It’s been a monumental year for RPG’s, but how did Bethesda miss the mark?

From what I’ve seen, 2018 has proven to be one thing, above a whole lot of other things: the year of the Role-Playing Game.

Between releases like Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, Vampyr, Octopath: Traveler, Monster Hunter World, and new studio attempts at RPG’s like Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed Odyssey and Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2, we have been absolutely spoiled for choice with RPG’s this year.

Given the RPG’s prevalence, and the continuing support of games like Overwatch, R6S and Fortnite, I’d argue that this has been one of the best years for quality gaming has seen in quite a long time (although don’t let that get in the way of this years plethora of gaming controversies; between streamers being banned from games, sexual harassment allegations against Riot and expose’s on Rockstar’s “crunch-culture”).

Despite the success of RPG’s this year, something stuck out like a saw thumb, and it’s gonna keep sticking out as reviews roll out for its vanilla build: Fallout 76. 

Brilliant in conception, Falllout 76 sought to make the American wasteland multiplayer, in the mountainous regions of West Virginia. With this in mind, there were a range of design concerns – notably that NPC’s wouldn’t be in the game, and that it would have greater emphasis on being multiplayer than solo player, which removes an element of immersion from the game.

So far, not a whole lot of good has been said about this entry into the series. It’s riddled with bugs, the story is far from being an RPG let alone being enjoyable, and the mechanics of the game are simply upwards from Fallout 4 almost as if they’re quality of life changes – the same can be said for the games aesthetic.

But the key point of this is that it’s not an RPG – it’s far from being one, and in a year of such spectacular RPG’s, it’s quite strange that Bethesda wouldn’t want to continue their proud tradition of immersive role-playing experiences.

Assassins Creed Odyssey deserves some credit for its achievements; bravo to Ubisoft for making an RPG that is dynamic, modern in design theory, and where actions feel like they actually have intense weight upon the player and the world around them. The Assassins Creed lore has extensive source material, and I hope they continue to follow this path with later instalments. If you haven’t picked it up, get it – you’ll especially love it if you were a fan of The Witcher 3. Depending on your actions, people will treat you differently, so if you’re after a game that plays you back, pick up either of

Red Dead Redemption also deserves a fair amount of praise for its design efforts – I went in expecting an experience like Westworld, and did I ever get one; again, actions feel weight, less as much on the world around the player, but more so on the player, and on their morality through the games honour system. Congratulations to the developers who worked incredibly hard on the game.

But Fallout 76 takes on very little in terms of being an RPG, and is very against the grain.

And whether or not it’s for the best is up to the fans, but it’s the first time a Bethesda-produced title hasn’t been nominated for an award at The Game Awards since the ceremony started in 2014.

It’s quite an interesting change in dynamic – the last Bethesda Softworks developed game was Fallout 4, released in 2015, was beaten out by another RPG, The Witcher 3.

What’s interesting about Bethesda’s choice to take this creative direction is that it’s almost a confirmation of fan concerns about the development of games from the studio. Here’s a video from YouTuber Hugbox, which discusses pivots away from RPG and immersive mechanics and into the direction of more linear experiences. To say that the design philosophies are ‘insulting’ goes from audience to audience, as it is an objective of all developers to make games more playable to wider audiences, although Hugbox recognises a change in pace from Oblivion to Fallout 4… celebrating Fallout: New Vegas as any hardcore-RPG adherent does. The video was published in September 2017, long before the announcement of Fallout 76.

 

Essentially, the pivot to Fallout 76 could have been expected; it’s likely that somebody with great sway over the company’s direction saw a profit avenue in making a game multiplayer (and if this is the case, micro-transactions are probably around the corner). Which could make sense, but it’s also fair to say that Bethesda Softworks have been wanting to make a multiplayer game for a while, as Todd Howard said when presenting Fallout 76 initially at E3 this year.

So with this in mind, and with Bethesda having a lasting reputation as the RPG juggernaut of the gaming industry – will they continue to hold up the title? The next generation of consoles is almost upon us, bringing with it massively anticipated titles like Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us 2, Starfield (Bethesda’s new IP) and Death Stranding, all of which have been advertised to have captivating narratives, if not RPG elements.

Not to mention The Elder Scrolls 6, which has a lot of fan hype riding on it, being the first return to the TES series since The Elder Scrolls: Online.

And when we come down to it Bethesda, as a publishing label, have been quite broad with their support of titles – the resurrection of DOOM, Wolfenstein, Prey and RAGE, along with the creation of Dishonored, alludes to a support of diverse in nature FPS-Action games – the aforementioned The Elder Scrolls: Online, and its formidable success are probably also reason to the support of Fallout: 76. 

The foundations are shifting. Go give one of the earlier-mentioned titles a go, you’ll love it!

Zachariah Kelly

A Journo from Sydney who loves looking into the why's who's and what's of Video Games.