Co-founder and lead writer of We Bleed Pixels. Loves fantasy, RPGs and talking about games. Hates horror, multiplayer and not talking about games.
Bethesda, I’m worried about you. What are you doing? You’ve made some fantastic games in the past, which I sank hundreds of hours into. But seeing what you have created over the last couple years, and how you plan to go forward, I can’t help but worry.
Why I love Bethesda
First off, let me state I love Bethesda. I’ve played a number of their blockbuster titles over the past decade. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was my first Bethesda game, though my play sessions consisted exclusively of creating a new character, and setting my speed and strength to insanely high numbers through console commands. I would literally be flying around the map as the game desperately tried to load new areas, whilst one-punching everything.
Their first game I played ‘for real’ was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. And that game will forever hold a special place in my heart, because Oblivion ignited my love for open-world RPGs. I still remember just running off into the wide open world of Cyrodiil after escaping the Imperial Sewers for the first time. I ended up spending over 400 hours there, beating the game 6 times. Thanks in part to Oblivion, I have gained many more incredible experiences and memories from various RPGs over the years. The flame it lit is still burning strong to this day.
Having so many fond memories from Oblivion, I was very much looking forward to Skyrim in 2011. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a game as much before. So I was overjoyed when my Collector’s Edition was delivered two days early, on November 9th. I grew to love Skyrim so much, it became the first game I bought twice, when the Special Edition was announced for the Xbox One and PS4. I unfortunately cannot remember or check how many hours I spent in Skyrim on the 360, but with the One version having a decent 122 hours of playtime, I’d wager my total playtime matches Oblivion’s at least.
My latest experience with one of Bethesda’s major releases was Fallout 4, which I played for quite a while following its release in November 2015. And despite the fun I had during the first 70-80 hours, I cannot help but consider Fallout 4 a fairly mediocre game in 2018. In part because I’m somewhat baffled between the difference in quality with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which released the same year. But also because my idiot completionist self was hellbent on unlocking all achievements when I no longer enjoyed the game anymore. When the final one popped, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to launch the game again.
Where is The Elder Scrolls VI?
With Fallout 4 turning out to be a mediocre game after many hours of playing, I set my attention to the next Elder Scrolls. There was just one major problem: Bethesda had been dead silent about Skyrim’s successor since releasing the Special Edition in 2016. There were rumors it was only in pre-production at best, but nothing official. Until E3 2018, that it.
During their E3 2018 press conference, Bethesda finally confirmed the existence of The Elder Scrolls VI. And although I was incredibly happy and hyped when I saw the reveal trailer back then, I can’t help but feel it was meaningless by now.
For starters, the reveal trailer showed us basically nothing. It was just a stretch of map, based on which hardcore fans can apparently already theorize where the game is likely set, and a title. Or rather just The Elder Scrolls VI, because it’s official title is clearly nowhere near decided. Second, it’s quite clear the game is still many years away. During the same press conference, Bethesda announced Starfield after all. A new IP, this time an RPG set in a sci-fi setting. Starfield is confirmed to be set for a release first, which I assume will take at least 2 or 3 more years.
Far more importantly however; The Elder Scrolls: Blades. The mobile game set within the Elder Scrolls universe. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one reason Bethesda showed the in my opinion meaningless reveal trailer for The Elder Scrolls VI. Because they knew their fanbase would go batshit crazy if they showed an Elder Scrolls mobile game, without saying a word about the series’ next main installment. The reveal trailer was meant to prevent a community backlash, nothing more. Because Bethesda knows very well the next Elder Scrolls game is still years away.
The Fallout 76 shitshow
Another major title announced at E3 2018, was Fallout 76. Similar to The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda was bringing multiplayer to it’s other major franchise. A feature that was much requested by it’s fans. Exploring a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland with your friends sounds pretty cool after all, doesn’t it?
As good as the idea sounds, so poor is Bethesda’s execution with Fallout 76. I will admit I have not played the game myself, nor do I have the slightest intention to do so. But over the past weeks I have seen and read enough about the game to be confident about the points I’m about to address.
First of all, the least of it’s issues: the graphics. In terms of visuals, Fallout 76 is barely an improvement over Fallout 4. Which makes sense, as the majority of it’s assets are directly copied from it’s predecessor. But that does not take away that for a major developer like Bethesda, these graphics are really not acceptable anymore in 2018. In fact, I feel Fallout 4’s graphics were already a bit obsolete for it’s time, and that was 3 years ago.
Second, the lack of NPCs. Whereas all former 3D Fallout games featured plenty of NPCs, it’s first online variant doesn’t. Why? Because everyone is dead. Fallout 76 begins with Reclamation Day, the day within the series’ timeline where people leave the Vaults for the first time since the bombs fell. There are no other friendly humanoid beings in the world, because you (and all your fellow players), are the first to emerge into the radioactive wasteland. And thus quests are given and continued solely by audiotapes and terminals. Which many players consider to be much less fun than what they’re used to, as the colorful NPCs you encountered in the wasteland gave the Fallout series much of its charm.
