Starfield’s Star Wars-like Planets is Worrying for Environment Variety
Bethesda launched three videos featuring Emil Pagliarulo as the design director. Each video focuses on a different city that will be featured in the videos. Starfield. The studio’s space-set RPG appears to lean towards hard sci-fi. There are no alien playable races. It focuses on NASA-style function rather than spacesuit designs. Pagliarulo describes the experience as “true reflecting the future of our planet.”
Despite Starfield’s hard sci-fi inclinations, some Bethesda enthusiasts have compared Starfield’s planet design with one of the most popular sci-fi series, Star Wars. Star Wars has a reputation for having only one biome. Tatooine, Hoth, and Dagobah are the desert planets, while Hoth, Tatooine, and Hoth are the ice planets. This design pattern can be problematic for Starfield.
Starfield and Open-World Planets
Bethesda is known for its open worlds. There are many RPGs with tighter stories and more character-driven storylines than those in Bethesda’s main questlines, but it is harder to find an RPG designer who can match the in-game worlds. Starfield, however, will likely break with the current trend and have a much smaller open world than other Bethesda RPGs.
It would be extremely difficult to create a seamless world that spans multiple planets. This is why this decision was made. It seems more likely that Starfield will allow players to visit multiple planets, but only a limited area on each one. Starfield could be following the same path as many other space-set RPGs such as Mass Effect and The Outer Worlds. The city highlights videos are a clear indication that Starfield might follow this path.
Starfield’s Planet Design
Emil Pagliarulo, who is showcasing the city of Neon in the video, makes several statements that suggest that players will only explore a small portion of the planet on which the city lies.
Neon’s planet is “nondescript,” so it seems very likely that players will only have access to one part of the planet, the city of Neon. This has implications for Starfield’s design of some other locations.
For example, the video that covers Akila City mentions dangerous aliens beyond its walls, resembling a mixture of a velociraptor or a wolf. Although it seems probable that players will have access to Akila City and some of the surrounding areas, the total area that can be explored on the planet will likely be smaller than that of Skyrim’s map.
Starfield’s planet design has interesting implications from Neon’s description of an aquatic world. It suggests that at least some worlds in Starfield will have single environments in Star Wars style. However, it is unlikely that players will be able to explore every planet. This means that players won’t have to visit all of the planets.
It is possible that New Atlantis, the capital of the United Colonies, will find itself on a planet as diverse as Earth in the story. However, it seems that the players will not explore the city or the forested areas surrounding it, as shown in the video. It is also more likely that each area will fall under the jurisdiction of one Starfield faction, increasing the risk of each planet feeling isolated.
This could make Starfield feel small for a Bethesda RPG. Skyrim allows players to seamlessly travel between multiple biomes, even though most were inspired from different parts of Northern Europe. They could travel from the forests of the Reach through to the grasslands of Whiterun Hold, all the way to the frozen wastelands around the College of Winterhold.
If Starfield has more clear divisions between each planet, exploration may feel less natural, particularly if loading screens and space travel mechanics are involved between players exploring different planets. Every planet could feel like a park or a summary of the real world. Star Wars RPGs have had success regardless of the series planet formula, most notably Knights of the Old Republic (and its sequels).
BioWare, however, does not have the same reputation for building seamless open worlds as Bethesda. Bethesda’s open-world design has been prioritized over its story writing. Starfield may find itself fighting for the best of both worlds if Starfield’s explorable map feels broken up into smaller pieces with their own biomes, and Bethesda’s main story is not as heavy as in other Bethesda games.
Starfield’s spaceflight system could be so immersive that it makes traveling between worlds feel seamless. While time will tell, Bethesda is taking a huge risk by embracing a genre that presents so many challenges to the vast open worlds on which it has built its reputation.