1,000 planets were what they promised. 1,000 “handcrafted” planets, along with the complementary hook of unbridled space exploration on top of a Skyrim-esque RPG, was what propelled Starfield’s marketing hype. But now that we’ve gotten our hands on it, we regret to inform you that the skeptics were right—Starfield is empty. The sky is blue, water is wet.
Well, at least Starfield is empty outside of quests. Starfield’s space exploration pales in comparison to what No Man’s Sky has already been offering for years, and its space vessel gameplay also doesn’t hold a candle to something like Elite: Dangerous. Both of those space games are old now, by the way, and they also had a much lower budget.
The 1,000 planets and the illusion of vastness are a mere backdrop for a typical Bethesda RPG.
You’ll need to tone down expectations to enjoy it
Actually, calling it a typical Bethesda RPG might even be an overstatement. Because in games like Skyrim and Fallout 4, you could just roam around, ignoring the main quest, and you’d still attract side quests and random events like a magnet dropped on a toolbox.
In Starfield, you can walk around for hours on a planet and not find anything of value or interest apart from rocks to break, copy-paste caves, and minerals to scan—perhaps even a few lizards or mindless aliens.
And to make the process more daunting or dull, there’s no land vehicle to help you explore these planets, and neither is there a minimap or a functional map to help. In fact, the map is more of a hyper-visualized list of fast travel points. The lack of a map and the absence of planetary exploration vehicles are seemingly there to mask the emptiness of the 1,000 planets.
So, while you have several solar systems you can explore littered with ‘1,000 planets’, none of them are really worth exploring unless a quest tells you otherwise. Anyone who purchased Starfield expecting it to be a space-sim with exploration and meaningful spaceship flight freedom will be sorely disappointed.
There are so many invisible (and visible) walls and loading screens in this “NASA-punk” game, where immersive exploration is one of the core themes. Worse even is how exploration in Starfield is also shallow—it’s merely a painted curtain with a grey brick wall behind.
It’s best not to expect Starfield to be anything more than another Bethesda RPG where you talk to stiff, dead-eyed NPCs, then go to their quest marker and perhaps kill everyone or steal everything once you tire of being everyone’s errand-runner. It’s just a sci-fi RPG with space elements.
But like a true Bethesda RPG, there’s another more pleasant way to enjoy Starfield.
You should mod the game, of course
Starfield thankfully needn’t be empty, at least not while the community can do something about it.
Already, there’s a bustling and busy modding community ready to make Starfield into the game they (or perhaps you) want. Currently, the Starfield modding community is busy stomping out the game’s rather harsh performance demands, its bugs, and its clunky user interface.
But sooner rather than later, out will come gameplay enhancement mods that might eventually populate Starfield’s empty planets. The same thing happened to the game worlds of Skyrim, Fallout 3, Fallout 4, etc. and it’s safe to assume Starfield will get the same treatment and love from its player community even though its scale is wider.
And while Starfield is empty, let’s look at it as a glass-half-full scenario. Starfield also has the same deceptive strength and advantage as other Bethesda RPGs. Beneath that clunky mesh and animation framework is a versatile and flexible blank slate ready to be molded into whichever shape or form the community wants.
A long history of Bethesda RPG modding dictates a bright future for Starfield, where the geniuses of the modding community might eventually add strategic mods to make Starfield less empty or more eventful outside of its quest loop.
This kind of modding ecosystem is favorable for modders
It’s not uncommon for Bethesda to actually hire talent from its modding community.
In fact, one of the environmental designers for Starfield was once a modder named Emmi “Elianora” Junkkari, who made a clutter mod for Skyrim in order to make the latter game more realistic or cozy.
Overall, modders can get good exposure and employment opportunities from game studios because of what they did for Bethesda RPGs.
Some modders can even ask for donations for their hard work, so it’s not like they’re ‘fixing’ Bethesda’s RPG for free.
And so, through the modding community’s sheer solidarity and drive to improve the game to their standards and their vision, they could eventually make Starfield a good game (though likely not on the same level or cohesion as Skyrim or even Fallout 4).
It still doesn’t change how Starfield is empty, however
There’s only so much that the modding community can fix, and even then, game studios should never rely on their player community to make their game complete.
After all, Starfield was hyped up by its creator as a space exploration RPG, especially with its trailers focusing on voyaging and planetary traversal as well as discovery. Even the ‘1,000 planets’ pitch was seemingly targeted to draw a certain audience and subset of gamers who expected Starfield to be a space sim, just as its trailers implied.
If you see a trailer like that, it’s only fair to expect it to be a space-sim RPG with actual, meaningful space exploration. But alas, all that narrative boasting about discovering the universe is just an empty promise. It’s a checklist to tick off, as pessimistic as it sounds.
The argument and justification from Bethesda that space travel and Starfield’s 1,000 planets being empty is adherence to realism is a moot point; realism and practicality also demand that you give players moon rovers (or similar land vehicles) for traversal or at least actual basic GPS mini-maps (which the game frustratingly omitted). Walking for kilometers on an unknown planet isn’t something astronauts do.
Asking players to suspend disbelief in one aspect of fiction while also asking them to accept the realism of another aspect is bad world-building– it’s bad for immersion. In Starfield’s case, the selective realism is an awfully convenient excuse to leave planets empty and devoid of meaningful activities.
At least the ability to fly your ship under a planet’s atmosphere would have been nice so that players could eliminate the boring walk from points of interest, which are often a couple of kilometers away on every planet. But even Starfield doesn’t practice that thoughtfulness.
This might be something we can expect modders to add, but that’s somewhat unfair to the modders. It’s also somewhat embarrassing for a multi-million-dollar company to expect or leave modders to add basic features such as maps or a more accommodating UI, seeing as the game cost $70 USD, had a $200+ million budget, and took nearly a decade to make.
That’s why modders are still the under-appreciated heroes in a Bethesda RPG– and Starfield’s emptiness, clunkiness, and lack of basic features accentuated the modding community’s efforts.
It’s valiant how the modding community’s optimism can eventually lead Starfield into becoming a great game or even a space sim as implied, but the burden of fulfilling that promise really shouldn’t lie on them; now that it does, perhaps more appreciation on the game studio’s part is due.