I’m sure there will be those of you who come to this article and already don’t like my opinion on this. But before you take out your torches and pitchforks, let me explain my thoughts on it. After that, you can skewer me as much as you like.
In more recent history, Bethesda has been declining in terms of game quality. While their older games did have glitches, as they tend to, it seems they’re losing interest or ambition for their game series’. A good example of this would be the most recent flop for the Fallout series. To explain the issues, I need to go back to the late 90’s for a moment.
In 1997, Interplay Entertainment released Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game. It was an isometric RPG with turn-based combat and deep lore hidden in each interaction. It was well received and a sequel came out in 1998 that upped the difficulty and continued building its world, along with making some memorable jokes that Obsidian (known as Black Isle back then) is still known for today.
Flash forward ten years, and you see Bethesda’s first romp into Interplay’s world with Fallout 3. This is the one most modern fans would have played first and it was also the first to take place on the American East Coast. This game, while consistent with past games, didn’t build much for the world itself and was mostly just a bare-bones sequel in Bethesda’s style of RPG. It’s not a bad game by far, but dialogue wasn’t as deep and the stats and perks didn’t make as strong of an impact. Even traits were gone in it. This made the once-vast character creation into a less focused ordeal, often leading to much similar play styles.
In 2011, Obsidian released Fallout: New Vegas to the world, once again showing their expertise in the series, as they created it. The game took a lot from Interplay’s failed Fallout 3, known now as project Van Buren. The game renewed the deep character creation and didn’t focus heavily on previous villains. Instead, it introduced new antagonists and had a more classic Fallout feel with its world, once again expanding the lore of the West Coast. The way this game is still praised today is an example that Obsidian did a far better job pleasing fans than Bethesda did three years earlier.
Then we come to 2015 with Fallout 4, where an even more watered down system was introduced. The dialogue became simple emotion responses, perks were the only character builder past the initial SPECIAL choices, and the story was mostly a rehash from Fallout 3, but with a grander scope. It’s not a bad shooter with very light RPG mechanics, but it isn’t good as an entry in the Fallout series. It doesn’t add much, other than actually putting in references to the first two games.
Last but not least, we have Fallout 76, which released in 2018 to a resounding “meh”. The game was bare, the mechanics weren’t fleshed out well, and there wasn’t much to do. With time, different things have been added in through DLC, including NPCs. However, the game also ruins the lore of the first games, as it still has the Brotherhood of Steel present and accounted for only 20 years after the bombs fell, in which case even if they were out and about, they would be on the west coast still, as they didn’t travel outside of California that soon. It’s not a good Fallout game. It’s a glorified fanfiction, which could have been good, but has only been a train wreck ever since its release. Bethesda hasn’t even listened to fans very much in the aftermath of its failed launch. It’s sad to see and shows an unwillingness to open up to the fans.
But you see, Fallout isn’t the only series they have problems with. Even with their own original Elder Scrolls series, things have gotten progressively less inspired. The series is a shell of its former self. It has garnered praise with an accessibility for its more sandbox style Skyrim, as opposed to the RPG epic that was Morrowind, or even Oblivion.
The latter two games had more in-depth systems of character builds and abilities and while it restricted players from certain abilities depending on stats, that added to replay value, and is more in line with classic RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. Skyrim is a game meant for the mass public. Its design oozes with a sense of accessibility to any audience. Because of that, the old design was scrapped for one where you could be anything you like, and do everything in the world on your first character. The game is good as an open world sandbox, but not as an RPG. Bethesda put their long-time fans on the back burner for the chance to garner a wider audience. That isn’t a problem per say, but it is a let down for those who really enjoyed the in-depth builds of old.
To make a long story short, I think Bethesda needs to cater to fans more than the mass public. Their games did massively well beforehand without watering anything down, so they should have never compromised. However, with titles like Elder Scrolls Blades and Fallout 76, I think it’s fair to assume they don’t care about their fans. They just do what’s going to make them more money, which really makes them a lifeless, uninteresting game developer. Until the day they regain their flame and passion, I suppose ID Software will have to carry them on good reviews.
Stay safe out there, everyone. And if you want to burn me to the ground for this article, now’s your moment.