The Rise & (Hopefully not) Fall of Bethesda
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Once upon a time, my favourite game developer/publisher was Bethesda. Under their umbrella, they have produced and published some of the finest video games ever created. Obviously I hope you have noticed the past tense in which I worded my initial statement. A few years ago I indeed waxed lyrical about Bethesda, in particular, Bethesda Game Studios, being my favourite developer. (Bethesda Article).
However, over the past 3 years, they have started down a path that I both find distasteful and harmful. Firstly I would like to dip my toes back into the water of a few years back when Bethesda was, in my opinion, at their best. They had published and / or created, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas (obsidian dev) The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. All of these games reviewed & sold extremely well. Some would argue that they are indeed some of the best games ever created. Bethesda was on fire and could seemingly do no wrong. Skip forward to 10th of November 2015 and Bethesda released to, mainly solid reviews and a boatload of sales, Fallout 4.
I personally loved Fallout 4 but the game marked a change in direction for the company. Fallout 4 was no longer an RPG, it was now an action RPG. Elements of speech and some other aspects were dumbed down or even removed making the game a lot more geared up for an action approach as opposed to a traditional RPG. In terms of sales, this was a masterstroke and the game itself the last time I checked was sitting at almost 1 billion dollars worth of sales. Bethesda had a smash hit on their hands once again even although many fans were disappointed in the direction they chose to go in. To be fair you may be thinking that the switch to a more action-oriented game was the beginning of the end for Bethesda but this element is not the so-called catalyst for their recent downturn in reputation.
The introduction of the creation club first appeared in Fallout 4 and then subsequently in the further release of Skyrim Special Edition. This marked new territory for Bethesda as they now had their own store filled with microtransactions. All of the MTX available within the club were available for purchase with real-world currency with many items not being available within the game itself. Exploring the game world on either game wouldn't matter even if you REALLY REALLY wanted to seek out that new skin. Too many, and at that point myself included, we didn't really pay much attention to it. I had already played over 400 hours of Fallout 4 and dumped another 50 or so into Skyrim (300+ on PS3). It was more of a novelty as it did include with it the option of mods albeit in fairly limited form. Time passed and not much occurred. The creation club continued to churn out skins and other seemingly harmless content accessible with hard cash. There was no pay to win options here and because they were games that myself and many others were essentially done with, the creation club seemed to skate under the surface for many gamers.
Moving on a few years later and we arrive at a new take on the Fallout franchise. A brand new online multiplayer called Fallout 76. Naturally being a huge fan of the franchise I was intrigued. Not being a huge online gamer I was understandably a little disappointed as I genuinely thought they had somehow snuck another single-player Fallout spin-off passed everyone. Remembering Obsidian knocked it out of the park when they produced Fallout New Vegas. Alas, it was not to be and Fallout 76 was born. As more and more details emerged, the more and more apprehensive I became, however, through all of the info and trailers released, there seemed to be some hope or light at the end of the tunnel.
Bethesda announced there would be a BETA available a month or so before launch. Excitement ran through me like I had soaked up or swallowed a bolt of lightning. 1.21 gigawatts of pure excitement no less. I couldn't help myself, after all this was and still is a Fallout game.
I, of course, took part in the BETA but after my initial elation of playing a brand new Fallout game, I began to deconstruct my experience in addition to thinking more clearly about the monetization of the game. Fallout 76 was in a poor state during the beta and I experienced huge framerate issues, a host of crashes and more bugs than any of Bethesda previous games put together. With that said, in my head I justified it as a BETA and thought, giving them the benefit of my fandom, that they would fix most of the issues in a short space of time. Obviously not thinking clearly I placed a pre-order with amazon for their special edition version of the game Retailing at £49.99. I was committed, this was Fallout, after all, one of my favourite franchises.
The time passed fairly quickly and it was launch day. After the day one patch had installed I booted the game up only to be met with some bugs in respect of the character I had created from the beta but also the other issues I spoke of before. Framerate drops were the same as previous or even more so in some areas. Bugs and glitches were happening all over the place. I was confused to be sure but powered on none the less. I reached around level 15 or 16 after having put in around 20 hours into the game and decided to leave it alone for a few weeks to see if the incoming and subsequent patches would improve my experience.
