Bethesda didn’t waste much time whipping up some controversy after its much-hyped Starfield gameplay reveal. The epic space exploration sim doesn’t have real-time flight between space and landfall because Bethesda says that a seamless universe is “not that important” to players.
Bethesda finally revealed some gameplay for Starfield over the weekend. One gameplay pillar that Todd Howard tried to hype up was the game’s emphasis on planet exploration. There are over 1,000 fully explorable planets, which is nice, but with one caveat.
Players cannot just fly from space to their landing spot in an immersive way. From orbit, you pick a location to land, and then the game transitions to that area without actually flying there. So, planetary navigation is more like fast travel. Starfield is not a seamless universe. According to Howard, space and a planet’s surface are two separate “realities.”
“People have asked, ‘Can you fly the ship straight down to the planet?’ No,” the Bethesda boss told IGN in an interview (below). “We decided early in the project that the on-surface is one reality, and then when you’re in space, it’s another reality.”
So when you look up at the sky from a planet, what you see does not exist in your current reality. Likewise, looking at a world from orbit (assuming orbital flight is possible) is just an illusion — a visual representation of that planet that does not exist until you warp down to this other reality.
This dual-reality aspect also suggests that there is no atmospheric flight. When on a planet’s surface, your ship is useless until you want to return to space — it’s just set dressing. Howard did not explicitly say this; it’s just a logical assumption based on his explanation.
That leaves a lot of critical questions. What is it like to travel between those “two realities?” Will there be load screens, or is it just an uncontrollable transitional animation from space-to-planet or planet-to-space? Will this get boring after landing and leaving 1,000 various planets multiple times?
According to Howard, transitioning from space to planetside in a realistic way is “just not that important to the player” to justify the extra engineering work. Whom did the developers ask about that? In-house testers? Focus groups? Or is it just an excuse to justify not putting it in the game?
As a player, I care about it. It is important to me. I want to enter and exit orbital and atmospheric flight at my whim. It would be interesting to see how many other players share these feelings rather than Bethesda just using it as a blanket excuse for being lazy.
Is it truly that much more “engineering work?” Elite Dangerous added real-time space-to-planet navigation with its Horizons expansion. No Man’s Sky has had it from the very beginning. It was one of the few things that Hello Games got right at launch.
What do you think? Is a seamless universe important, or is it just fluff that is not necessary for a space exploration sim?