Skyrim Was Generic: The Witcher Devs Discuss Flaws Of Open World RPGs

As a professional courtesy, developers often don't point out the wrongdoings of games they didn't make. They really should though, because when they do, it's incredibly insightful. In an interview with Game Informer, two devs from CD Projekt (The Witcher) take a critical eye to the likes of Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas.

In the QA, a video of which is available on Game Informer, The Witcher 3 game director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz and lead quest designer Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz talk about what they felt was The Witcher 2's main shortcoming — no "freedom of exploration".

"I remember talks during the production of The Witcher 2 about 'Why not implement a horse?'," reveals Mateusz. "But the landscapes were not big enough to really experience the horse. We thought for the next game it would be very cool to have those mechanisms."

He goes on to mention that fans pointed out that protagonist Geralt's horse was an "important element of the books".

Thanks to work done on the streaming technology in CD Projekt's "RED" engine, an open world is very possible in the series' third instalment, though the Tomaszkiewicz brothers want to make sure they get it right. The best way to do that? Analyse the heck out of your competitors. Here's what Konrad had to say about Bethesda's Skyrim:

We are players also and we love open world games ... thinking of the lesson were learned on Skyrim is that you need to care about immersion with the game all the time. You can't show that you got some generic solutions or generic stuff in the game and Skyrim — it was generic. You could make the same quest a few times, and every time, an NPC didn't spot that you made it for him previously. In my opinion to make the simulation, every quest needs to be designed [so] that the NPC reacts to what you're doing.

It doesn't stop with Skyrim — they also take a look at New Vegas and Assassin's Creed III. I won't spoil it here, so head on over to Game Informer to hear the rest of CD Projekt's observations.

Comparing the open world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt [Game Informer]


    Yay!! Acknowledged that the Witcher devs are taking into account my greatest fears!!

      Acknowledgment** I was so excited my brain farted. :D

    They'll get a lot of hate for saying this... but it's true

      doubt it skyrim nv and ac3 were all very generic i got bored with them all very quickly

        Note that he doesn't say that the game itself is generic. He's talking about the structure and setting of the quests that add blandness to the game, and he's completely right.

        As for the rest of the game, I don't think it's that generic. I mean you've got the whole dragons thing and all, but the Nordic theme visible in everything in the game was quite different.

        Also, New Vegas? Generic? Really? And AC3 is set in the revolutionary era. There's not much about that that is generic, considering that there's not really any other games based in that era that aren't RTSes.

          I got bored in NV so fast, no urge to explore etc, everywhere was just some giant bland desert of blandness. Also I've learnt with most bestheda games, if you don't hurry, the bugs will get you.

          Last edited 17/02/13 2:47 pm

            In that case, you got bored too fast to see why the world was interesting.

              No, I don't get bored fast, usually at release bestheda games are so buggy, pushing around the edges and exploring is like poking a shark when you're in the ocean.

              I did actually did a lot in NV, I enjoyed some of the vaults, but a lot of it was just boring desert, long flat walks with scorpions.

                New Vegas is not a Bethesda game. Nor does bugginess have anything to do with boredom.

                In addition, saying New Vegas is just "boring desert and walking" is like saying a medieval open world RPG such as the Witcher or Dark Souls is "just boring castles and dungeons and lots of walking". You're not being specific at all.

                Nor do you seem to understand that genericness and things that contribute to boredom are two very different things. If you found New Vegas' world boring, then fair enough, to each his own. But I don't know why anyone would call it generic. Generic means it's the same as everything else and I can't find many games that are similar to New Vegas, its setting and its features. Aside from other Fallout games, obviously.

                  As a fallout fan I was disappointed in new Vegas. Not be cause its buggy or anything but to me fallout 3 was more appealing. Maybe because it tried to ride the success of fallout 3 but I felt the main story was lacking. It was not as interesting. Skyrim sidequest was better than the main which is their signature style but I would have love a little more oomph to the game if you understand what I'm saying

                  It's a game bestheda made the engine for and published, which I assume involved their usual practice of making sure no one beta tested it. Close enough.

                  In the witcher and Dark souls, the world isn't a mostly flat plain of sand, that stretches out into the horizon. It's pretty generic open world gameplay wise, there's a main quest, which you can go down a few paths at a point and little random stories around the place. The story itself, pretty generic post apocalyptic stuff, as was the world and it's inhabitants.

                  Last edited 17/02/13 5:05 pm

          Are you shitting me? AC3 was the MOST generic of ALL the Assassins Creeds... INCLUDING part 1.

