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Starfield has more ‘handcrafted’ content than any previous Bethesda game

Yes, there’s a lot of procedurally-generated content — but Starfield isn’t only that, game director Todd Howard said

a large spacecraft marked “NG1350” with a base behind it, sitting on the rocky surface of a planet in Starfield Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Across Starfields 100 star systems and more than 1,000 planets, there is going to be a lot of procedurally-generated content. But Bethesda game director Todd Howard said there’s still a lot of “handcrafted” work in the ambitious, upcoming space role-playing game.

Microsoft showed an extended trailer during the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase on Monday to build out the world and establish its storyline: It’s the year 2330, and a group of space explorers — you, the player, are one of those — are looking to recover lost artifacts. The story spirals out from there, and is expected to be branching. When the trailer was released, Howard dropped those huge numbers — that Starfield would have unthinkable numbers of worlds to explore, thanks to procedural generation. It worried some players, who asked: Is 1,000 too many? Will these really be fleshed out, believable worlds?

Howard told IGN that the answer is basically yes and no.

Howard said in an interview with IGN that Starfield has “more [content] handcrafting ... than any game [Bethesda’s] done” before. He said Bethesda wanted to say “yes” to the player — meaning players could do something way off the path of Starfield’s main game and have it be meaningful. Some of the worlds will be built-out story areas, following Starfield’s main path, which will look familiar to Bethesda fans. Howard told IGN the main quest is around 20% larger than games like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout 4, and takes 30 to 40 hours to complete, excluding extra side stuff.

But alongside that built-on questline, players will also also find worlds that are essentially barren ice balls, Howard said. And if a player wants to, they could explore that.

“So we’re pretty careful about saying, ‘Here’s where the fun is, here’s this kind of content,’ but still say yes to the player and, ‘You want to go land on that weird planet, check it out, and build an outpost, and live your life there, and watch the sunset because you like the view of the moons there? Go for it,’” Howard said. “We love that stuff.”

The areas that Starfield has “handcrafted,” as Howard puts it, include four main cities. One of those cities is New Atlantis, which was shown Monday during the showcase. A lot of the main questline will take place there, Howard told IGN, noting that it’s the biggest city Bethesda’s made.

Starfield was announced in 2018 alongside The Elder Scrolls 6, which Howard said is currently in pre-production. The game was originally slated for a Nov. 11, 2022 release date before it was pushed back to 2023.

Starfield will launch for Windows PC and Xbox Series X, and it will be playable at launch through Xbox Game Pass.

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