Starfield 'boundary reached' leak leaves some worried Bethesda's planets have more limits than anticipated

 Sci-fi planet
Sci-fi planet

"Boundary reached," reads an in-game Starfield text box that circulated online over the weekend. "Open the map to explore another region, or return to your ship."

The biggest game of the year is springing leaks just days before release, the latest of which is creating some uncertainty about one of its most anticipated features: planet exploration.

As collated by Kotaku, a "boundary reached" message appeared in leaked Starfield gameplay videos from both YouTube and a Chinese forum post that appeared over the weekend, both since removed but surviving via archive, seemingly indicating that Starfield's planets aren't one continuous open world. In a timelapse video, the player runs in a single direction on a planet for 10 minutes before reaching an invisible boundary.

Possible restrictions on planet map sizes came as a surprise to fans who expected Bethesda's boundless RPG to work more or less like No Man's Sky, a space exploration game that continuously renders planets in their entirety as you walk or fly around them. We've known all along that Starfield's exploration would have some limits, like how won't be able to fly your ship manually into a planet's atmosphere to land, but Bethesda hasn't been as specific about on-foot travel in official presentations.

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We know from June's Starfield Direct that you can select a spot anywhere on a planet and land there. That's not necessarily contradicted by the "boundary reached" message, but it may indicate the game can only load the planet you're currently on in chunks. That's not how I assumed it'd work when Todd Howard said you can go anywhere in Starfield, but it would be par for the course for past Bethesda RPGs that load every time you enter a reasonably large building. The supposed limitation does, however, contradict an August 21 tweet reply from Bethesda's Pete Hines indicating you can explore a whole planet after landing.

Reactions around the leak are a mix of disappointment and acceptance, as well as skepticism that the leaks tell the whole story. One Steam thread with almost 200 comments includes several users wondering if people are misinterpreting the "boundary reached" message.

"The photo floating around about the border was also during the tutorial period of the game. Bethesda has already stated the game opens up much more after the tutorial," wrote user Tyrael.

"The more I look into it the worse it is, so there are invisible ways and you are forced to go back to your ship to move to different 'chunks,'" wrote the thread's OP Andrien.

"The scope of the planets, and this game, are too massive to worry about how far I'm tethered to my ship. I have more important things to worry about than to measure how many football fields I can run from point A to point B once exiting my ship," wrote user katzenkrimis.

I can relate to that. While some have been quick to speculate that Starfield is on a collision course with the same "expectations vs reality" kerfuffle that No Man's Sky experienced at launch, it's worth considering that walking continuously across a thousand barren-looking planets may not be all that interesting in the first place. I always thought I'd do more aimless exploration in No Man's Sky, but more often than not I'd land in a spot, wander for a few hundred meters, then fly somewhere else. Still, it always felt really cool that I could just keep on walking, if I wanted to, until I did a lap around the planet and ended up back at my ship.

It won't be long before we know for sure how it all works. Starfield officially releases on September 6, but those who pre-ordered the $100 premium edition can start playing as early as this Thursday evening, August 31.