I went into this presentation with a massive chip on my shoulder. I’m always sharply critical of Bethesda on a creative level, particularly when it comes to things like narrative, dialog, playtesting, QA testing, interface design, art style, pacing, combat mechanics, PC support, sound design, presentation, user choice, character design, system requirements, physics, scripting, animation, game feel, respect for legacy source material, enemy design, lighting, and Todd Howard’s annoying half-smirk. I was ready to hate on these guys for an hour and a half.
But when it comes right down to it, I think they won me over. I liked several of the offerings. I was genuinely excited about others. I even enjoyed some of the presentations for games I don’t care about. And in the end, I wound up laughing at Todd Howard’s jokes instead of laughing at Todd Howard directly. It was a good show, with solid titles, well presented, with just enough levity and self-awareness to disarm me.
If you watch the video, take note of how many times this happens:
Me, shouting at Tood Howard, “So are you guys going to finally get around to fixing [longstanding annoyance]?!?”
(5 seconds later)
Todd Howard says to the audience, “And yes, [longstanding annoyance] is no longer an issue.”
The text summary is below the video:
#1 Ranked Publisher in the world
Pete Hines kicks things off by pointing out that their developers have the best aggregate review scores. This made me say, “What, really?”, because I was of course thinking of the jank-ass games that come out of Bethesda Softworks.
But really, this makes a lot of sense. The “Bethesda problems” I listed at the top of this post really only apply to their mainline Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles. Everything else is pretty good. This publisher doesn’t release many duds. And even their jank titles are insanely popular by way of offering a particular blend of gameplay that you just can’t get anywhere else.
They’re not hyperactive market reactionaries like EA, forever chasing whatever trend was hot two years ago. They understand genre boundaries and aren’t trying to turn everything into Call of Duty. When they do take a franchise into new territory (such as Elder Scrolls online or Fallout 76) they do so with spinoff titles rather than jamming unwanted stuff into the mainline titles. (As with Dungeon Keeper, SimCity, or the online shooter stuff in Mass Effect 3.) They’ve never plagued us with loot boxes. They haven’t inflicted any sort of Uplay madness on us, even though the popularity of their games certainly gives them the leverage to do so.
Am I… am I a Bethesda fanboy?
I love EVERYTHING about this.. except the protagonist.
This looks like glorious, chaotic fun. It’s wild, colorful, and dynamic. It looks like the best parts of DOOM 2016, Bulletstorm, and Borderlands 2, all rolled into one. Run fast, make explosions, and kill legions of screaming psychos with ridiculously overpowered weapons. Blast dudes into the air with exploding barrels and then shoot them a few extra times on the way back down. Hurl a guy into the air with your sparkle grenades and knock him into his buddies with one of your high-tech boomerangs. Jump, sprint, drive, and murder your way across a post-apocalyptic desert hellscape that still finds lots of ways to inject color into the world and make sure the bad guys stand out from the scenery.
But then the sneering po-faced protagonist jumps in and starts ranting about his dead parents and bringing justice to the wasteland.
Do you mind, buddy? We’re having a murder-party here and your complaining is really killing the mood.
He’s all wrong. This game is gleeful and insane, and the protagonist is completely dissonant with that. Worse, we’ve heard this kind of angsty bullshit a million times before. This is a game for a Serious Sam, a Bayonetta, or a Duke Nukem. Our protagonist should be having fun doing this. Arg.
It’s not too late Bethesda. You can still change this. We don’t need this Mad Max/Batman hybrid. Yes, I know the name of the game is “Rage”. But look. The Doomguy is never doomed, Bayonetta never uses a bayonet, none of the Final Fantasies are the final one, the Wolfenstein games only occasionally have anything in them called Wolfenstein, and you never see a single mirror anywhere in Mirror’s Edge. Don’t be enslaved by the title. Just replace this irritating mope before he drags your entire game down.
Elder Scrolls LEGENDS
Wait, this already exists? It’s a collectible card game based on Elder Scrolls? Whatever. Not interested.
However, I do appreciate that they made it a standalone game instead of jamming it into Skyrim and making you play it to gain “War Assets” for the Imperials vs. Stormcloaks.
