I refuse to stay up until 4AM. That’s a ludicrous time to stay up and watch E3 conferences! I could be doing things I enjoy much more, like sleeping! I may be some high-flying, lap-of-luxury-living games journalist, but even I like to get all warm and snuggly under my quilt every now and then, so Bethesda’s conference had to wait until this morning when I could watch it over my bowl of Shreddies.
I don’t feel like I missed much not watching it live, though. While the games unveiled all look great in one way or another, the conference itself was a frustratingly slow plod through a handful of titles, highly edited trailers, and Andrew W.K. for some bizarre reason. After Microsoft’s wall-to-wall trailer bonanza, Bethesda’s show fell somewhat flat.
The games are the only thing that really matters, though, and boy howdy did Bethesda deliver. My personal game of the conference was The Elder Scrolls Blades, a title that’s planned to be made available to practically every system, including mobiles. It looked gorgeous, and playing it on my phone, Switch and PC with one unified character sounds excellent.
What was also impressive was the control scheme. Virtual joysticks universally suck, there has never been one that was anything more than godawful. Bethesda has acknowledged this by adding not only a tap-to-move system reminiscent of VR movement techniques, but also the ability to play the entire game in portrait mode with one hand – a great move for accessibility. While it looks like it’ll be murder on the ol’ phone battery, I never expected to be quite this excited about a mobile game.
Speaking of The Elder Scrolls, TES VI was also announced, although no setting, subtitle, release date or platforms were confirmed. It’s more of a “we know it exists” thing than anything else. My hope is for a game set in Elsweyr, home of the Khajiit, and the landscape we saw in the trailer, a craggy landscape free of vegetation, certainly fits the bill for that. We’re over a year away from seeing TES VI, but knowing it is in development is nice.
Fallout 76 was also extensively shown and… I’m not sure on it. An online Fallout focused on survival, where every human you encounter is another player, with a focus on base-building and PVP, it sounds like the antithesis of everything I love about Fallout. I love exploring, meeting memorable NPCs, taking my time trawling the landscape, and none of that sounds possible when everyone is a real player. People love player-killing.
The setting, West Virginia, looks gorgeous, and I love how Bethesda are using local mythology, like the Mothman and Molemen, to guide its enemy designs. The world is allegedly four times bigger than Fallout 4’s Commonwealth, which I can believe considering this one’s set before any significant settlements have had time to become established. I’m expecting a lot of empty space and wilderness, instead of the hives of activity found in the last three Fallout games.
In the opposite of “extensively shown”, we had Starfield, Bethesda Game Studios’ first original IP in literal decades. We don’t know anything about it, but my guess – purely from the logo, I might add – is it’s going to be Bethesda’s take on Destiny/Anthem. I’m almost certainly wrong, but I can see it trying to muscle in on the online-shooter-RPG-loot-thing genre, with Fallout 76 serving as the test run for online architecture.
Outside of Todd Howard’s massive sphere of influence, there were plenty of non-BGS titles on show. Andrew W.K. introduced Rage 2 with a painfully long… song? Scream? Whatever it is W.K. does. And honestly, I’m not feeling Rage 2 at the moment. The gameplay we saw was heavily edited, and too fast-paced to get a feel for how the wider game will play out. I’m not big on games that put “chaos and mayhem” as their primary selling point – stuff like Serious Sam, Saint’s Row and Crackdown – because I’d rather see signs of clever and thoughtful design that goes into any game more than the sheer volume of shit happening on-screen, and so far it looks like Rage 2 is covering up a lack of much of anything other than booms and bangs.
Wolfenstein Youngblood, a gritty, co-op focused sequel to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus following Blazko’s twin daughters in the Nazi-occupied 1980s, also did nothing for me. We didn’t see much gameplay, the voice acting in the trailer was cringe-inducing, and I feel like it might be setting itself up for an unflattering comparison to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon with its 1980s retrofuturism. I do appreciate “fuck Nazis” being repeatedly said during a major marketing conference, though. That was awesome.
Doom’s getting a sequel, dubbed Doom Eternal. I didn’t like Doom, so I’m not all that bothered about Eternal. It looked adequately gory, though!
We also had plenty of new Prey news, with a few free new game modes that aren’t enough to really pull me back to Talos One in the form of New Game+ and a horde-style Survival mode. We also had word of Typhon Hunter, a new multiplayer mode coming this Summer that will pit one human against a group of Mimic players in what sounds a lot like a massively fucked up Prop Hunt-style gamemode. Mimics were easily the most memorable enemy of Prey, so having a whole mode based on them is awesome.
More importantly, we finally got to see the new DLC, Mooncrash, and it isn’t at all what I expected it to be. We knew for a while a Lunar-centric expansion was coming, but I had no idea it was going to be a roguelite-esque mode full of “endless replayability” and procedural generation. I’m always up for more Prey, but I do hope the story is as gripping as the base game. We don’t have to wait and see, though, because it, and the free game modes are all out right now.
Overall, I think Bethesda’s show was a mixed bag. The games were good, and as usual Todd Harper’s stage presence was fantastic – a more likeable Kevin Flynn for the modern age. But for every right step, there was also a pace-breaking musical number, a dodgy recruitment trailer, someone stopping mid-sentence to encourage a disinterested crowd to applaud, or a really bad trailer for The Elder Scrolls Legends. In the long term, the show isn’t as important as the games, but it’s hard to deny that what we saw could’ve been pressed into a more concentrated 45-minute presser without all the bollocks surrounding them.
Bethesda having a great central focus that’s crushed by a sea of extra nonsense? Say it ain’t so.