Starfield looks to share a lot of characteristics with 2016’s sci-fi survival game No Man’s Sky (for better or worse), with both offering massive procedurally generated universes to explore through interstellar travel. But Bethesda’s upcoming space-based RPG will be missing one key feature of Hello Games’ slow-burning success: seamless starship piloting.
After revealing the first in-game footage of Starfield at the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase, studio director Todd Howard spoke to IGN (opens in new tab) about the game. During the discussion, Howard said the team has tried to implement many of the ideas requested for the game, but the ability to seamlessly fly a starship from a planet’s surface into space was left on the cutting-room floor.
"People have asked, ‘Can you fly the ship straight down to the planet?’” Howard said. “No. We decided early in the project that the on-surface is one reality, and then when you’re in space it’s another reality."
He went on to explain that the development time required to create such a feature wasn’t justified. Dropping it allowed the team to focus its resources on other aspects of the game.
"If you try to really spend a lot of time engineering the in-between, like that segue, you’re just spending a lot of time [on something] that’s really just not that important to the player," Howard said.
"So, let’s make sure it’s awesome when you’re on the surface and awesome when you’re in space, and those realities look and play as good as they can be."
That Starfield won't allow you to hop into a spaceship and manually take off into the final frontier will be disappointing to some fans. There was hope the game would match the scope of other spacefaring adventure games released in recent years.
No Man’s Sky, in particular, has received much praise for immersing the player in its wide universe by minimizing gameplay interruptions. When you come across a planet in the belly of space, you’re able to pilot your ship through its atmosphere, before coasting above its surface and initiating a landing procedure to drift downwards. No cutscenes or loading screens; the player keeps full control.
How spaceship landing will play out in Starfield remains to be seen. Howard didn’t specify whether it'd be an on-rails system, if there were any landing maneuvers you’d need to control, or if it’s taken entirely out of your hands, as the game simply switches to the planetside view through a loading screen.
Starship piloting won’t be entirely absent from the game, however. The gameplay clip (opens in new tab) released during the Summer Game Fest showed off Starfield’s spaceship dogfighting, which lets you blast enemy vessels as you career around the great expanse.
Elsewhere in the interview, Howard gave an update on Fallout 5.