Elder Scrolls Online
I honestly don’t get the appeal of this game. Then again, now that I’ve played proper action MMOs, the gameplay of ESO feels impossibly dull to me.
In 1993, the end of Doom promised us a demonic invasion of Earth. And then we never got that. I guess technically Doom 2: Hell On Earth was SUPPOSED to be that, but the engine of the day wasn’t up to the task of depicting Earth. So instead we got crazy abstract monster mazes. They were fun, but it didn’t feel like EARTH. Then Doom vanished for a decade, and when it came back it was a survival horror title. But now, 24 years later, we’re finally getting to fight demons on Earth. Even better, they have twice as many monster types as the previous game?
I don’t pre-order games because there’s no need to reserve a copy in a world of digital goods, but I’m preordering this game in my heart.
I completely lost interest in online PVP shooters when I hit 35, and I can’t imagine anything that would bring me back. But I still love to WATCH these old-school shooters being played by high-level players.
The eSports scene has been a bit barren for me over the past few years. I don’t care about MOBAs and I’m not into the modern military stuff that’s popular these days. I don’t care about CCGs. I’m burned out on StarcraftAlthough my favorite player won a major title this year and that was fun to watch.. But an old-school shooter with railguns, bouncepads, fast movement, rockets, and wild character designs? That sounds fun to watch. So this announcement that they’re pushing this as a major-league game is pretty exciting.
I know I already said this, but YEEEESSSSS!
Note that Prey was my GOTY 2017, and I even went a little fanboy-crazy over it. And now we’re getting a free update to the game that adds 3 new game modes: Story Mode, New Game+, and survival mode. Plus they’re rolling out some DLC called “Mooncrash” that’s sort of a… roguelike thing? With randomized layouts and permadeath?
On top of that, they’re also adding a game mode based on the idea of mimics in the game, and creating a 1 v. 5 PVP mode in the style of prop hunt. That’s inspired.
Activision and EA wouldn’t even greenlight a game like this, since this genre has never performed particularly well. Ubisoft wouldn’t make it a AAA title it because it’s not an open world collect-a-thon with a busywork crafting tree. And Valve wouldn’t make it because it’s a videogame and they don’t make those anymore. But not only did Bethesda greenlight this game, they gave it a respectable marketing campaign and now it’s getting post release support and free updates?
I am so happy right now.
And now I’m annoyed.
You might remember that while Wolfenstein: The New Colossus reviewed well, I was very critical of it. My recent time with Destiny 2 has driven home just how tepid and unsatisfying the gunplay is and how bland the enemy designs and environments are. If I were to re-write my retrospective on TNC now, it would probably be even more negative.
This game jumps forward and has us play as BJ’s daughters in some sort of co-op type situation. The game is set in the 1980s. Normally I’d be enthusiastic about a premise like this, but after TNC I don’t have a lot of confidence in this team to deliver on something this ambitious. Their sketch of America was already vague and disjointed, and now they’re going to try to explore an America that’s even further in the future and at the same time develop two new protagonists?
At the end of my TNC series, I implied that maybe some journalists gave this game more credit than it deserved because it pandered to their current mood. I can’t look into the hearts of other journos and know what they’re thinking, but after seeing this presentation I have to say my theory sounds a lot more plausible. Twice the developers got enthusiastic applause by simply saying, “YOU GET TO KILL LOTS OF NAZIS!” Like that all by itself is worthy of praise.
Ironically, all this undeserved praise could ruin this series. See, these developers seem to have figured out that they can please the audience by slapping a swastika on someone and letting the player shoot them. Nothing in the critical reception of this game indicates their shortcomings, which means they have no reason to correct their many deficiencies with regards to gameplay, narrative, and environment design. Even if they realize on their own that TNC fell short of its predecessors, this room full of journalists is signaling to them, “WE DON’T CARE ABOUT CRAFT. WE JUST WANT MORE SOFTBALL PANDERING AND BRUTE-FORCE GRATIFICATION.”
Sooner or later the zeitgeist will shift and people will have some other boogeyman to worry about. Nazi-shooting won’t be an instant pass to the heart of your average game reviewer. And then what? Wolfenstein will be left with a lot of bad habits and a legacy of mediocrity.
