For so long, Bethesda had the love and admiration of the gaming industry. We were brainwashed into thinking "Hey, bugs are funny” as we sat, hard-locked into a rock of the Capital Wasteland, realising our last manual save was ten hours ago.
The world loved their two main franchises, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Nowadays, though, after monstrosities such as Fallout 76 (which although hyped massively, fell flat, straight through the floorboards and into the flooded basement) Bethesda are struggling to scrape up any of that goodwill still laying around from yesteryear.
Perhaps it all seems a bit exaggerated, but consumers have been burned too many times in the past few years. From games like Anthem and the ancient No Man’s Sky, to the failing of Bethesda as a publisher in games like Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and everything regarding the aforementioned Fallout 76.
As someone who called themselves a die-hard Bethesda fan for a long time, I thought I’d take the time to reflect and confess some of my doubts and criticisms I was too frightened to say before.
I’ll be going over the controversies, the failings and the successes of Bethesda as a whole throughout the years.
Let me know down in the comments how you found being a Bethesda fan, have you noticed the slow decline in quality, or are you happy enough with some power armour and spellbook?
10. Coming To Terms With Fallout 4
Fallout 4 was an absolute success, perhaps not always critically, but financially the game is said to have made over $2 billion. So, why does this need to be a confession?
Well, a lot of Fallout fans, more specifically, RPG fans, felt that Fallout 4 was a step in the wrong direction. Although the visual and technical aspects of the game flourished; looking more colourful and adding more mechanics like crafting, upgrading and building. Many players were disappointed how the game took a huge step back in regards to role-playing elements.
The game focused more on factions and a linear story as opposed to choices and actions you could make. Or lack thereof, as there really weren’t many in comparison to that of Fallout 3, and especially New Vegas. Levelling had been shrunk down even further, skill points were out, and your best bet at role-playing was your SPECIAL layout.
Still, I fully accept Fallout 4 for what it is. Not necessarily the best Fallout game, but a fun, enjoyable action adventure with a slightly confusing story.
Though… perhaps this push into a more streamlined, mainstream product was the first seeds into Bethesda leaving true RPGs behind?
9. Bethesda’s Most Well-Received Game Was Created By Someone Else
I can only imagine that this one still irks someone at Bethesda. Some director; some higher-up has to know that New Vegas, a game developed by Obsidian, is the best-received, most beloved entry in the Fallout franchise.
Even more so because Bethesda gave the developers an 18 month window to finish every aspect of the game and have it ready to be shipped. Luckily, you can’t name a better duo than a Fallout game and bugs, so there was some wiggle room there in regards to Obsidian's QA.
New Vegas is the game people look back on with well-earned nostalgia, because you really could make choices that had an impact on the world and how characters treated you. Which skills and SPECIAL stats you chose affected the game on a ground level. This idea even going so far as to make your dialogue trees more difficult if you chose low intelligence, grunting and shouting out random nonsense in any given conversation.
The game is stellar, rich in areas to explore and besides the expected bugs and decaying visuals, it’s still worth a replay alongside Bethesda Softworks' Fallout 3.
8. The Many Remasters And Repackages Of Skyrim
This confession proves I’m part of the problem, but I’m trying, okay?
I didn’t buy Fallout 76, I learned my lesson and I waited. What more do you want from a recovering Bethesda addict?
Skyrim, in fact, suffered from the same criticisms that Fallout 4 did. Yet once again, it was the highest-selling in the franchise due to its ability to meet a much larger audience.
A larger audience isn't inherently a bad thing, but is it always good for the player? Particularly when it sacrifices those ever-elusive role-playing elements and depth in regard to spells, quest-lines and options that previous titles, such as Morrowind and Oblivion had. Though, you do have to understand where Bethesda are coming fro- oh god, I’m doing it again.
Streamlined or not, lack of RPG elements and meaningful choices aside, the game is still fun and enjoyable for countless hours, most notably the many fleshed out side-quests.
