The last few years have not been kind to Bethesda. It wasn’t that long ago that they were really praised as one of the best developers in the industry. Todd hailed the mighty god Howard.
Fast forward a few years
Here we are.
Players deceived, refunds denied, helmets molding. First it was the paid mods then the ungodly launch of Fallout 76 and then everything else. Fans could not believe what they were seeing, Bethesda had fallen. This downward spiral was free entertainment for some and a heartbreaking loss of $60 for others. Not only a loss of $60 and possibly $300 and some years of your life if you happen to purchase one of moldy red power armor helmets. But also the loss of one of the last decent game developers, it was a sad day.
But wait, were Bethesda ever the Saints they’re often remembered as. There is no doubt that they made some good games over the years, but the old Bethesda also had a big part in creating the Modern micro-transaction market. Dab that without with some harsh treatment of a licensed company, indirectly causing 30 odd layoffs as a result. Add a few petty lawsuits over brand protection and you’ve got some pretty dodgy moves from Todd and the boys.
Before we get into those, something i’m sure you’re all familiar with.
The Sweet Little Lies
It is no secret that game director Todd Howard has invested pretty heavily into his speech.
The mans lies are infamous, the most famous example of Todd’s sly tone was probably at E3 2018, really made some very interesting promises for the latest fallout. But these false promises were never exclusive to fallout 76, if you look hard enough you can trace Todd’s web of lies all the way back to oblivion. When in 2005 he told everyone that oblivion MPCI was radiant and unscripted. People were excited for the day that they could jump into the game and witness this space-age AI for themselves. But, unfortunately the NPC’s were not quite as intelligent as Todd had suggested. The fact that they all looked like melted cheese strings didn’t help much.
One year after oblivion released, Bethesda purchased the rights to the fallout i.p and Todd announced that fallout 3 would have 200 different endings. In reality there would be 3. A few different ways to go about getting them and then lots of slight variation with the ending slideshow, depending on your karma and sidequest choices during the game. After having just perfected AI, Todd now looked to improve quests, they would also become radiant. Meaning that they could be redeemed infinitely, until the end of time. Once again this was technically correct but these quests ended up being what was essentially the exact same quests but in different areas of the map. He also mentioned the local economy system that could be affected by the player damaging at towns production lines. If you actually Google this, multiple forum posts can be found written by a handful of people spending their first hours of Skyrim burning down a sawmill in an attempt to cripple the local economy. It never worked.
Then during E3 2015 Todd made the bold claim that fallout 4 just worked. He would of course go on to continue the trend at E3 2018 for fallout 76. Some argue that Todd’s long list of lies over the years for features that were going to be in the game, but couldn’t be finished in time for launch. But whichever way you look at it, for the,last 14 years todd has had a very special way with words. Who knows what todd has planned for their next release.
The Horse Armour
Back again to 2006 and bethesda had just released Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. it was their best-selling game at the time, selling almost two million copies in the first 20 days of release. Things were looking pretty good, it didn’t just sell well either, Oblivion was pretty much praised by critics across the board. Believe it or not even praised for its graphics at the time. A very foreign concept for any modern Bethesda title. Even though the NPC’s weren’t exactly what was promised, they still worked, occasionally. Anyway the game sold well and people liked it, but then everything changed.
Just a month after the launch they released something for $2.50, something so small, something so trivial, that they wouldn’t hear the end of it for years to come. A few pieces of armor for your in-game horse, the armor didn’t even protect the horse. It just made it look a bit cooler. Making DLC like this the time wasn’t very common, especially for a game as big as Oblivion and people were not happy. Bethesda kept on releasing these pricey a DLCs although the rest were more reasonable.
Other developers took note of what Todd and the team had pulled off here, and here we are today. Fallout 3 in the original Skyrim missed out on the Oblivion treatment, but these microtransactions would returned in the form of the creation Club for Fallout 4 and Skyrim remastered. One of the first items on sale was $3 horse armor. Also a fun fact about the creation Club. When new mods were added and updated, every mod was installed directly onto your hard drive, regardless of whether you actually purchased it or not. When you actually went to buy the mod, you were just paying for a tiny ESP file that unlocked the mod files. This bloated everyone’s hard drive with multiple gigabyte mod updates every month and, with a little know-how you could create these ESP files yourself.
Some more ingenuity from the development team at Bethesda.
The Free Included Bugs
One of the immediate thoughts anyone has after hearing the very word Bethesda, is the onslaught of bugs thrown your way. The moment the game boots just type in Bethesda bugs on YouTube and you’ll find hundreds of compilations of these small technical hiccups. The most common bugs include:
That is not even really scratching the surface, sometimes it just doesn’t work. They also forgot to cut out some voiceover mistakes in Oblivion. The characters swapping voices halfway through their dialogue. The games are buggy and fallout 76 was of course no different, I’ve actually read multiple reddit posts claiming that the Bethesda’s recent patches for the game are bringing in more bugs than the ones they’re fixing. There is also an audio bug that has been fixed multiple times at this point and some people are still saying it’s in the game.
Bugs are a consistent feature of Bethesda games, many people turn to blame the engine the games has run on. As of 2019 Bethesda’s games are run on an engine that is now actually old enough to drink. I’ve looked into the whole game engine argument and the common consensus is that, the age of an engine isn’t necessarily a problem providing you’ve got a team of software engineers who can efficiently update and optimize it. I mean rockstars game engine for GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 is a heavily upgraded version of an engine that was used for their 2006 ping pong game. The, engine is still perfectly capable, that’s right Red Dead Redemption 2 is running on an engine from a game 15 years old.
