starfield planets

Here’s What’s Going On With Starfield’s Planetary Boundary Controversy

One small step for man, followed by thousands more, apparently.

If you’ve been on the internet, in particular anywhere near the gaming community, over the last day or so, you might have noticed that folks are getting heated about some recent (and very much NDA-breaking) Starfield footage showing a player exploring one of the game’s 1000-odd planets.

This particular footage has blown up because it reveals that, despite a lot of pre-release marketing touting Starfield’s explorable planets, players won’t actually be able to fully traverse a single planet in one, seamless go. Instead, they’ll be somewhat tethered to a certain radius around their ship, and reaching the borders of said radius will see them come up against an invisible border and a pop-up message informing them that they’ve reached a boundary and that they’ll need to warp back to their ship or open the map to explore another region.

Now, while there are plenty of reasons why this would be the case and plenty of reasons why it’s probably Not That Big Of A Deal, it’s important to remember that Starfield is essentially this year’s poster child for Xbox and Game Pass and so it’s immediately subject to any and all scrutiny from internet-dwellers hoping to see it fail. So, this new revelation has naturally fuelled even more inflammatory and tiresome discourse than other recent Starfield “controversy” like its perfectly-serviceable title screen.

Part of the reason that this footage has become so contentious is due to what many have perceived as mixed messaging or untruths from Bethesda, including a reply straight from Bethesda’s head of publishing, Pete Hines, days before this whole thing exploded that seemed to indicate there was nothing stopping players from fully exploring an entire planet.

In the time since the footage in question first appeared, the community at large along with folks either speaking cryptically under NDAs or completely outside of them, have attempted to figure out what’s actually going on and whether these isolated examples are indicative of the actual experience in-game. The general consensus that’s been reached so far based on pieced-together info, videos and screenshots (again, that really shouldn’t be out there ahead of embargo), is that planets in Starfield have a number of landing points based on points of interest or chunks of terrain rather than give players access to the entire thing at once, which does seem to go against Bethesda’s claims but also make some degree of sense.

Again though, until the game is actually out there and those who’ve played it can freely speak about it, there’s so much we don’t yet know.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Bethesda has already stated the vast majority of the planets in Starfield are barren and have little to offer outside of resources to collect, meaning there really shouldn’t be a need for players to spend hours walking in one direction on worlds that are 99% dirt and rocks. Even with these supposed boundaries in place it sounds like it’d take upwards of 30 minutes to walk far enough in some areas to notice. If you really want to get into it, that’s longer than it takes to walk from one end of Fallout 4’s playable area to the other.

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Short of coming off like I’m attempting damage control on behalf of Bethesda – I haven’t played Starfield at all yet nor do I have any working knowledge of how its systems work – this whole situation seems incredibly overblown. While I can understand some disappointment in not being able to freely roam planets in a game that’s been heavily marketed as having 1000 of the things, and with a big deal made about fancy simulated space atmospheres and such, I fail to see how any of it should impact the Bethesda RPG experience at the end of the day.

You could probably chalk some of the negativity here up to Bethesda’s marketing putting a little too much spin on its planet-hopping possibilities. Many of the qualities that make a Bethesda game special – things like rich worlds packed with lore, great questlines and robust RPG systems – are probably harder to sell in flashy trailers and bullet-point press releases than the vastness of space. And in that way it’s somewhat understandable that a portion of eager fans might be let down in thinking the game perhaps isn’t as expansive in scope as they were expecting.

At the end of the day, whether or not Starfield players will be able to waste hours dawdling across empty planets, it’s one component of a game that’ll hopefully have far more to offer players. I’m excited to see the things that Bethesda has chosen to focus its energy and talent on, more than what might fall short of expectation.

At any rate, we’ve locked Brodie in the Press Start basement for the last couple of weeks and made him play dozens of hours of the game in order to bring you a full review, which you’ll be able to read very soon on Friday, September 1st at 2AM AEST.

Starfield launches on September 6th for Xbox Series X|S and PC and will be included with Game Pass from day one. You can pre-order the Digital Premium Upgrade on Amazon or the Xbox Store if you have Game Pass and want to get started five days early on September 1st, as well as pick up the other versions of Starfield below: