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Bethesda E3 2019 review: A good mix of new IP and existing franchises

ZeniMax firm tries to showcase community positivity

Since its debut in 2015, Bethesda‘s E3 conferences have felt, well, a little bit unnecessary.

That year saw the Zenimax-owned developer and publisher announcing the eagerly anticipated Fallout 4, release mobile title Fallout Shelter then and there at the show, as well as announcing new Doom and Prey games. In short, they had stuff to talk about and ever since, it’s felt like there’s been little to reveal.

Before E3 2019 even got underway, the firm said that its two eagerly-anticipated RPGs – Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI – were not going to be at the show, begging the question of what Bethesda was going to be showing.

The main exhibit tonight was a company desperately trying to portray its community – and perhaps games communities in general – as positive, in the face of increased scrutiny from outside the industry, and reports of toxicity within the games sector.

Bethesda Game Studios executive producer Todd Howard went as far as to describe its 2018 online RPG Fallout 76 as having one of the best online communities in video games, which – given that there was one high-profile example of harassment and homophobia early on in the game’s life – is a somewhat surprising claim.

The main exhibit tonight was a company desperately trying to portray its community – and perhaps games communities in general – as positive

The firm kicked off proceedings discussing its MMO Fallout 76, talking up the “millions” of people who had played the game.

A lack of actual figures – coupled with its less-than-stellar reception – isn’t a great sign as to how the game as performed. But Bethesda is hoping to keep people interested, introducing the new free Wastelanders update, set to launch at the end of this year. The headline feature here is non-playable characters coming to the world. There’s also Nuclear Winter, a 52-player last-man-standing mode. Despite its lacklustre start to life, it’s good to see that Bethesda is still supporting Fallout 76. An online title like this is a very different beast to the regular Fallout games, and a longer-view often needs to be taken with them.

Battle royale isn’t the only trend that Bethesda is chasing, with the firm doubling down on its mobile games business, too. Marketing man Pete Hines revealed that aforementioned smartphone hit Fallout Shelter had been downloaded over 150m times in the last four years, with the company continuing to release extra content for card game The Elder Scrolls Legends, RPG Elder Scrolls Blades – which is also coming to Nintendo Switch – alongside a mobile free-to-play Commander Keen game. Yes, the same series that helped kick off Doom creators Id Software is now a Saturday cartoon-style game, which I’m actually into to be fair.

All of this isn’t to say that there was a lack of new ideas on-stage at the show. Early in the event, Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami – best known recently for The Evil Within horror series at Tango Gameworks – announced the studio’s latest title, Ghostwire Tokyo, before a very enthusiastic Ikumi Nakamura took to the stage to explain the spooky action game. As you will no doubt have seen from Twitter by now, Nakamura went down well with the crowd both at home and in the room by actually showing personality and passion about what she has created.

The other new game on stage was Arkane Lyon’s Deathloop, an action title that can best be described as a ‘time-travelling murder romp’, which looks very interesting. So far Arkane has primarily worked on the Dishonored series of immersive simulations, so it’ll be interesting to see that studio tackling something a little bit different.

It wasn’t just new games that Bethesda was keen to show off, either. The firm introduced its Orion tech – after going on about how it invented the first-person shooter, mods and made the first VR headset – which is designed to optimise games for a cloud environment, safeguarding the company as Stadia, xCloud and other players are set to bring streaming to the masses. This was, of course, demoed by playing Doom 2016 on a mobile phone. It’s not clear whether this is an underlying technology to assist streaming or whether it’s part of a new platform itself.

Battle royale isn’t the only trend that Bethesda is chasing, with the firm doubling down on its mobile games business, too.

And of course, we closed on Doom Eternal, which is set to launch on November 22nd, complete with a gory-as-hell gameplay demo that the audience went nuts for.

Speaking of the audience, there was something insufferable about the crowd whooping, hollering and often getting in the way of what those on-stage were actually trying to say. From the livestream, it at least appeared that the front of the audience at least were employees from Bethesda, which isn’t a great look.

Overall, Bethesda’s showing was interesting, with a good mix of new IP, existing franchises and different takes on established ideas or series. The firm’s insistence on pushing a strong positive message about its audience feels somewhat disingenuous. When a game like Fallout 76 has had issues around toxicity in the community, it’s bizarre to go on about how great the userbase is. We’re never going to tackle these kinds of issues by simply insisting that they’re not there.