            I hated AC 1, but it held my attention far longer than 3. Ubisoft got lucky with ac2 and brotherhood, the rest is trash

              I loved 2 and Brotherhood. I never completed 1, it bored my underwear off. Revelations bored me to begin with, then got really good, then when I got to the underground city I got bored again massively. Massive case of WTF with that game...

              3 I just found to be bland. It streamlined and dumbed down so much stuff. The map was segmented and broken down after having the open maps of Brotherhood and Revelations, just didn't work for me at all. The fighting was stunted and shit. The running was crap compared to the others... it just didn't work.

            It had a lot of problems. I enjoyed it, admittedly, but I had big problems with that game (Shameless self-advertising: I wrote a review on it. It deserves every piece of criticism it gets. But there's an important distinction to make here, which is genericness and blandness. Was AC3 bland? Yes, it was repetitive, it had boring characters, boring plot, boring ending. But was it generic? I don't think so, there aren't many games where you run around as a native American in revolutionary America, killing redcoats, helping out George Washington, trying to view the world from the eyes of someone who lead a simplistic lifestyle.

            Also, as I was trying to say previously, different aspects of a game can be generic or not, and the game as a whole can be called generic seperate of its mechanics. I think Skyrim's layout is generic, I think the enemies are generic. But I don't think the art style is generic, not the magic system. On the whole I wouldn't call the game generic, because its style and feel stands out from all the rest. I believe the quote in the article is calling Skyrim generic because of its lacking features, not because the premise is generic.

            I agree with you for the most part but I'm not sure generic is the right word to use.

              One of the worst parts to me was you weren't even a full blooded native american, you were halfcast. Why was that even necessary? It eventuated into a big ball of nothing. It would have had more impact to me to have had Connor be a full blood indian than a halfcast. Something minor to some, but a fullblooded indian main character would've been a far bigger achievement in my eyes.

              Last edited 17/02/13 4:50 pm

                Fair enough, but I think the points that needed to be made in that he had a different outlook on civilisation and freedom and whatnot. I don't think his race mattered.

                I guess they wanted him to be half-blooded so that they could have the whole
                and in my opinion, that ended up panning out very well when you did that mission with Haytham.

              I think i'm the only one that loved Assassins's Creed 3...

          I think it's really a problem with the Bethesda engine style that just makes things... ugh.

          I love New Vegas, but the thought of plodding through Oblivion with guns (yes, goddamnit, it really is) reminds me why I never finished it.

          New Vegas had more character than FO3, but that really isn't hard. It's one thing to boast about having a bajillion acres of in-game real estate, but when 90% of that stuff is a good deal of nothing... then we have a problem.

      Not really, most fans of skyrim actually do agree that it is fairly generic and CDP are also no saying that the skyrim or NV or AC3 suck or are terrible

        I love Skyrim... AFTER its been modded to hell. Vanilla skyrim just isn't that good.

      As much as I love Bethesda's games and they have given me some great gaming memories, he's pretty much spot on. It's time to rethink how open world is done.

    Alot of open world games become boring and generic. This is nothing new

    They need to learn a thing or 2 about quests and map layout. The witcher 2 was amazing for most parts, except the lack of quest explanation (or any direction for that matter) and the map.

      And Combat controls......Combat felt so gluggy and off-timed.

      The quest system was just fine. Hell of a lot better than Skyrim where you just instantly know where to go. The Witcher made you think and try and figure out where you needed to go rather than painting a marker over the top of everything.

        DIsagree - quests with subtle clues I can handle. Trying to find a random npc to continue the quest who could be anywhere with no indication of who or where he is, is something totally different.
        There's encouraging exploration, then there's aimlessly searching every building for X npc just to continue the quest. A little direction can go a LONG way.

          When did this happen? There was always a clue as to where you should go. I never had to look at a guide.

          Although this was an issue in the first game, I don't remember having much trouble finding quest NPCs in the Wticher 2. In fact, there aren't many buildings in the game anyway. I personally thought they got the balance perfect.

    "It was generic."
    You keep using that word... I do not think it means what you think it means. From the way they're talking, I'm not sure they "get" the design considerations involved in an open world game.

    If you've got an open world, then you're NOT going to be the guy that affects everything and everyone knows your name and you are the single most important person in everyone's life. That's just as much a break of immersion as Skyrim's repeatable quests.

