Humble pie was on the menu last night at E3, as Bethesda opened their 2019 showcase. There were more than a few echoes from Ubisoft’s E3 2015 press conference, when that company came in for an awful lot of stick after Watch Dogs failed to live up to expectations and Assassin’s Creed Unity turned out to be a buggy mess, and it was with good reason that Bethesda shifted to a more conciliatory tone.
Fallout 76 was their own shamefully buggy mess at launch, but as Todd “we knew this was not going to be a high Metacritic game” Howard said, “we kept working on it and you kept playing it”. People stuck with Fallout 76 for whatever reason and it’s given the company an opportunity and a reason to put the game on the path toward redemption.
And so they dressed up the entire show with feel good words and imagery about how everything that Bethesda do is for the fans, and they managed to stuff the hall with overly exhuberant and loud fans (possibly encouraged to shout at presenters in excitement after Keanu Reeves’ “You’re breathtaking!” moment during Microsoft’s press briefing). There was a lot of focus on how it was you, the fans, who made their games, both as fans turned developer and as fans turned players. As fuzzy and heartwarming as it is from one perspective, personally it felt like a cynical ploy to try and get fans back on side and reshape the message.
They stepped away from Fallout 76 for a moment to announce The Elder Scrolls: Blades for Switch, but it did return, the strides that Bethesda are making with the game are impressive. Adding human NPCs, full dialogue trees, a whole new quest line and more to the game is a huge step forward for the game, hopefully on a par with the step that the two Destiny games took with their Year 2 expansions. More importantly, Fallout 76 Wastelanders will be free, and that’s the biggest fan-appeasing decision that Bethesda could have made.
Putting the tone to one side, and there were definitely some games and announcements to get excited about from Bethesda’s show. Shinji Mikami and Tango Gameworks’ new spooky action game Ghostwire Tokyo sounds great – this was helped immeasurably by the charming and fun intro from Creative Director Ikumi Nakamura, her personality shining through and bringing a lot of fun to the stage – and Arkane Studios’ upcoming first person action game Deathloop.
Of course, they also trotted out the tried and true segments for The Elder Scrolls: Legends card game and The Elder Scrolls Online’s next big update, which segued into the rather curious Commander Keen mobile game that felt and looked out of place, before doubling down on the over-the-top marketing and action of Rage 2 with the promise of new content and updates coming to the game, including cheat codes, new vehicles and new enemies to battle.
The biggest game of Bethesda’s year was saved for last, as id Software come on to talk about Doom Eternal (but not before spending a little bit too long talking about their new game streaming API, because everybody’s trying to make game streaming a thing again). Its checked all the boxes, with gloriously bloody arcade shooting action, plenty of satisfying weapons and beast to use them on in hellish, gothic environments, enhanced movement abilities and endlessly gory finishing moves.
More of this game is yet to come at this year’s Quakecon, as id teased the mixed strategy and action of the new 2v1 Battlemode, a replacement for the under-appreciated and underused Snapmap of the 2016 Doom.
Ultimately, for all that Bethesda focussed on their fans, and for all the hollering and whooping of the crowd in attendance, there wasn’t really a hell of a lot in this showcase to get them excited. A few glimpses of what’s to come in 2020 and a fairly lengthy look at Doom Eternal aside, their entire show was shackled by the need to shore up Fallout 76 and make it vaguely the game it should have been at launch. Maybe.