Third, the game’s flawed technical aspects. Which is not surprising, considering Bethesda is still using the Creation Engine, even for Fallout 76. In other words: an engine designed for single-player RPGs, now ‘expanded’ to suit an MMO. Or an ‘online Fallout’, as plenty of people will argue Fallout 76 is not an MMO. Now consider that the Creation Engine’s quality has been considered questionable by the community for its primary purpose for years already. Back when Fallout 4 released, fans were already strongly suggesting Bethesda to leave the Creation Engine behind. No shocker that adding a bunch of extra code to make it suit an online game did not work out very well.
Fourth, as always with Bethesda games, it is riddled with bugs and glitches. Most of which, it must be said, were present in Fallout 4 as well, and had to be patched by community modders back then. Besides that, server stability issues seem to be more of a rule than an exception. Furthermore, during the game’s B.E.T.A, players noted that your character’s movement speed was directly linked to your system’s frame rate. Which would give anyone with a considerable faster gaming system an unfair advantage compared to others. Or how about the fact that the game received a day one patch, which was larger in size than the game itself (51GB vs 45GB)? The fact that both hardcore fans and the gaming media unanimously agree that this game shouldn’t have launched for at least another year, speaks volumes.
Finally, the appalling way Bethesda has treated their customers post-launch. Especially the most hardcore ones. All those loyal fans who bought the game on the release day for $60? They got royally screwed over by Bethesda. Because just over a week after Fallout 76’s release, the game could already be bought for $30. Likely due to Black Friday ánd because of disappointing sales, but this is just giving your most loyal fans the finger.
But the troubles were still not over for Bethesda. Two weeks after the game’s release, the next issue arose. A gamer who had bought Fallout 76’s $200 Power Armor Edition, noticed that the bag that was included wasn’t made of canvas, as had been advertised, but instead made of nylon. Which, to put it plainly, meant it looked like little more than a glorified trash bag. Naturally, the gamer contacted Bethesda’s support team to complain. Their response? ‘’The bag shown in the media was a prototype and was too expensive to make. We aren’t planning on doing anything about it.”
“We aren’t planning on doing anything about it.”
The news went viral, being picked up by every major gaming media outlet there is. And things became even worse when reports arose that certain online influencers and content creators had been given the advertised canvas bag. Bethesda replied that this particular support team response had come from a temporary contract employee, who has since been released from the team. Shortly after, they also announced the canvas bags were in production after all. Anyone who purchased the Power Armor Edition could fill in an online form, after which the bag would be sent to them. Although it must also be mentioned that at first, they tried to ‘compensate’ players who bought the Power Armor Edition by adding 500 Atoms, the game’s premium currency, to their account. The value of these 500 Atoms?
The Creation Engine
Now as I mentioned earlier, Bethesda is still using the Creation Engine. It’s based on the Gamebryo engine (which was released 21 years ago as NetImmerse), to which Bethesda added their own code. Gamebryo was used to develop Morrowind, Oblivion and Fallout 3, meaning the base core of Bethesda’s engine has been the same since before 2000, as Morrowind was already being developed in the late 1990s. After Fallout 3, the company felt Gamebryo’s graphics were becoming too outdated, and began development on the Creation Engine for Skyrim.
Shortly before Fallout 4 released, Bethesda Game Studios (Bethesda’s primary development team) began development of Starfield, whilst BattleCry Studios (now Bethesda Game Studios Austin) began modifying the Creation Engine to support multiplayer content for Fallout 76. Working together with id Software, a ZeniMax subsidiary like Bethesda, they attempted to integrate the netcode (code designed for networking in online games) from Quake into the engine. This was considered a challenge even by experts in the field, and BattleCry did not have much experience with online games yet. They had only worked with id Software on the development of post-release multiplayer content for the 2016 DOOM reboot.
Anyway, engine history lesson aside, the general consensus amongst fans is that the Creation Engine is at the end of its lifecycle, and Bethesda should replace it. The plethora of bugs and glitches that have infested every Bethesda title for the past decade, are solid evidence that the Creation Engine simply isn’t the best. Also mentioned earlier, the fact that the majority of these bugs and glitches have been fixed by community modders for every major release, shows that Bethesda are apparently unable to permanently fix them themselves. Yet despite this Todd Howard, Executive Producer and Game Director at Bethesda (and the company’s face to the fanbase), has confirmed the Creation Engine will be used to develop both Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI.
In a way, I can understand why. After developing several games with the Creation Engine, and with its foundation Gamebryo before that, Bethesda has a lot of experience with it. And knowing the Creation Engine was created to develop Skyrim, Bethesda most likely planned to develop all their major titles for a fair few years with it. Besides, developing a new inhouse engine costs a tremendous amount of time and resources. Especially considering that if Bethesda were to develop a new inhouse engine, they would have to start from scratch for the best results. Expanding Gamebryo’s source code to what would become the Creation Engine was not the greatest success after all, so any further upgrading would likely not the desired effect.
Now one might suggest Bethesda to just use a third-party engine, but I do not believe that to be a viable option. They would likely either have to pay another developer to use their engine, or utilize a free to use one like Unity or Unreal. The latter option being the least viable, as I strongly doubt there is a free engine available that properly suits Bethesda wishes and needs.
For now, I simply hope that Bethesda can turn Fallout 76 in a game worthy of the name Fallout and Bethesda over time. And I hope that despite all issues the Creation Engine has, they will be able to make Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI fantastic games with it. Only time will tell. But until time has told me, I worry about Bethesda.