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Apparently The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's Blackreach Wasn't Originally Supposed To Exist

Joseph Bradford Updated: Posted:
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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has achieved meme status thanks to many of its iconic lines as well as Todd Howard's insistence it live on literally any device able to run a game. However, one of the most defining features of the fifth installment of the RPG series wasn't originally supposed to exist.

Speaking with USA Today FTW's Cian Maher, lead level designer at Bethesda Joel Burgess lifted the veil some on one of the most iconic locations in Skyrim: Blackreach. The subterranean cavern which houses Falmer, ruined Dwemer cities and giant glowing mushrooms helped break up some of the montony of the vast tundra of Skyrim and provided some of the most unique locations players could explore in the RPG. However, the cavern which has also been recreated in The Elder Scrolls Online recently in the Greymoor chapter, was never supposed to be in the game. 

"Part of the reason why that is, is not necessarily because we all sat and said like, 'We're smart, we're gonna make this big thing that we're not gonna tell anybody about," Burgess explained to FTW. He continued:

"It happened because it wasn’t supposed to exist. Blackreach was to be very clear not my idea, not Purkey’s (Nate Purkeypile), the artist who helped start it with me. Blackreach was an older idea that predated Skyrim in The Elder Scrolls lore. I think it was Bruce Nesmith, who was a design director, who had the idea to have this big, underground cavernous space that was meant to be kind of a highway that connected the different Dwarven dungeons.”

The spark for what would become the building blocks that allowed Blackreach to even be something the team could build can be traced all the way back to Burgess' work on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Working on the dungeons for the RPG, Burgess tells FTW that it simply consisted of cobbling together assets in the game's engine to quickly build different - albeit similar - dungeons. However, Burgess and a co-worker started to experiment with dungeon design starting with an Ayleid ruin near the start of Oblivion: Vilverin. 

As far as Blackreach goes, the cavern is celebrated as being a location that was a true hidden joy to find. USA Today points out that the region was never in any of the marketing for Skyrim, and there is really little in-game about the location. Another major aspect which Maher points out as to why Blackreach is such an enduring location in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a lot to do with the mystery surrounding the Dwemer and what exactly happened to them. 

While ten years on it's hard to thing that if you've played Skyrim you've not found this area yet, and with the marketing push of The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor it's hard to avoid it as it takes up so much of that expansion's real estate (40% of the playable area in Greymoor). But it's interesting to think of how both Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls Online might be today if Blackreach didn't exist.

The entire interview is outrageously interesting and gives a glimpse into how dungeon and level design evolved throughout the years at one of the top game dev studios. You can read the whole interview here.


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Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore