The Evolution of Planet Exploration in Starfield: Insights from Todd Howard

In a recent interview, Todd Howard, the director of Starfield, revealed how the planet exploration feature underwent significant changes during the game’s development process. Initially, the team had envisioned a punishing and complex system that required players to navigate different environmental hazards. However, this challenging concept was ultimately “nerfed” to strike a balance between difficulty and enjoyment.

The Complexity of Environmental Damage

During the Game Maker’s Notebook Podcast interview with Ted Price, Howard discussed the extensive development process and the decision to refine the planet exploration aspect of Starfield. He explained that the game initially incorporated a complex environmental damage system, wherein players had specific resistances to various atmosphere effects like radiation and thermal conditions. This intricate system aimed to simulate the harshness of different planets and their impact on players’ characters.

Howard stated, “It was a pretty complex system - actually, it was very punitive.” The team recognized that this complexity could potentially overwhelm players and detract from their overall experience of exploring the game’s vast universe. As a result, they opted to make significant adjustments.

Turning Down the Punishment

To streamline the gameplay and make it more accessible, the developers decided to “nerf the hell out of it.” While planet exploration still possesses some level of challenge, it no longer imposes a severe penalty on players. The impact of environmental afflictions has been toned down to a level where it adds more flavor and annoyance rather than significant hindrance.

Howard pointed out that the afflictions players could face include injuries resulting from actions like falling from great heights, exposure to toxic gases, or spending too much time in freezing temperatures. These afflictions, while not overly punishing, serve as reminders of the character’s vulnerability and add an additional layer of immersion to the game.

Charting a Potential Hardcore Mode

During the interview, Howard also revealed that the team had contemplated the idea of implementing different spacesuits for specific environmental conditions. This would have allowed players to adapt their equipment to extreme planetary environments, such as high radiation or extremely cold climates. However, this concept was not fully realized in the initial release of the game.

Nevertheless, Howard hinted that Bethesda might consider addressing this aspect “going forward.” This implies the possibility of introducing a Hardcore or Survival mode-type difficulty level in a future update. This mode would likely reinstate the more punitive system for planet exploration, providing players with a more challenging experience for those seeking a heightened level of immersion and difficulty.

Bethesda’s History of Post-Release Enhancements

If a Hardcore mode were to be added to Starfield, it wouldn’t be the first time Bethesda incorporated additional difficulty options post-release. Fallout 4, another popular Bethesda title, received a Survival Mode update a few months after its launch. This update introduced a range of new features and mechanics, such as the elimination of autosave and manual save options from the pause menu, as well as more frequent encounters with stronger enemies.

Considering this precedent, it is plausible that Starfield could receive similar post-launch additions, including the reintroduction of a more challenging and immersive planet exploration system.

Starfield’s Success Story

Despite the adjustments made to the planet exploration mechanics, Starfield has garnered immense popularity, with over 10 million players experiencing the game since its launch. This figure represents the biggest launch in Bethesda’s history and highlights the game’s wide-reaching appeal.

For players venturing into the Settled Systems and facing potential challenges along the way, IGN offers a comprehensive Starfield walkthrough to assist with any mission-related obstacles. Additionally, for PC players, IGN also provides a roundup of the best mods available for Starfield, enhancing the gameplay experience even further.