Judging by their last two games, Bethesda that does not quite have the same level of proficiency in their software development team. The current engine being used is the creation engine, a heavily modified version of the 1997 Natomas engine. Which was the core engine used to make every game from Moralwind to Fallout 76. Others claim that Bethesda don’t put enough work in to play testing, regardless of how the bugs actually get in the final release. The worst part about them is that they always end up staying because Bethesda rarely ever bother to patch them out.
There are still hundreds of known bugs in Skyrim and even the recent Skyrim remastered and modders have been left to do Bethesda’s dirty work. Bethesda know these bugs exist, but they still just sort of stand there like, “bugs? That sucks, oh well!”. So basically for the last fourteen years, every single one of bethesda games has been a massive buggy mess. Left to be fixed for free by avid fans, who just wanted to go five minutes in their game without being launched into the stratosphere. Apparently that was too much to ask.
Some see it as the games being made more accessible and efficient, others call it dumbing down and streamlining. Whichever way you look at it, you can’t really argue that Todd hasn’t been flushing away features for the last 14 years.
A good example of this is the development of Fallout’s progression system, Fallout 3’s progression had depth and was pretty consistent to the original 2 fallouts, including the special attributes skills and perks. Then for Bethesda’s next Fallout, Todd went with the less is more approach and thought, let’s integrate skills and perks into the special attribute table. For Fallout 76 Todd just said you know what just give them a pack of cards. Compared to the older fallout’s, Fallout 4 also had much simpler dialogue, so much so that two of the most popular mods for Fallout 4 actually reverted the dialogue tree to the original format and removed the character’s voice over lines.
The dialogue choices themselves pretty much equated to saying yes three times with different layers of paint. Then the option to ask a question. As opposed to the much more complex new vegas style of dialogue. The repair feature was removed, there was no karma system and side quests were no longer added at the ending slideshow. There also wasn’t much room to play as an evil character either, which was a staple in previous releases and so on. People felt like there was a lot missing.
Contracts and Lawsuits
Although we all paint him as the villain, Todd isn’t really the one who pulls the strings. The real decisions are made by the people at Zenimax Media, who are the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, Who are the parent company of Bethesda game studios. Ever since Zenimax were set up in 1999, it’s been caught up in a number of lawsuits, many of them quite questionable. For starters Bethesda Softworks started out in the 80s, developing sports games, with a game called gridiron in 1986 being in the game the company was built on. One of the key players behind the earlier Bethesda games was a guy called Chris Weaver. After the success of Bethesda’s early games Chris approached a lawyer named Robert Altman, together they co-founded Zenimax in 1999. Weaver was in charge of the games and Oatman in charge of the business.
Three years later executives gathered round the high table at Zenimax and voted to flush Chris out of the business. A pretty cutthroat decision considering it was the man who built the company. Then there was Bethesda’s contract with Obsidian Entertainment for Fallout New Vegas. After the immediate success of fallout 3, Bethesda wanted to capitalize on another fallout release. They licensed obsidian a development team comprised of ex-fallout 1 and 2 developers. To create a spin-off fallout on Bethesda’s flawless game engine. Obsidian were then given 18 short months to develop the game, they were paid upfront by Bethesda for the development and signed a contract that meant they only receive royalties on the game if it reached a score of 85 on Metacritic.
New Vegas fell short of the royalty requirement by one point hitting 84, and so no royalties was on their way. That coupled with Microsoft cancelling a 7 month deep project with them, ultimately resulted in 20 to 30 layoffs from obsidian staff. Bethesda has also been extremely aggressive in their marketing and branding practices. Waving around hefty lawsuits to companies and fans over brand protection. They threatened Mojang with a lawsuit in 2012, due to Mojang naming a game Scrolls and more recently a small indie developer had problems because their game was titled pray for the gods. In both cases the names had to be changed.
Just over a year ago, Bethesda released fallout 76 and the lid finally blew. A decade of frustrations and complaints, all neatly packaged into one $60, barely functioning online experience. Fallout 76 had it all, the lies, bugs, crashes, microtransactions, awful PR. It was glorious, Todd’s finest creation, his magnum opus.
But people weren’t happy with it, and now over a year after its release, people are somehow even been less happy with it. But Bethesda has made some good stuff over the years, but you’d be wrong to say that they were ever the god-tier developer they’re often remembered as. If actually you look at the last decade and a half’s worth of actions from the company, their recent actions seem to be reasonable progression. As much as the executives at ZeniMax are to blame Bethesda’s PR and development teams really don’t help themselves. The infamous tales of how they handled the canvas bags, the refund denials, the banning of innocent players and some of this stuff is still going on.
A few weeks ago bethesda found one of fallout 76 his most loyal players, who’d gone out of his way to develop an online interactive map of the game and also found and reported bugs to Bethesda. He also released a video called save player one a year before they took their traditionally single-player game online. Wasn’t the brightest idea.
But Bethesda will learn from this though right? How can they not learn from this whole thing? Well if recent events are anything to go by, it doesn’t look like they have much interest in putting out the flames currently engulfing their public relations. If fallout first is anything to go by, it looks like they are actually having a good time making it worse. The hopeful fans of this very confused company will continue to watch from the sidelines, as they run about rabidly throwing atomic shop sales and dodgy bug patches around, until the next groundwork is finally revealed.
With one man, and one man alone, knowing whether it will be worthwhile or just another, big fat lie!