With E3 having been canceled this year, I was reflecting on how relevant it really still is to the industry as a whole. Personally, the last time I was truly invested in an E3 conference was in 2015, when Bethesda showed off Fallout 4 after a nearly eight-year-long wait.
Since then, there have been very few moments that captured my attention. This isn’t to say that a few interesting things haven’t come out of the annual convention, but of those classic, legendary E3 moments that used to define the gaming year to come, the only one that still stands out to me is the announcement of The Elder Scrolls VI, and it’s not for great reasons.
I remember when Bethesda finished their E3 press conference in 2018. It’s traditional to have a “one more thing” at the end of a press conference, usually something unexpected or unique to end on a high note. That year, the one more thing was, it seemed, a first look at the long-rumored Starfield.
5 Star: Fallout S2 — T-51 Power Armor – $8.79
from: Things From Another World
The trailer amounted to little more than a logo and a brief snatch of music, which was odd. It clearly wasn’t a finished game, and even according to Bethesda themselves, it was still some ways away. While it was nice to have some official confirmation, this broke the tradition of the studio not announcing a game until it was nearly done. As I prepared to close the stream and get some sleep, they announced that they had yet another thing to show.
I thought, just for a moment, how funny it would be if it was The Elder Scrolls VI. Then I heard the music, and my heart soared, and when the logo came up on the screen, I almost screamed. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, thinking it was still years away, but it had just been announced out of nowhere. I was ecstatic, and that feeling stayed with me throughout the entire summer, even as the red flags started to pop up. The lack of gameplay and details were bad enough, but the fact that, much like Starfield, the studio confirmed the game was a long way off was discouraging.
Why had they chosen to show it so far in advance, especially when the strategy that had been used by announcing Fallout 4 just months before launch had been so successful? The answer seems obvious now, but cut me some slack; I was completely caught up in the hype.
Now, when Fallout 76 had first been shown off by the studio at that same conference, I was cautiously optimistic. It looked like more Fallout 4, something that I was willing enough to play. By the time the game launched, and the world saw what a disaster it was, I was still holding out hope it would be redeemed, but even a year and a half after launch, the game is still underwhelming at best, nonfunctional at worst. The thing is though, Fallout 76 is no longer what’s concerning. It’s a write off, something that can be more or less ignored in the wider industry. What is concerning is what it means for the next Elder Scrolls game.
The Fall(out) From Grace
Skyrim, along with being possibly my favorite game of all time, was a massive cultural touchstone that permeated nearly every layer of culture. A moment in my life that stands out to me is when my grandmother referenced a line from the game, and that’s a woman who couldn’t figure out email.
The Art of Fallout 4 HC – $39.99
from: Things From Another World
Through its countless re-releases, ports, remasters, and active modding community, it’s a game that’s clearly resonated with a massive audience and remains very relevant to this day. It’s already become abundantly clear that that’s not what we’ll get with the next installment in the franchise. From Bethesda using the announcement to soften the blow of what they must have known would be a disastrous year, to the fact that they were willing to devalue the brand with grotesque spin-offs like Blades, the studio has shown a disregard for what made them popular in the first place.
I’ve spoken many times about how Fallout 76 showed a fundamental misunderstanding of what people want from a Bethesda game, but you can find examples of how little they cared about the identity of the series in a myriad of places. How about when the Skyrim: Special Edition launched with notable bugs that were present in the launch version of the original game? Or the determination to shove paid mods, or some variation of them, into their games? Or the alleged ejection of longtime series composer Jeremy Soule (something that was being rumored well before the allegations against Soule came to light)? Time and time again, the studio shows a complete disregard for the artistic value of the work that it creates.
There was a time in the early 2010’s where Skyrim was held on a pedestal as a game which enjoyed massive success without succumbing to the increasingly anti-consumer industry practices of the time. In just a couple of years and with most of the damage coming from just one game, Bethesda has destroyed all the consumer goodwill that they’ve been building since the release of Morrowind in 2002. It used to sadden me that I would be well into my twenties before playing another Elder Scrolls game. It used to bring me joy to imagine what it could possibly offer after all the time I’ve spent waiting. Now, it’s just dread I feel, and it brings me some comfort that I won’t have to face that disappointment for another few years.