Forget space piracy, Todd Howard's given me permission to turn Starfield into a walking sim

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Sure, Starfield may let you become a space pirate. And sure, you can become your very own version of Han Solo who has a penchant for smuggling sandwiches. But who cares about the thrills and spills of piracy and contraband when you can earn big bucks and find your zen at the same time? Yes, I'm talking about the idea of taking on an occupation that's far more sedate and lowkey: a planetary surveyor. 

Todd Howard recently spoke about exploration on the many planets within the Starfield Star systems in an interview with Kinda Funny Games. While there were a lot of interesting takeaways, it was the mention of fully surveying planets to earn "a lot of money" from the data you can collect that I can't stop thinking about. There's likely nothing stopping you from surveying planets alongside a spot of piracy or any other activity you wish to engage in, but I've already started imagining what it would be like to make this my main source of income. 

And isn't that just the beauty of the best RPGs around? Having the choice to become what you want – even if it's doing something that's quite mundane in a fantastical setting? Like deciding to ditch being a Dragonborn for fishing in Skyrim, setting up your own little market in Fallout 4 instead of searching for your kid, or even pretending to be a detective in Cyberpunk 2077. Not only does surveying incentivize exploration planetside, but it also sounds like one very relaxing way to make a living. 

Flora the Explorer


(Image credit: Bethesda)

I can understand why so many like the idea of pirating other ships, or becoming a badass smuggler among the stars. After all, when the universe Bethesda is creating promises to let us do what we want, living by our own rules in the expanses of space holds its own appeal. Even so, I now find myself more drawn to the idea of slowing things down and surveying all of the wildlife of a planet in the name of data and credits. As Howard explained in the interview, planets vary, with some being one-to-one biomes; while others have "a whole bunch", with different plants, creatures, and resources that go with the biomes. While not all planets will have life, and some will be more dangerous than others, surveying gives us a reason to visit lots of worlds in the star systems.  

"There's a whole part of the game where surveying a planet, like discovering all of the flora and fauna and resources… if you fully survey a planet, that data is actually worth a lot of money, credits, in the game that you can sell," Howard says. "So it's a whole part of the game that's really just doing that and it's a little more… I almost describe it [as] zen-like." 


(Image credit: Bethesda)

Earning credits is certainly a motivator, and surveying all of the flora and fauna has the potential to speak to the side of me that loves collecting and cataloguing in games. But the interview truly had me at "zen-like". Enjoying the vistas of a planet and getting some peace and quiet as I discover all of its resources – provided there aren't any dangerous creatures about – sounds like one very chill way to make my dime. It immediately brings to mind scanning planets in the Mass Effect trilogy, or No Man's Sky – an activity I've always found soothing despite these games' obvious differences. 

Not that planet scanning is a new idea. When Starfield was first revealed, many would-be players made comparisons to No Man's Sky's scanner, and other space adventures like Elite Dangerous allow you to earn money by collecting data. But regardless, I really dig the idea of surveying a planet and seeing if I can actually turn it into a job outside of the adventures as a member of Constellation. 

Above all, I still want to find meaningful stories in Starfield as I earn my way, but we'll just have to wait and see on that score. For now, I'm just going to keep imagining what it might be like to be a bonafide space surveyor, earning my keep on planets far and wide. I'm sure I'll try out pirating and whatever else is on offer down the line, but for now, I'm looking forward to seeing just how "zen-like" this side of the upcoming RPG will be. 

Ranking Starfield food in order of appeal: From Trilo Bites to a simple slice of toast.

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.