How do Starfield's planets work? Details on alien life, procedural generation, and more.

Starfield ship above planet
(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

If a tree falls on a planet and there's no one there to see it, did it really happen?

Just something to ponder as you're exploring the Settled Systems of Starfield, a cluster of stars where humanity has started colonies in the year 2330. Starfield is the largest game ever built by Bethesda Game Studios, with a staggering number of planets for players to explore in addition to innumerable spaceships and space stations. 

If you're a little confused at the scale of everything here and exactly how it all works, don't worry. I've got everything you need to know about Starfield's planets right here.

This guide has been composed based on pre-release information found in official Bethesda materials. I'll be sure to update it once the game arrives.

Starfield Premium Edition

Starfield Premium Edition

The Premium Edition of Starfield includes bonuses alongside the main game, and you're guaranteed access to the first story expansion when it arrives. You can also start exploring vast planets five days early. 

Buy at: Amazon | Steam (GMG)

Starfield planets: How many planets are there?

There are over 1,000 planets in Starfield, a truly mind-boggling number. By itself, this lone statistic makes Starfield several times larger than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4, both of which were already impressively-sized role-playing game in their own right.

Players can land on any planets in Starfield, though some are more dangerous than others. Planets may not have a breathable atmosphere, or they might have weak gravity, altering how far you jump and if you get knocked back when using ballistic weapons instead of energy guns.

There's a wide range of biomes you'll encounter, with some planets being barren rock with rich assortment of minerals and other resources for you to mine. Others are teeming with alien life, both flora and fauna. You can scan a planet while in orbit to get a better idea of what awaits when you land. According to director Todd Howard, roughly 10% of the planets in Starfield have life, meaning a little over 100 out of the over 1,000 worlds to explore.

Once you land, you'll then be able to scan individual things on a planet, with rewards for completely scanning an entire system and cataloguing everything present. You can also choose to build an outpost almost anywhere, assigning your crew and companions to it to generate resources based on what you've built and what the planet has to offer.

Starfield planets: How does procedural generation work?

Take in the view. (Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Because there's no way to 100% build a game with over 1,000 planets and have everything be completely handcrafted, Starfield uses a system of procedural generation. This means that outside of a number of locations, a planet will be generated procedurally, so your experience will not necessarily be the same as a friend's when they explore the same location.

This is an evolution of the "radiant" system Bethesda previously used in games like Skyrim, which would procedurally generate some side quests so they weren't always set in the same location. 

So for example, if you approach an icy planet, you might find a side quest with an outpost under attack. Others who play might find something entirely different. 

That doesn't mean everything is random, however, according to Howard, Starfield has more handcrafted content than any prior Bethesda game. Neon, Akila City, New Atlantis, and more are all handcrafted worlds, while the game has well over 200,000 lines of dialogue. For context, Skyrim had around 60,000 lines and Fallout 4 had around 111,000 lines.

Make your mark in the stars

Obviously there's a lot to learn about the planets of the Settled Systems in Starfield, but the important thing is that you proceed at your own pace, having fun being the kind of Spacefarer you want to be. Do you want to be a pirate, raiding others for supplies and smuggling cargo? You can do that! Would you prefer to be a scientist, setting up research posts and cataloguing alien creations? You can do that too!

Starfield is currently scheduled to launch on Sep. 6, 2023 exclusively on Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC. If you preorder the Premium Edition, you can start playing on September 1. Like all Xbox first-party games, it's also available in Xbox Game Pass.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.