Another week, another nail in the coffin of the Fallout franchise.
Earlier this week, Bethesda shook Fallout fans with some very big news. By which I mean me; I’m very upset. I wasn’t planning on playing the next Fallout anyway, but I figured you all should know.
What’s the big news? Twofold. In order, Fallout 76 will have its beta (to hell with the initialism) one month before launch, and the game will not be available on Steam. Not just at launch, at all. As in, no Fallout 76 on PC unless you download Bethesda’s own DRM. So there. Both of these are very worrying for two distinct reasons.
First off, the beta. Earlier, at E3, Bethesda’s CEO Todd Howard made rather snide remarks about bugs in his games, saying that people complained about it on the internet and so it must be true. Well, I hate to break it to you, Todd, but it is true. Bethesda games are known for being technically lackluster and unfinished. Shamefully so. It usually takes players less than an hour to find major or game-breaking bugs, to the point where all of us can only shake our heads at the prospect of in-house QA and testing. What are you doing, Todd, besides counting your money?
A beta, then, would make a whole lot of sense. They even gave it a cutesy initialism of “break it early test application”, so B.E.I.T.A. Oh, oops. Should’ve done QA on that, too, huh? This week, we found out just how early the test application would be. Bethesda scheduled its beta as early as one month before release. One whole month, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters. Four weeks is only barely enough time to check all the typos in the writing, let alone all the code.
I’m no game developer, but I don’t have to be to know that one can get little work done in just one month, especially on a game of such a scale as this one. How would you go about bug fixing an entire game and making relevant changes to gameplay in such a short time? The answer is, of course, you wouldn’t. Instead of an honest beta, this announcement makes it seem like the early testing is more in line with early playing. Pay us up front and you get your fix a month before everyone else. This seems especially true in light of the fellow announcement they made that all your progress would carry over into release. So pay up front and you get to curbstomp all the newbs who buy on day one. That’s the takeaway from that.
But it gets worse. Oh, does it ever. With this second piece of news surrounding the actual availability on PC, I have to wonder if Bethesda is anxious to detonate one of their big IPs, if only to prove that they could. Fallout is one of the oldest PC gaming franchises to still be discussed, and more importantly played. It’s up there with The Elder Scrolls in terms of age and brand recognition. Surely, Bethesda would do everything in their power to guarantee its success? Everything except launch it on the most popular, most widely used and most preferred piece of non-optional DRM of Steam, that is. Instead, players will only be able to buy and play the game via the official Bethesda website. Setting up for failure and being Bethesda seem to have grown closer together, almost becoming synonymous as phrases.
And Bethesda desparately needed to win gamers over, too. Various message boards, video comment sections and general discussions on plans to play Fallout 76 have been ongoing since the initial announcements on E3. Never before this have people discussed the possibility of hyping a game before actually getting hyped for that game, as if conscious of a dangerously thin layer of ice on an otherwise still liquid lake that no one wants to walk on. I, myself, expressed strong doubts about Fallout 76 in a previous article where I discussed internally inconsistent reasons for why I’m not anticipating the game’s release. But this news, as well as older announcements, makes me worried for more contextual reasons.
Much earlier than this week, Bethesda discussed the game some more with various big name news outlets. Todd Howard talked about griefing, always online and base building. At every turn, it felt more like damage control and going back on his word than actually elaborating on anything substantial. Oh, don’t worry about griefing, we’re working on a way to avoid that in a game that is multiplayer only and always online. Well, some of it may not be “always online," per say. The more I read about it, the more I became convinced that Bethesda has no clue on what people want, what they expect and what specific design choices really involve. Worse still, I began to feel that they had no idea what they wanted Fallout 76 to be.
To this day, and its inevitable release, I dread it coming out as a confusing mess of a dumpster fire caused by a lack of clear and solid direction. That’s where we stand with Fallout 76; tirelessly, and tiringly, crossing our fingers for it not to leave the Fallout franchise in disrepair. I wish I had any sort of words of encouragement, but I suppose this is the article it has to be. You may direct your complaints over to Bethesda.net, where you will be buying Fallout 76 somewhere in October in early access. Don’t expect to find me there, though.