It’s been a rocky few months for Bethesda – Fallout 76, the most unwanted title they’ve released to date, launched to an absolutely stinking reception and it seems like they’ve been doing their best to bury their own reputation ever since.
…And so, it’s time to ask the question; can Fallout 76 be saved? And if not, can Bethesda’s reputation?
Fallout 76 was announced via a Livestream in the May of 2018, with a 24-hour Livestream that left many a Fallout fan (Myself included) tense, following Jason Shrier’s leak of the game’s premise; a Fallout game set in an online multiplayer world, lacking human NPCs and focusing more on Fallout 4’s crafting and building elements (Which, for those just joining us, are the most controversial aspects of that game alongside for the use of a voiced protagonist). Many weren’t pleased, and fast forward to the game’s launch in November, not much had changed; the game was almost universally panned and has been lauded as one of the most disastrous launches in recent memory, with the game itself being a technical and design shambles, uninspired creatively, full to the brim with microtransactions, and a symbol of every mistake the AAA industry makes nowadays.
Then came the blatant scamming of those who bought the collector’s edition, who received a cheap nasty nylon bag as opposed to the sturdy canvas one they paid for.
Then came the security breaches, as sensitive information was leaked by nought but Bethesda’s own security incompetence.
Then came the literally illegal ‘discounted’ microtransaction content.
Then came the legendarily smug request that players who were banned for having certain software running in the background produce an essay of apology. Seriously, this is something grown adults asked for.
And then came the patch that was so poorly implemented that it literally patched in old bugs that had already been fixed.
And that’s not even touching the tangentially related Nuka-Dark Rum scam. So, suffice to say, Bethesda’s credibility is a bit in the shitter right now, and this title is most of the reason why – Especially considering it’s a grossly mutated form of the elements of Fallout 4 that gave that game such a lukewarm reception from series fans. The last truly loved Bethesda release was eight years ago, with the original release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game that made Playstation 3 owners wait months extra for its expansion content, and surprised players with a paid mods system that did nothing to actually support the few things a mod marketplace would be good for (See one of my earliest articles for my words on that can of worms here).
Am I rambling? Probably; point being, for the last 8 years, the once-legendary Bethesda Game Studios has done nought but lose credibility-sometimes by drip, and sometimes in floods.
In the games industry, you only get one launch. That is a universal truth of this art form- for that first day or two, people will play, discuss, and tweet about your game. For 24-48 hours, you may stand in the limelight, and be judged. Whatever players experience in this time will decide if the game is Hot Shit, or just Hot Garbage. Once you’ve made your first impression, your identity is more or less set forever, and each new addition to your title will gain significantly less traction as time goes on.
Put it this way: I’m a massive fan of Call of Duty: Zombies. I have been since I was 12 years old (Although I played with the sound off), and I still to this day give every Treyarch CoD title a go to try out the latest flavour of Zombies action. But how many times have I bought and played the final DLC for each of these games? Once. During Black Ops 1. When I was 14, and thus had all the free time and none of the pocket change for new games. Games, over time, lose their relevance, just like any other media property; sure, the ‘live service’ model aims to lengthen this time, but unless your game is a truly successful incarnation like World of Warcraft, the game is still going to fade into a memory. Your reputation is set from launch day, and getting it to budge takes a massive amount of effort and a damn good reason. Fallout: 76 has opened its only lootbox, and found nought but pitchforks and bottles of cold piss; that is its legacy. With just a poor launch, maybe the game could recover, just like Rainbox Six: Seige did. But no, the game was poorly received in leaks, inspired a sea of facepalms at the official reveal, and was a more colossal flop than even haters expected, selling over 80% less than Fallout 4. Post-launch the corpse of this game hasn’t received a respectable burial, but rather has been trampled on and shot thrice more for good measure. Whilst Bethesda could, theoretically, add enough new content and tech fixes to turn Fallout 76 into an exceptionally fun game, and it wouldn’t matter, for the idea of Fallout 76 is dead. Nobody save for the few remaining users would care, as even the core Fallout fanbase has moved on, more hyped for Obsidians’s ‘The Outer Worlds’ than they ever were for Fallout 76.
No, the question to ask now is ‘why’. Why did this happen? The answer, I think, is more obvious than it seems and its implications show the ugly belly of online game backlash.
Fallout 76 started life as a design experiment in the back rooms of Bethesda Game Studios, with Todd Howard and his team tinkering around to see how Fallout 4 would handle a theoretical co-op mode. A simple design exercise of the kind game designers do on the regular. Here’s where I point out something that might seem obvious; Bethesda Game Studios did not, in any way shape or form, take a look at this and think “Yes, we must release a game with only this and the most criticised elements of Fallout 4, add microtransactions aplenty, and then release it in a few years or so instead of making TES VI.”
That did not happen. Bethesda Softworks (That’s the publisher, may we remind you) even created an ad campaign two years after fallout 4’s release proclaiming their plan to ‘#SavePlayer1’. Did we all forget about this? Yes, no?
No, the context for Fallout 76’s release is plain to see; this is not the product lead by the passion for the design challenge, the story, or the tech; this is a game forced upon the development team by outside forces who do not understand said team or the IP they made them use. This was a textbook example of a decision led by business executives made to chase the industry trend of a games-as-service model, making use of the Fallout brand. And yet, we Fallout fans direct all of our hatred towards Todd Howard, Pete Hines, Matt Grandstaff, and other visible members of Bethesda, when they probably have the same bitter taste we do regarding this title. Pete used to tweet every few days, especially given his role as PR rep; but the backlash to this game was so aggressive and so large that he hasn’t made a proper tweet since November 2018. The only proper way, fellas, is to simply not buy the game. Harassing people on Twitter does nothing but sour the reputation of our fandom. Let that be heard by everyone, not just fallout fans, as most fandoms online suck at this just as hard (Star Wars fandom, I’m glaring at you). Todd and Pete did not force a single-player specialist studio into figuring out how to shoehorn multiplayer into a decades-old single-player engine. Todd and Pete did not choose the material of the duffel bags, and Todd and Pete did not personally design the security structures of this game or decide the appropriate way to respond to failings. I doubt that Todd was even given a choice regarding the Microtransaction system, given how willing he is to make a joke about the Horse Armour DLC for Oblivion. (Remember when that was worth complaining about? Better times).
This game was made on the whim of people who care not for games. This was a decision made high-up in the offices of Bethesda Softworks or Zenimax Media, both of which ‘outrank’ Bethesda Game Studios on the corporate stack. Todd Howard and Pete Hines did not choose to make this game, the decision was made for them; this claim, I am confident in.
So, what’s next for Bethesda? Are they doomed?
No, I think Fallout 76 was the shock to the system that might finally reach the studio execs in charge of these decisions. Maybe now they’ll listen more closely to the audience, maybe they’ll realise the Bethesda’s current team is suited to Single-player development, or at least hire some more staff who are experienced in the area. And perhaps they’ll give Todd back the creative reigns after what must have been a devastatingly stressful few years. Game studios have bounced back in reputation before – After all, these past few years we’ve seen two separate Resident Evil titles that were actually worth playing, forgetting all about the years of shite fans of that franchise had to wade through.
Only time – and the release of ‘Starfield‘, whenever that i s- will tell. But mark my words, this has every chance of being nought but a disastrous hiccup. After all, we live in a world that forgave ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered’.