Bethesda says most of Starfield’s 1000+ planets are dull on purpose because ‘When the astronauts went to the moon, there was nothing there’ but ‘they certainly weren’t bored’

Space is big and, for the most part, kind of dull. The heady thrill of setting foot on planets no human has ever seen aside, most of the celestial bodies in our universe are just big, complicated rocks when you get right down to it. For better or worse, that’s a part of reality that Starfield deliberately tries to capture, according to a recent NYT interview (via VG247) with Ashley Cheng, Bethesda’s managing director, and Todd Howard, who is Todd Howard.

“The point of the vastness of space is you should feel small,” Cheng told the NYT, “It should feel overwhelming.” Addressing fans’ worries that Starfield’s 1000 planets “are going to be boring,” Cheng pointed out that not every planet “is supposed to be Disney World… When the astronauts went to the moon, there was nothing there. They certainly weren’t bored.”

So Starfield’s many globes are meant to be sparse because, hey, the vast majority of planets out there are sparse too. But the sparsity is compensated for—or meant to be compensated for—by the wonder of exploration. The sheer thrill of stepping onto a planet previously untouched by humanity should more than make up for the lack of, well, much of anything else going on.

That sentiment was echoed by Howard. “All of us, I think, at some point look to the sky and say, ‘Man, I wonder what it would be like to blast off and land on the moon?’” Howard told the NYT, remarking that “We needed the scale [of Starfield] to have that feeling. We could have made a game where there are four cities and four planets. But that would not have the same feeling of being this explorer.”

It’s a noble goal, and I share Bethesda’s fascination with the vast expanse and mystery of space, but I’m not entirely sure Starfield makes good on it. I’m only 18(ish) hours in myself, and most of my wandering has been confined to level-appropriate planets around the game’s main hubs, but if anything my experience so far is that Starfield’s planets don’t quite feel as unexplored as they ought to. 

As someone who continues to derive a frankly bizarre amount of joy from jetting to random, uninhabited parts of the galaxy in Elite: Dangerous and wandering around in awe on the barren planets generated by that game’s Stellar Forge tech, Starfield’s planets have, to me, felt more like little, independent slices of any other Bethesda game that I now have to fast travel rather than walk between. I’m hoping that will change as I get further into the game, but right now? Starfield’s planets aren’t boring enough.