      Not necessarily, if you spend the game doing a huge amount of notable stuff and by 50 hours in most people know who you are I'd say that's doing it right, or perhaps you save the kingdom... twice... and become bodyguard to the king... and then he gets murdered.. and you get blamed... You don't HAVE to be a random nobody that starts off as a prisoner in every open world game :P

      More on topic, what are you referring to exactly anyway? Remember these guys are polish, I had to work at it a bit to figure what I thought they meant, I think they get the idea of what they mean across even if some words weren't spot on. Personally I found the structure and many of the gameplay elements of Skyrim very generic, still really enjoyed the game, but there weren't really any design choices that made me sit up an go 'holy crap that's novel!' But then I suppose that's going to be subjective, depending on how many and what sort of games people have played *shrug*

        As pointed out below, The Witcher was every bit as guilty of being generic as Skyrim with its quest design - a bucketload of the quests made me feel like I was playing a single player MMORPG. Kill X of Y. Collect W of Z by killing A. It doesn't get much more uninspired than that. The only difference between that and Skyrim is that Skyrim allows you to repeat those quests. While I'm only part way through the Witcher 2, it does seem better, but there's still a fair amount of pot calling the kettle black here.

        In Witcher 1, Geralt sort of saves Vizima, but there's a *lot* of undesirable carnage along the way. Outside of that city, I wouldn't expect anyone to give a toss about him, and even inside, he's treated like much more of a hero that he really has a right to be, all things considered. The devs feel like they're trying to make some valid points, but the language barrier doesn't seem to be doing them any favours.

        Also, trying to create a heavily structured story experience combined with open world play with full reactivity requires more programming effort and/or limitations than a game without the open world. Too much freedom and your main story feels a bit weak and underdeveloped (Skyrim), too little freedom and the players feel hamstrung and railroaded (AC3). It's a short interview, but to me it just comes across as a little bit of a shallow analysis of the conflicting design elements. I'm not saying it can't be done - because it can, but it requires a lot more effort and a lot more consideration than this interview suggests they're giving it.

    Regarding Skyrim - the Daedric side quest with the little dog was a real highlight.

      Bloody oath. But that was really thinking outside the box. There's a couple of missions like that. The Dog, getting pissed in the bar etc. When they *dared* to do things like that, it was hilariously fun, the random encounters that happened due to getting drunk, such as the lizard man running up and telling you you owed him 10k due to him stealing a leather cap from a camp, due to you daring him to when pissed? Was a stroke of genius... more of that needed to happen. Unfortunately it didn't :(


        The Dark Brotherhood faction quest line was generally intriguing. The quest to initlally gain their attention was sinister and quite confronting - a boy evoking the need for someone to come a knock off his evil teacher. Ha!

      There really is nothing generic about the world of Skyrim but the Radiant Story AI just isn't encommpassing as they said it was going to be and the randomly generated quests are totally generic in desgin too. It's generic gameplay in a fantastic world of lore. There is Nothing generic about the Fallout universe either and New Vegas had the same kind of faction based struggles Witcher had. If CD Projeckt Red think they can do a better open world game I'd like to see it because Witcher 1 on the NWN2 engine was great, but their second effort was a nasty camera battling clickfest with terribad visuals.

        Agree 100%

    Not that Skyrim isn't disappointingly generic, but it's a bit rich coming from a Witcher dev. Witcher 1 and 2 were such totally generic fantasy worlds it was difficult to think of how they could be any more cliche. They think including constant nudity and references to rape makes their game more "mature", it just makes it seem like they're trying too hard.

    Racial tensions between humans and non-humans? Check. A brooding effeminate protagonist with long hair? Check. Middle ages style euro-centric setting? Check. Lots of contrived, made up names like "Scoiatel" and "Aerdim"? Check. Taverns with cheerful fiddle music? Check.

    And my eyes almost rolled out of their sockets when Witcher 2 introduced the elf sitting on a log in the forest playing the flute. Some of the stuff in these games is just plain cringeworthy.

    Srsly guys, glass houses and all that.

      First time I've seen someone try to argue that The Witcher was generic.

      There's very little about the Witcher's setting that makes you say "wow, this is something I've never seen before". And this is pretty true of Skyrim too. Both games are extremely inspired by spheres of fantasy design. But he was talking about the quests.

      To be honest the quests in The Witcher were extremely dull and predictable 'go here, collect 20 of these'. There's also a series of arm wrestling quests, and SRAM wrestling is a mini-game.

      I think The Witcher is just as guilty as Skyrim of uninspiring quests, I actually found myself less interested in completing Witcher side quests compared to the guild quests in Skyrim.

      Having said all of this, I think Zthe Witcher 2 and Skyrim are both high quality fantasy games that I enjoyed immensely. They each do something different and they ech do their thing REALLY well.

        totally agree, but i think also everyone is missing the point was the specifics of generic in immersion. repeatable quests make sense - a woodsman might need help with cutting wood and catching game.. and would want help all the time. but it'd be pretty boring if he said the same thing every time you asked for the quest, every time you finished the quest or greeted you like the first time he greeted you, every time you spoke to him. but what CD projekt are talking about is extended and reactive dialogue. i wonder what the cost-benefit of the randomness is when half the players will never experience all the dialogue trees to create character and immersion.

