of space freely, without any constraints. It’s an open-world game that presents entire planets and solar systems in all their details, and it certainly looks promising and exciting.
Of course, information has been circulating about the absence of vehicles or a means to explore the planets other than by walking. Flying freely in the planet’s atmosphere and real-time landings are not possible. Instead, they’ve been replaced with a short loading screen. So, you don’t manually take off and land; the game does it for you.
All of this is due to the vastness of the game world and the activities within it. We’re talking about planets at actual scale, not scaled-down versions. It makes sense that there would be technical limitations, especially with the renowned Bethesda game engine. That’s why the studio resorted to a clever trick: Procedural Generation technology. This raises a question, though: Why can’t you explore the planets fully on foot, and why do you encounter an invisible wall after walking for about 10 minutes in one direction, prompting you to return to your ship? What’s the story here?
Procedural Generation Technology: The Secret Behind Exploration in Starfield
To understand what’s happening here, we first need to grasp how exploration becomes possible in Starfield. It’s simple; Procedural Generation technology comes into play when you land on a deserted planet or a place that’s not one of the game’s main locations. At that point, some landmarks around you are generated for you to explore, whether it’s an abandoned lab, a cave, another ship that lands in front of you, or various different landmarks and dynamic events.
These landmarks and events generated by the technology are stored in a list within the game files, and they are randomly chosen to appear before you. This makes exploration interesting because what you’ll see on a planet will be different from what someone else might see on the same planet and in the same location.
But as is often the case, here’s the dramatic twist behind this technology. After long hours of play, you’ll notice that the landmarks generated by the technology start repeating, and you’ll begin to feel frustrated. What’s happening here is that procedural generation occurs within a certain range, a calculated and limited extent, let’s say 1 kilometer, and in different directions. This means that beyond that kilometer, there’s nothing the game has prepared for you to explore, or the area itself isn’t set up for you to walk around in.
So, can you explore the entire planet or just specific areas?
This question has arisen as a leaked video shows hidden walls in the game, causing players to worry about the final quality of the game and their trust in Bethesda, as the company promised that all planets would be fully explorable!
To answer the question: Yes, you can definitely explore the entire planet, and you can land in any area you choose. Of course, there are logical limitations; you can’t land on gas giants or icy surfaces, and you can’t land in a body of water. But aside from that, you can land on any planet and select the area you want to land in from the planet’s map. You can even fast-travel to planets you’ve explored before.
So, how does this affect the actual gameplay experience?
Those hidden walls and obstacles on the planet, I can confirm after 50 hours of gameplay, have absolutely no impact. In fact, I never encountered them once during my playtime while exploring hundreds of planets.
Let’s be a bit logical here. Why would you land on a deserted planet and walk in one direction for ten continuous minutes? The game generates a number of activities and landmarks around you, in various directions and at different distances. Exploring those places will be much more rewarding than wasting a full 10 minutes walking towards nothing. In general, you’ll have a massive amount of activities and tasks in the game to keep you engaged and interested in what you want to do next.
What truly affects the experience and causes exploration to feel somewhat repetitive after hours of gameplay is the landmarks generated by procedural generation technology. The identical repetition among them is evident and frustrating. I can confirm that I visited the same lab, with the same layout, inhabitants, decorations, colors, and everything else on different planets and multiple times during my 50 hours of gameplay – which is an average playtime, by the way.