This was confusing. At one point Todd Howard said that you’ll be able to play the game “on your own”. But then all they showed us was an open-world gankfest. He kept describing it as being a fallout game with some vaguely-defined things to do, but everything they said and everything they showed us pointed to this being a betrayal simulator in the style of RUST.
I have heard this dream before. Many, many times. People are always dreaming of this open-world sandbox with friendships, alliances, betrayals, drama, and emergent community. They have this image in their heads that if you just hand everyone a weapon and let them alone that large structures of order will appear. People will build! They’ll protect each other! They’ll hunt down troublemakers! Civilization will emerge!
NO. You are dangerously wrong.
What you will ALWAYS end up with is a group of 5 griefers murdering the never-ending stream of newcomers. Everyone will betray and murder everyone else as soon as possible, because the dynamics of a videogame are fundamentally different from that of the real world. Everyone turns into a sociopath, because empathy and the human conscience don’t operate the same in gamespace. You don’t feel pain, you don’t stay dead, and even if you’re virtuous you can’t count on anyone else because the odds of betrayal are so staggeringly high.
You don’t get emergent order, you get never-ending chaos.
The only non-combat activity Howard showed us was that you can build a base. But why? Why build a sandcastle in a world where the only purpose of a sandcastle is to get kicked over?
So maybe you’ll add a karma system? Or mutual ratings? Player behavior records? Nope. That all gets folded back into the meta-game and becomes another tool that griefers use to harass or confuse newcomers.
Even EVE Online – possibly the most anarchic MMO ever made – has a big section of protected space around the newbie zone, lots of things for newbies to do in that zone, and lots of ways for players to join or establish complex organizations before they push their way out to Gank Space. On top of that, the choke points of the jump gates offer some degree of protection for the underdogs. As far as I can tell, Fallout 76 has none of this. From what they’ve told us, it will quickly devolve into a pointless waste where you step out of the vault, walk for five minutes without seeing a single player, and then get sniped.
I have no idea what this team is thinking. If every single person is controlled by a player, then how can the game have shopkeepers? Who will give quests? Who will tell the story they keep hinting at in these trailers?
Creating a real emergent player-based society that rises above “confusing, poorly-paced, unbalanced open world deathmatch” is insanely difficult. It’s so difficult that amid dozens of attempts, only one company (CCP Games, developers of EVE) has really pulled it off. Nothing Todd Howard says here makes me think they understand the problem they’re trying to solve.
What a waste. At least it’s a spinoff title and not a mainline Fallout game.
Having said all that, I really enjoyed Todd Howard’s talk. He got me to laugh a few times, he made some good observations about E3, and he seemed to be having a good time.
And despite all my criticisms above, I really do believe that Fallout 76 is coming from a genuine creative spark within the company. This isn’t like when Andrew Wilson slithers out on stage and tells us he’s only putting loot boxes in the game because we demanded them. Howard was keenly aware of the concerns the audience would have, and he spoke to many of them during his talk. I think the design sounds misguided, but I believe they made this game because they wanted it to exist, not because they thought it was an optimal way of making money. And so I find myself repulsed by the design of Fallout 76, and yet also hoping it finds an audience and does well.
Elder Scrolls Blades
It’s a game you can play on your phone, with one hand, in portrait mode, but also a game you can play on the PC. And in VR. Crazy. Visually it looks like Oblivion and in terms of gameplay it looks awkward as hell. I’m not sold on this, but I am curious to see more.
Ah! It’s a space game. The teaser just showed a planet, a space station, and played some deliberately Trek-style music.
That’s it. That’s all we get. And yet, I’m excited. I’ve been hungry for a space game since Mass Effect imploded in dysfunction. The world needs this.
I need this.
Whatever it is.
The Elder Scrolls VI
That’s it. All they do is show us some fantasy mountains and the title. We don’t even get a subtitle to tell us where it’ll be set.
This seems like a meaningless announcement but I think it was important to include this anyway. At this point Elder Scrolls has an MMO, a card game, and a mobile game, but still no proper follow-up to Skyrim. I think they needed to let fans know that another mainline title IS coming, or we might assume Elder Scrolls had dissolved into spinoffs.
This was a really good show. Easily the highlight of E3 for me.
There’s one press event left for me to comment on. I’ll post the Ubisoft show tomorrow.
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