After 4 weeks I tried the game again having much optimism that they would have improved the game vastly. To be sure, there were obvious improvements to all aspects of the game but most of the issues still remained, albeit in a SLIGHTLY lesser form. Some of the glitches and bugs from Fallout 4 were still evident and this was no surprise considering Bethesda are still using the elements of the creation engine that handled all of their previous games.
At this stage, other games were pulling my attention away and I left the game alone until recently. Halfway through September of this year, I thought, "months have passed, surely it's ok now". Well, in all honesty after booting up Fallout 76 I can say that most issues still remain in some form or another. Yes, it has made improvements but those improvements didn't impress me in the way I had hoped. I ploughed another 10 hours into the game having to again stop playing it due to frustrating technical issues.
Another contributing factor for my title suggesting that the fall of Bethesda is nigh is their Atomic Shop within Fallout 76. I personally abhor microtransactions of any type and genuinely feel there are better, more moral, ways of monetizing games. I am not alone in this opinion but sadly from my perspective not enough people feel the same way. Due to many online multiplayer games having their own shop and even a subscription, that I will talk about later, many people may wonder why I am ranting about Bethesda. Many companies in the past and to date have a similar model to Bethesda in terms if monetization. Well, this is Bethesda's first jump into that market and a company I know and love making this move saddens me.
Circling back to "The Atomic Shop" my main issue with it when you remove my hatred for microtransactions, is that it is overpriced in my opinion. I am not going down a comparison route here with other companies and haven't looked into their prices on their stores for skins etc but my instant reaction was, and still is, that they are overpricing the content on the store. This opinion is held by many publications and individuals, not just a small band of so-called "dissidents".
Many times we have heard Bethesda roll out the line that they listen to their fans. This is a party line from them and has been uttered by the main players at Bethesda like Todd Howard and Pete Hines.
This brings me onto my next point, Fallout 1st. Echoing my previous point Bethesda stated in a press release that they listened to fan feedback and that Fallout 1st is there attempt to deal with the requests and needs of their client base. It seems extremely strange that a consumer base who were/are extremely unhappy and annoyed with Fallout 76 would somehow magically change mindset causing them to jump at the chance to throw more cash Bethesda's way. This is compounded by the fact that over many months and through various press releases & interviews with Bethesda employees, they said they would keep a close eye on monetization not including or locking elements behind paywalls and also not including pay to win options.
To clarify, the pay to win statement, this is "technically" true but having repairs kits and a few other items that improve a players performance within a game is cutting a very fine line when talking about pay to win. All, or most of the elements of Fallout 1st were quoted as coming to the game and that they would, in fact, be free updates. Bethesda is taking a very poor tact here by trying to pull the wool over its consumer's eyes. A little white lie here or there and everything will be fine is probably their current mantra.
How do we combat this? How can the fans let Bethesda know that this type of subterfuge and underhand behaviour is not on? Well considering Bethesda are now acting like an EA or take 2 etc, acting like one of the big boys, the only way to make a dent is to stop playing Fallout 76 and to make a conscious decision to not purchase any future games, especially ones that are released before they are in a fit state and or contain numerous versions of MTX. Only then once their wallet is hitting will they listen.
I for one am waiting eagerly to see how this whole Fallout 76 debacle unfolds and if this launch is anything to go by I genuinely despair for the much-anticipated release of StarField. Bethesda can turnaround things around, they just need to take their head out of the balance sheet and get back to doing what they do best. Making games for the fans of their previous games. Nothing more nothing less. With the release of "The Outer Worlds" by Obsidian, I can't help but feel that this is the spiritual pick me up everyone who is a fan of Fallout needs. The game is a complete joy and stands up with any of the previous Fallout or Elder Scrolls titles. A true modern classic and a hugely better game technically.
Will Bethesda turn things around? Only time will tell.