Bethesda is the king of RPG games. The Elder Scrolls series was seen by many as the peak of the genre, with Skyrim becoming massively popular and rising to become the 11th highest selling game of all time. Anybody who has been to this site before knows my opinions on the game. It is enjoyable enough but lacks the depth that many RPG players look for in their games. Despite this, the figures speak for themselves.
It has been over six years now since Skyrim’s release without any word on the next entry in the series. We know that it will be made, just not when. Can Bethesda retain their crown though when Elder Scrolls VI is released?
Skyrim was released November 2011 but the landscape of the industry has changed massively between then and now. This decade has been a golden age for RPGs that have drastically altered what we expect from our games.
You see, 2011 also saw the release of two other important RPGs: The Witcher 2 and Dark Souls. These released earlier in the year than Skyrim but close enough that they would in no way effect Skyrim’s development. Both came from smaller companies and were sequels/successors to niche games with small cult followings. Things didn’t stay that way though. Neither sold massively at launch but word of mouth spread and the games’ audiences continued to grow and grow. Soon Dark Souls was the most talked about game out there and was seen as the poster child of great games by critics across the world. The Witcher 2’s reach was smaller but still impressed many and led to the development of its sequel, The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt came out in February 2015 to a critical reception that was almost unheard of. What also came out in 2015? Bethesda’s other flagship property: Fallout 4. Despite the weight of Fallout’s reputation and the hype leading up to it’s release, Fallout 4 gained a lukewarm reception and it was The Witcher 3 that swept all of the years awards. In fact it became the most awarded game in history.
This is a problem for Bethesda. In the past there wasn’t much competition in the way of big budget RPGs. But now we live in a world that has seen the full Dark Souls/Bloodborne series, The Witcher 3 and now Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. On the other end of the scale we have excellent old style RPGs too such as Divinity Original Sin 2. Bethesda can no longer coast by on an outdated engine with bland characters and overly simplified mechanics.
Fallout 4 was a stumbling block for Bethesda. It showed that even big titles are not infallible. Core gamers are pushing back harder against ‘dumbed down’ mechanics aimed at pulling in the casual audience and the ‘paid mods’ fiasco has left many bitter and skeptical about Bethesda’s intentions and competence. Also, let’s not forget that even after six years and multiple remasters and ports, Skyrim is still being released to this day with all the same well documented bugs that its had since launch.
All of these being said, Bethesda are no idiots. Elder Scrolls VI will sell massively even if it is just a ‘Skyrim 2’ type game. The hype, as they say, is very real. After the initial sales period though will be the judge. Will traditional gamers embrace it? Will it be praised? Can it stand up to the litany of great RPGs that have come out this decade?
How long can goodwill towards Bethesda last without substantial effort on their part?
The general direction that Bethesda developed games have been taken has had me worried for years now as I do love their games. In the end we can only hope that Bethesda have been studying the successful games since Skyrim’s release, studied Fallout 4’s pitfalls and are taking the time and investment needed to invigorate the franchise. After all, we wouldn’t want them to release a half-arsed game the same year as CD Projekt Red releases Cyberpunk 2077 and be shown up by a relatively young polish studio for a second time.