On the eve of the current generation, Bethesda was considered one of the darlings of the industry. Besides publishing a few gems like Dishonored and Wet, they had Bethesda Softworks firing on all cylinders. It may have been a two-cylinder engine, but it pumped out Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles back to back, to critical acclaim. The hype behind them reached fever pitch when Skyrim launched in 2011 and found true mainstream acclaim. This generation has been a bit of a bumpy road for Bethesda though.
It started out with the publisher venturing into MMO territory. The Elder Scrolls Online launched in 2014, and whilst the game is in pretty good stead by now, some launch decisions were questionable. First off, they went with a subscription-based model, which was quickly phased out following an underwhelming launch. Content was also an issue around release. This problem has since been addressed with lots of DLC and numerous expansion packs released in the last five years. The Elder Scrolls Online has thrived post-launch, but early impressions hold weight, and it was a shaky start to the generation for Bethesda.
Save Player 1
Following this, the company had a great run, putting single-player at the core of their efforts. Wolfenstein: The New Order was a fantastic return for the long-dormant series, putting Machine Games on the map. The following year Fallout 4 launched, and whilst it may not have reached the lofty heights of its predecessor, it was well-received at launch. 2016 reintroduced DOOM to the world, and what a return to form it was. Not to mention a solid sequel to Dishonored also launched that year from Arkane. Two years ago, we got a brilliant sequel to Wolfenstein, along with a second Evil Within game from Tango Gameworks. Things were looking very good for Bethesda, with a stable of established IP from partner studios bolstering their own efforts with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. New IP was coming too, with Bethesda working internally on a new franchise called Starfield.
Then, their focus began to shift. The Elder Scrolls branched out to mobile with the release of Blades, and Fallout got bit by the live service bug with Fallout 76. They even turned Wolfenstein into a bland co-op shooter, focused on stats and levels over blowing up bad guys. The company that once advertised their Game Awards promo with “Save Player 1” had indeed abandoned single player. Multiplayer offerings for Fallout and Wolfenstein aren’t necessarily bad in theory, but Bethesda’s execution with both has been shocking. Wolfenstein: Youngblood was padded out with repetitive co-op sections and bullet-sponge enemies. It was also packed full of skins as a way to introduce microtransactions to the series. It didn’t help that the game was just dull too, and stood nowhere near Machine Games’ previous efforts.
Again, the idea of a mobile Elder Scrolls game isn’t a bad one. The mobile market is huge, and Bethesda can capitalize by bringing that IP to it. However, at launch Blades had egregious wait times for its chest system. The two chest variants (basically loot boxes) were tied to three and six-hour wait times. This meant that whilst players could earn these through gameplay they’d have to wait to open them. That’s unless of course, they paid for the privilege. On top of this, the game was monetized in a way that compared it to the worst offenders on mobile.
With Fallout 76, where do we even begin? The concept of an NPC-less Fallout abandons most of the series’ core traits before we get started. Then, in typical Bethesda fashion the game released in a barely functioning state, with countless server issues and progress bugs. Once players had waded through these issues, what was left was a shell of a Fallout game. So much of the series’ personality had been lost through a lack of meaningful story, characters and questlines. I’m not one to champion Bethesda often, because I’m a gameplay-first type of player, but their stories can be brilliant. Fallout 76 picked live service over deep single-player stories and the latter is the only place where Bethesda as a studio really shine.
Then, there was controversy outside of the game itself. Players who ordered the collector’s edition of Fallout 76 received a product not-as-advertised. The heavy-duty canvas bag, as seen in the product pictures, was replaced by a substitute made up of an almost comically-flimsy material. It took Bethesda over SIX months to rectify the issue. This was despite customers shelling out no small fee for the “premium” edition. You’d think that with the myriad of issues both in the game and surrounding it, Bethesda would work their absolute socks off to reward players post-launch, or at least make their initial purchase seem worthwhile.
Enter, Fallout 1st! Bethesda’s answer to all your problems! So long as you don’t want any problems being fixed and don’t mind shelling out $100 for the privilege. This subscription service does indeed try to remedy some longstanding community issues like private servers and more loot space. However on launch, players are reporting that some features of Fallout 1st simply don’t work, so it’s not really addressing player requests just yet. Oh, and when the community requested these features, it was assumed they would be free for people who had stuck with this game for almost a year.
And here lies the issue; when will Bethesda learn? It’s one thing to miss the mark with a live service-d entry into a popular series, but it’s another to charge an astronomical fee to fix it a year later. A lot of players are looking forward to games like Starfield and the next Elder Scrolls, but after Blades, Fallout 76 and Wolfenstein: Youngblood, should they be? All of these games show a Bethesda that has lost their way, and they desperately need to get back on track before some of their famed IP loses its pull in the industry. You can only go so far with Skyrim, and Bethesda is currently on very thin ice. What happened to saving player 1?