      I don't agree the games are generic. All the things you've mentioned are generic in isolation,, but you've missed the fact it's because the Witcher character is a subversion of the classic Polish fables. So yes, it has all the cliched trappings of genre, but the actual execution is far from generic.

        Skyrim is also a subversion of the classic Nordic legends :/

        Last edited 18/02/13 1:19 pm

          No its not. Skyrim is inspired by the Nordic legends, whereas the Witcher series intentionally warps them to changes the morality of the characters.

            Like Skyrim.

              It warps them, but not for the same reason. It is not a subversion. To clarify - the Witcher stories are almost entirely re-imaginings of the classics, like Beauty and the Beast, except the Beast is basically a generous guy who like company and the beauty is a vampire. Consequently, you have all the trappings of a cliched fantasy, but the execution intentionally defies genre conventions.

              That's completely different to Skyrim, which I would describe as being 'loosely inspired by' Nordic legends in the same way the LotR is loosely inspired by northern european stories.

              Last edited 20/02/13 2:15 pm

      Yes, I prefer my taverns with cheerful dubstep too!

      Agree 100%. Also, the Witcher games are incredibly linear as well. Fable 2 & 3 are less linear! Love'em all though.

    "... and Skyrim — it was generic." Agreed so much. The game was just bland. It didn't even feel like a TES game.

    Well, really, all open-world games suffer from the same problems. And while I like what they're going on about in terms of immersion, I think all open-world games must strive to do one thing.

    Be interesting.

    It can be through the world, either through by making a player invested enough in the world and then change it in accordance to the plot (which appears to be their objective, which is good) or easy on the eyes. Or, you could make the quests interesting. Skyrim was bland, yes, but some quests stood out, as mentioned above. Same with Fallout, although NV was more interesting quests than locations and 3 vice versa. Saint's Row 3 had pretty crazy-ass missions that kept a man on his toes, but you didn't give a damn about the city. Sleeping Dogs had both a refreshing change of pace and a interesting plot, although admittingly the city got kind of copy and paste after a while and the side-missions weren't amazing.

    So, yeah. Just make it interesting.

    Whoof, I type better when I drink.

    EDIT: ALso, I'm just going on record that maybe they could'a talked about this, but the original link was to a video and I could'nt be bothered. Point's still valid, though.

    Last edited 17/02/13 9:23 pm

    I don't think Skyrim was very generic, simply because the only games that I can think of that went for the same level of scope and immersion were Oblivion and Morrowind. We get very few open world, non-linear games that let you go do just about anything you want. Yeah, a lot of the quests weren't that interesting but you don't need to do them to get a full experience. I have friends who have spent well over 100 hours in Skyrim and still haven't finished the main story, and I could go on for hours about how good some of the mods are. You simply don't get other games like this.
    With that out of the way I think if CD Projekt RED say they're going to make a game bigger and better than Skyrim, they're going to do just that. Can't wait.

    Last edited 17/02/13 10:02 pm

      I think he means the quests were quite generic, not the overall game. I love Skyrim, but with the exception of the Dark brotherhood quest line in Oblivion, the quest structure has been the same since Morrowind: go to location x, fight to bottom of dungeon, collect/complete mcguffin. They use this generic structure constantly, with the reason for doing it changing slightly depending on the quest giver. Nonetheless, Skyrim gets away with it, because the game is ultimately about exploration.

      I don't think a story driven game like the Witcher can get away with this sort of structure.

    Skyrim has some VERY glaring flaws, and is somewhat generic with some highlights... New Vagas on the other hand is the best Fallout since Fallout 2- while buggy as shit, has some bland bits but is mostly quite good and it needs some credit. Assassins Creed I don't have much experience on, but the first and second were quite so-so in my opinion.

    I never finished the Witcher so I actually shouldn't be the one to compare the two. Here's what I should have said in my post:
    I prefer The Elder Scrolls over the Witcher. I like open worlds, simple menus and large modding communities. The Witcher never gave me that experience so after I tried playing it I went back to Oblivion. I know some people prefer The Witcher style of game, the flashy graphics, the complex gameplay or whatever else was awesome about the game. I don't think CD Projekt RED should criticize Skyrim because they've never made a game on the same level of scope as Skyrim, yet.

    Last edited 18/02/13 10:54 pm

    I thought Skyrim's art style itself was incredibly generic and bland.

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