Skyrim and Fallout 4 go hand-in-hand, really.
Each show the regression of Bethesda as a power in the RPG world, and more so a force in gaming overall, trying to reach as large a market as possible.
7. Secretly Preferring Fallout 3 Over New Vegas Anyway
Get your pitchforks ready, because I am wholeheartedly one of the weirdos who prefers Fallout 3 to New Vegas.
“Why?!” you might shout, “Fallout: New Vegas is the better game, your choices matter and you can actuall-“
Hold on a second, and I’ll explain.
Fallout 3 felt like a wasteland, which is what every fan says but I mean it, quite literally. There weren’t factions and armies and wacky antagonists round every corner. Sure, there were crazy characters such as the Mechanist vs. the AntAgonizer, Dukov, Dave and that little s**t Mayor MacCready, but you had to earn your interactions with them.
What does it mean to earn an interaction? Well, my biggest arguing point is this, Fallout: New Vegas’ story takes you into, through or close to all the major settlements, if it doesn’t do so directly, then it’ll show you someone who can. As a result, a lot of playthroughs can feel very same-y, like you’re simply following a path.
Fallout 3 doesn’t do that, all of the best characters and settlements are way, way off the beaten track. Think of Oasis, Reilly’s Rangers, Temple of the Union, even Agatha’s Song; these quests all felt doubly-meaningful because you had to go well out of your way to experience them.
6. Is Starfield Going To Be More Of The Same?
All I have to say to justify this question is that Starfield, Bethesda Softworks' first new series in 25 years and their next-gen IP will be running on the same, albeit updated, engine they’ve been using since Morrowind.
Some people will take this as an exaggeration; a cheap shot, and they’ll choose to focus on the fact it’s labelled as updated, but it's true.
Bethesda have used the same engine since Morrowind, but back then it was known as Gamebryo. From Skyrim onwards they used the Creation Engine, which is more or less the same but with bits tacked on.
For example, the fact that Fallout 76's multiplayer ran so poorly makes a lot of sense when you think about how the engine was originally meant for an immersive, solo RPG experience, not dozens of real players and nuclear launches.
As with The Elder Scrolls VI, we’ve heard almost nothing about Starfield since its announcement at E3 2018. We’ve got a nice, atmospheric trailer with a beautiful score, but no actual knowledge of what the game will be about, besides a next-gen space experience.
It's worrying, considering most would assume "next-gen" meant a new engine, not the same thing they build Elder Scrolls III on.
5. Are Mods Really Necessary?
This one’s tough to admit, particularly as I know the biggest advantage to the god awful engine still being used is its mod support.
Gamebryo, Creation Engine, the GECK, all of these things are there to support and help the modding community, for better or worse. They’re able to add so much with these tools.
Some choose to create full-length, quality expansions worthy of their portfolio, others… turn dragons into Thomas the Tank Engine. So it’s fair to say there’s absolutely something for everyone when it comes to mods.
Most importantly, though, are the insane efforts to fix Bethesda’s broken games, creating up-to-date and what most would deem mandatory fan-patches that really smooth out the experience.
So, why haven’t I ever played a mod? One word, achievements. I fear for them ever clashing with my journey to attain 100% completion of any achievement list.
Sure, you could argue that some won’t clash and what’s more, you could simply play with mods after you’re done with the game. I completely agree, that’s the beauty of mods. They add amazing longevity for people who want to play more, or don’t have the money to play other games. However, I'd rather move onto a new game than play Skyrim for a third time.
4. Looking At Bethesda As A Whole
Looking at Bethesda as a publisher now, you can really start to appreciate a lot more than just 20 years of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout.
We have DOOM, which was and still is praised for its technical achievements and fun combat, as well as the Dishonored franchise, which is without a doubt my favourite thing Bethesda has ever touched, and I’m glad Dishonored 3 isn’t coming any time soon. There's also the smaller Fallout Shelter, which is still the best mobile game I’ve ever played, and the list goes on. From Prey, an immersive sim not in space, not too unlike Dishonored, with a heavier focus on alien species, and Wolfenstein, which we’ll get to.
