Regardless of whether you're a fan of Starfield, there's no denying it's a huge adventure. A typical player's journey to the end could take a hundred hours or more, and that's before even thinking about new game+. Meanwhile, the game's budding speedrunning community is trying to do exactly the opposite, trying to figure out how to complete Starfield in record speed—and just a few days after launch, they'd already figured out ways to break the game.
With any new major release, there are always going to be people looking for the best time-saving exploits, but Starfield speedruns have been advancing at a record speed. The previous Bethesda games are some of the most popular in the speedrunning community, partly due to the incredible bugs and skips that get found thanks to the creaky Creation Engine these games are built on. While Starfield runs on an updated version of the engine, the community were still confident there would be plenty of opportunities to break the game, and that is exactly what has happened.
You can consider right now to be the kind of run-up period to Starfield speedrunning. On September 20, the leaderboards on Speedrun.com officially open, and times can actually be logged and compared for all to see. Until then, everyone's working together to develop the techniques and exploits that will be needed for those record-breaking runs—and the community's been doing that almost as fast as they play games.
Just three days after the early access launch, a runner called Micrologist posted a playthrough that clocked in at just three-hours start to finish. After doing a casual run through the game over the launch weekend, they moved on to trying to figure out how quickly the main story could be beaten, and their first test run quickly went viral.
“I thought, okay, I know what I have to do at the end of the quest, [but] can I do this now? Or do I have to reach some kind of quest progression stuff to progress the quest,” says Micrologist. “That was the first thing and then I just took some notes on what stuff could be skipped and what couldn't and just threw together the first ‘run’. I call it a test run on purpose, it wasn't really meant to be a speedrun.”
This first step in the speedrun was literally just figuring out what had to be done to complete the game normally, i.e. without using any glitches or trying to break it in any way. Micrologist along with another runner called Dante put together the first run guides, detailing the things you have to do to advance the game and reach the end. During this time they discovered there was some fairly big RNG involved in terms of randomized locations for some key items. That's never a good thing for speedrunners—the more variables there are, the more luck plays a role alongside skill.
Once a basic run had been figured out for Any% runs, instead of trying to master that route, the community went to work trying to break the game. With some general knowledge of what has worked in other Bethesda games, multiple runners got to work playing around with different systems, and then Micrologist discovered a bit of tech that has formed the basis for a lot of the exploits that have been developed since.
“I was just messing around in third person because I noticed that the punch animation actually moves your character,” explains Micrologist. “That was my first hint that third person [view] might be interesting. I was just pressing random buttons and jumping and punching. At some point during that whole sequence my character, it looked like they teleported, but it was just jumping a huge distance within one frame. And that was kind of the first recorded zip but we didn't really understand anything at that point. It was literally just random inputs.”
Micrologist discovered that by jumping with a melee weapon and blocking in the air while in third-person view, you could "zip" forward a considerable distance. At first, there was a lot of confusion about how this worked and if it could be done repeatedly and consistently, but it did seem to be one of the fastest ways to move around in the game. Further experiments backed up the idea that it was a physical move through space rather than a teleport, however, meaning there was still a missing piece of the speedrun puzzle: something that could get you through walls.
After hours of attempts by a number of different runners, it was discovered that a combination of quick saving, photo mode, and what is thought to be a near frame-perfect input could get you through some walls and into crucial out-of-bounds areas. It was inconsistent, but it was possible, and this opened up a world of speedrunning potential.
In most Bethesda games, if you drop out of the map it will reset you to either a centre point or a location directly above where you fell out of the map. It's a failsafe to make sure you aren’t falling forever, placing you safely back where you should be. But in some locations, you can skip massive parts of the game if you fall in just the right place. The first real example was in the All That Money Can Buy quest, in the Slayton Aerospace HQ, and now top players can hit this consistently.
“By clipping through this wall, we fall in a way that is directly underneath a staircase that's at the very, very top [of the level] and at the top of that staircase is where the trigger to start one of the later quests is,” explains Espie, a runner who has been working on this tech.
Then most of the work shifted to trying to find other locations where this would be both possible and beneficial to the run, with many runners such as ZumoDePapaya and Harc jumping in to offer their discoveries. A few more useful areas have been found, and Espie discovered that in some places you don’t need to do the quick save and photo mode tricks, you can just clip straight through a wall, which makes things much easier.
Since the discovery of the clipping tech, there have only been a couple of new glitches or big changes to the run, with most of the community focus now being on how to maximise the clips to cut out sections of the game, or simply optimise the already discovered areas. The hilarious clip of a player throwing a grenade before a cutscene has even proven useful, with this concept being implemented in one area early on to save a few seconds.
And already players seem to have found a way of moving that may even be faster than the zip already discovered. Weirdly, and no one seems 100% sure why this works, binding your jump key to a modifier key such as Shift or Alt, allows you to boost further using your boost pack, which is so far the quickest way to move around. Then thanks to the widely publicised ability to steal things from locked areas with some close to pixel-perfect tricks, you can actually get the boost pack you need right at the start of the game. It’s almost as if Bethesda wanted runners to find it!
But still things are really just getting started, and new developments are happening all the time. Even as I was writing this article, I got a message saying another major skip has been found, this time related to landing your ship in a very specific location during The Old Neighborhood quest . The speedrunning community is still figuring out how best to do it, but over the past day or so people seem to be hitting it pretty consistently, and when it works it can be used to skip eight quests, although some of those had already been skipped with other methods. Crucially, there is talk that this skip might not be considered a glitch, so could be used in any future glitchless runs
Only one run has used it so far, but that playthrough from Dante clocked in at just under 58 minutes, breaking the hour mark for Any%, and runners believe there is still plenty of room to improve on that further.
You can expect times to continue to tumble from here, and with more and more people joining the community every day, they're only going to keep discovering greater, weirder techniques. Already, Starfield speedruns couldn't be more different from a normal playthrough, and I can't wait to see the strange realms they break into over the coming weeks, months, and even years. Stay tuned to PC Gamer—we'll be back to check in on the best runs and times once the Speedrun.com leaderboards open on September 20.