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Analysing E3 2017: Bethesda – Short on Surprises

In its first two E3 showcases Bethesda has relied on an extended demo of its upcoming tentpole release to anchor the show. In 2015 that was Fallout 4, last year it was Dishonored 2. In 2017 that honour fell upon Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, not coincidentally the show finished 20 minutes earlier than the last two years.

For the first time in three years we are left asking; “does Bethesda have a large enough portfolio to justify an E3 showcase?” In 2017 the answer is “probably not”, but if E3 was two months earlier would we still be saying the same after a 20 minute demo of a near complete Prey? Timing is everything and come the next Fallout or Elder Scrolls game we will be glad Bethesda has a place to show it off.

What we did see of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus looked great. It is really leaning into humour and absurdity, not a surprise for a game as over the top as The New Order was. Already pressure is building for New Colossus to deliver a hard critique of Nazism in modern America, a subject that requires a more subtle touch than a game about dual wielding shotguns and machineguns could provide. All I ask for is The New Order turned up to 11, and New Colossus seems to do exactly that.

I can understand why Bethesda wouldn’t want to dedicate the same amount of time to Wolfenstein as it had Fallout and Dishonored in previous years. Not only did the quick cuts highlight the appealing weirdness of the game, but straight shooters usually don’t benefit from a gameplay walkthrough the likes of which Fallout 4 and Dishonored 2 received. This was the best way to showcase Wolfenstein, it just took significantly less time to achieve.

The Evil Within 2 has been a long time coming but didn’t show an awful lot beyond an admittedly atmospheric debut trailer. Horror games are hardly my thing but I did expect a bit more gameplay from a game coming in October. Death of the Outsider was also light on information, but its mere existence is probably enough for Dishonored fans.

Bethesda VR made its first appearance in 12 months with Fallout 4 VR and Doom VFR, and marked the first nod to virtual reality of the three conferences thus far. Both were what you would expect and hands-on impressions will tell us more about how seriously Bethesda takes bringing their big names to VR. With Fallout 4 specific mention was made to a full scale VR experience, but we’ll see how feasible hours long play sessions are with one to one motion, usually a recipe for motion sickness. Only Vive was mentioned as a platform, but unless Bethesda controls these titles exclusively through Bethesda.Net it won’t be able to stop Oculus owners from playing them no matter how many lawsuits they win. PSVR owners shouldn’t get their hopes up either, especially considering how poorly standard Fallout 4 run on that system.

Then we have the Bethesda’s Creation Club, or Paid Mods 2.0. After the sh*tstorm that was the original release of paid mods Bethesda has realised the way to do them right is original content, heavily curated and vetted. Creation Club sounds more like Bethesda is trying to make a la carte downloadable content more palatable, bringing back the individual sale of in game items such as weapons or horse armour. It was always coming back, we’ll see if the testing and content curation is too much of a burden and what kind of deal they offer community creators. A lot of others in the industry will be watching.

Then we have the scraps. A million dollar tournament is an interesting way to build hype for Quake Champions, though I had it as a shoe-in for this years “and it’s available now!” announcement. It shows faith in Champions as a balanced multiplayer game, but that is only one part of the equation to a successful eSport, regardless of the franchise’s pedigree.

Elder Scrolls Legends and Elder Scrolls Online both have imminent content updates, ESO was announced as having 10 million players, impressive numbers for a non free-to-play MMO that I have only ever seen described in lukewarm terms. Legends will be banking on that Skyrim bounce to stir some interest, it is just a game I don’t hear anybody talk about and now that Gwent is in public beta I expect that fight for relevance will only get harder. Speaking of the Skyrim bounce, Link in Skyrim Switch just sold thousands more Amiibo for Nintendo.

Bethesda didn’t have the same impact as the previous two years, but at least they didn’t feel the need to drag this out any longer than needed. Maybe the surprises would have hit a little harder had they not all leaked in the leadup to the show, but it is nice to know we will be playing all of these games later this year and with hands on experience available on the show floor we will soon know just how good some of these games are shaping up, and exactly what these VR games entail.

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About the author

Stuart Gollan

From Amiga to Xbox One, Doom to Destiny, Megazone to Stevivor, I've been gaming through it all and have the (mental) scars to prove it. I love local multiplayer, collecting ridiculous Dreamcast peripherals, and Rocket League.