Skyrim developer says open world games are worse now because they’re designed like ‘checklists’

Skyrim is over a decade old (Bethesda)

If you’re suffering from open world fatigue, a former Skyrim developer has suggested the tedium is due to the way modern games are designed.

While there’s still some great open world games being made today, between Elden Ring and Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the majority of others have become excessively bloated or uninspired in their design.

This could be down to the fact we’ve seen so many open world games, in the same vein as GTA or Assassin’s Creed over the years, but a former Fallout and Elder Scrolls designer has suggested it’s due to the way modern games are created today.

‘I think a lot of it has to do with the way some open world games are designed, where it is very much that checklist,’ Nate Purkeypile said on the subject.

Purkeypile, who helped create the undercity of Blackreach in Skyrim, said he believes open world games today don’t feel like places you discover anymore.

Speaking to Rock Paper Shotgun, he suggested: ‘That feeling of not really knowing what’s over there and feeling surprised – you don’t really feel like you’re exploring the world, if you’re not actually surprised.’

As for the reasons behind this lack of surprise, Purkeypile says it comes down to the inflated costs and the size of teams making games in the modern era, which makes it harder to prioritise the joys of exploration itself.

‘When you have literally thousands of people working on a game, sometimes you need to be able to have these bite-sized portions of ‘do this, go there’.’ Purkeypile said. ‘It’s very hard to run things at that scale without all those checks and balances and stuff.’

When comparing this with his experience on Skyrim, he added: ‘We were like 100 people back then, and there was lots of trust in the team, where you could just take something and make it your own. Like Blackreach – that was not on the schedule at all. We did it as a skunkworks project on the side, and people saw it and said, oh, that’s really awesome – I guess we should keep it.’

Purkeypile notes how Bethesda’s latest role-playing title, Starfield, was created by ‘500-ish people across four studios’, adding: ‘I think there is still a lot of individual storytelling there, within spaces, and cool places to find, but it is definitely harder at that scale.’

Purkeypile left Bethesda back in 2021, when he was working on Starfield as a lead lighting artist, a move spurred by his desire to work at a smaller scale. He’s currently developing heavy metal horror game The Axis Unseen.

As for the future of Starfield, the sci-fi role-player will receive its first expansion Shattered Space later this year, with even more set to come.

Starfield didn’t quite land as expected (Bethesda)

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