Incredible developers such as Arkane, id Software and MachineGames, to a degree, are the reason why I still hold onto a slither of hope for Bethesda as a whole. The publisher having green-lit and supported legitimate masterpieces that innovate in their field, particularly the games mentioned above.
From there, you can have hope for future titles like Doom Eternal and we can strongly, loudly ignore the disappointment that was Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
Hell, they’re even investing in board games for both Fallout Shelter and Dishonored, keeping the IP very much alive in between bigger releases.
3. Are Youngblood And 76 Hints On What's To Come?
With every good game that comes out of Bethesda, comes a seemingly mediocre or outright mess that sparks controversy and outrage.
Rage 2, for example, not great but nowhere near as bad as some, it was met with lukewarm responses and forgotten in 2019. Wolfenstein: Youngblood, on the other hand, is my sole reason for now being worried about everything published by Bethesda.
Say what you will about New Colossus’ shift from gameplay to story-focused, it was well-written and a fun, if not very cinematic experience.
The same cannot be said for Youngblood. It seems like a cash-grab, a poor attempt to squeeze as much out of the title’s goodwill as possible before moving onto the next franchise. Four hours stretched into twelve, made to be a grind and featuring progression-based microtransactions. Youngblood is a game that will be remembered with Fallout 76.
Enough about Wolfenstein, though. Let’s look forward, and what’s next? Doom Eternal.
Personally, I have hope for the new Doom. Especially with its trailers showcasing interesting spins on traversal, map design and new gameplay elements; I’m wanting more of the same with a bit of fresh paint. However, I had the same sentiments for Youngblood, just with a lot more excitement, and I was sorely disappointed.
2. What Will Be The Fate Of Elder Scrolls VI?
Among Starfield, I feel that The Elder Scrolls VI is my biggest worry in Bethesda titles.
It’s not so much that Bethesda needs a random guy to worry about them, especially not their sales, because I’m pretty sure Todd could expose his posterior at E3 2022 and Elder Scrolls VI would still sell a billion copies.
My point is: No matter what, you’ll still buy it. I’ll still buy it, even with the dated engine, bad blood and bugs, and why?
Because we don’t want to miss out.
Rockstar are a prime example of the, “Sell an event, not a video game” strategy, in that Grand Theft Auto doesn’t come out very often.
When it does, just like a Fallout or an Elder Scrolls, we all want to be able to experience it.
The big difference between Rockstar and Bethesda Softworks, however, is that they earn it through serious innovation and dedication that delivers a smooth experience. Bethesda earned the same by making comfy, passable role-playing games a decade ago that only got better because of nostalgia.
That’s why I worry for Elder Scrolls VI. I just don’t think the goodwill is going to carry them through a mediocre, bug-ridden RPG this time.
1. Somehow, Still Wanting To Try Fallout 76
For all intents and purposes, launch Fallout 76 was not good, and to most, it's still is not good enough. It was hyped first and rushed out second, trying to get as many people onboard with a multiplayer Fallout as possible.
Bethesda banked on co-op play alone holding the game up, instead of adding story elements that weren’t given by either holotape or robots.
That’s right: On launch there were no human NPCs in the game.
A year or so later they did, in fact, rectify this by adding events and updates which brought new areas and characters, so it’s fair to say they’ve learned thei-
No, apparently not.
As well as missing story and a shoddy implementation of PvP - and yes, lack of canvas bags - they tried to push their luck further.
Bethesda announced Fallout 1st, a $13 monthly subscription for private server access (which didn't work) and other exclusives, holding their hands out for even more.
Yet, after all that, it’s still a Fallout game, and the fan inside me wants to try it - even more so with Bethesda announcing better Steam integration for their exclusive games such as Fallout 76.
Is... is this what addiction feels like?