When developing The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red followed the 40-Second Rule: there should be something to catch the player’s interest every 40 seconds. Hidden treasures, monster nests, and abandoned ruins litter The Witcher 3’s map. Getting from one interesting place to another never takes long. Not every open-world game obeys this rule, but many of the most successful ones do. Previous Bethesda games such as Skyrim and Oblivion more or less followed it, but sci-fi epic Starfield breaks it. Doing so has important consequences for players. Here’s everything you need to know about what breaking the rule means for Starfield.
How Starfield Breaks The 40-Second Rule
Though Starfield breaks the 40-Second Rule, it doesn’t do so everywhere or for no reason. Content fills handcrafted social hubs such as cities and space stations. In those locations, the player rarely goes 20 seconds without encountering something new, never mind 40. New Atlantis, Neon, the Key, and other major areas provide players with a ton of optional activities, including shopping, chatting with NPCs, buying new spaceships, and picking up quests. As long as you remain in that kind of location, Starfield feels dense, brisk, and engaging. The trouble only starts when you leave.
The two main offenders are space and the procedurally generated landing sites scattered across every planet and moon. It’s easy to defend space’s violation of the 40-Second Rule in Starfield. After all, space is so incomprehensibly big that the notion of filling it with bite-sized content every minute or so is laughable. Use your Grav Drive to warp to a new star system, and you might be greeted with a pirate attack, distress signal, or security scan. Once that random encounter is dealt with, there’s nothing else to do. In Starfield, space is an excuse to get into some dogfights and admire your ship in motion, so it’s not surprising that there’s not much else happening there.
Breaking The 40-Second Rule Hurts Starfield
Disembark at one of the game’s innumerable landing sites and activate your scanner to reveal nearby Points of Interest. These include friendly NPC camps, anomalies, pirate hideouts, mining facilities, caves, and other dungeons. Every landing site has several of these POIs, chosen from a collection handcrafted by the developer and then randomly distributed by the game. Unlike Skyrim, the player has no horse to carry them, and you can’t fast-travel to these locations. There’s no choice but to run. Even if the player runs the entire time and uses Personal Atmosphere to boost their O2 efficiency, it takes a long time to reach these POIs. Each location can be anywhere from 2-5 minutes away, far more than the recommended 40 seconds.
Going three or four minutes without seeing or doing something new hurts the game. In Skyrim, a new bandit hideout, shrine, or secret was around every corner. Red Dead Redemption 2, which breaks the 40-second rule from time to time, at least offered players stunning, handcrafted vistas to enjoy while they traveled. Starfield is a beautiful game, but procedural generation causes its landing sites to all feel similar. Sprinting or bunny-hopping around empty moons gets old. By the time the player arrives at their destination, the damage has been done. Maybe you’ll kill some pirates and loot some cool gear, but the long wait likely leeched away some of your initial enthusiasm.
Will TES 6 Follow The Rule?
Given what we know about Starfield, should we be worried that TES 6 will make the same mistakes? In short, no. It’s likely that TES 6 will follow in the footsteps of Skyrim rather than Starfield. The reason is simple. Given the current limits of technology, developers can’t fill 1,000 worlds with an endless stream of handcrafted content. Populating a single world with such content is not only possible, but also what Bethesda has done for previous games in the Elder Scrolls series. Starfield stretched the development team thin, whereas TES 6 with its far smaller scope will make content density much easier to achieve. Starfield suffers from breaking the 40-Second Rule, but Bethesda fans can rest easy. TES 6 is still in good hands.
Starfield is available for PC and Xbox Series X/S.