Let’s be honest, Bethesda hasn’t necessarily had the smoothest transition into 2019. From the rocky (and arguably broken) launch of their flagship title for 2018, Fallout 76, to interviews with studio face and creative director at Bethesda Game Studios, Todd Howard having him state that the studio would continue using the now dated Creation engine for future titles such as Starfield and the Elder Scrolls 6; the past six months have not been the best for the once beloved developer. While this isn’t the first time the Bethesda ‘brand’ as a whole has faced criticism, it may be the first time where even the most hardcore of loyalists to the developer are beginning to see wary outlook on their faith.
Yet, this is still Bethesda, arguably one of the most well known and praised developers (and publishers) in modern gaming. Up until recently, the Rockville, MD developer was held in the same regard as Blizzard once was to PC gamers, in the sense of blind trust. There lived this trust factor that was built up over numerous projects and experiences that gave players a sense of ease when buying their products, knowing that the quality and content was worth their hard earned dollars. How does a gaming entity with the prestige that Bethesda has, pivot from a misstep that to some signals legitimate worry for the company’s future?
Let’s start with the short term, ala projects that have been officially announced to be currently in development by Bethesda Game Studios (not just the publishing arm): Starfield and the Elder Scrolls 6. For now, let’s focus on the former.
Starfield, which was announced at Bethesda’s E3 2018 press event and the developer’s first new IP in over ten years, is a project that has ran the internet rumor gauntlet for quite some time, with trademark filings for the game first surfacing in 2016. Howard has even been on record stating that the initial conversations about Starfield began almost a decade ago, but not entering full development until two to three years ago (now looking closer to the later due to the interview’s publication date). While Howard states that the game is a few years off, ‘leaks’ have began to surface over the past few months centering around a supposed troubled development cycle for the upcoming sci-fi game. The ‘leak’ (which has since been removed) surfaced on 4Chan, was posted by an anonymous user stating to be a ‘code boy’ at Bethesda’s Maryland studio, and cites the Creation engine as the source of studio-wide headaches within the game. Outdated tool sets supposedly hinders space battles, and all but bottlenecks the true scope and vision of the game. A full recap of the rumor can be found on a post over on the Starfield subreddit.
If true, this would confirm everyone’s fears of staying with the dated Creation engine: a ticking time bomb that culminates in a broken game. Game development is hard. Stating the obvious I know, but many times fans forget that there are hundreds (even thousands) of faces behind the scenes who craft these experiences we love. Even if from a logistical standpoint using the dated Creation engine made sense in the short term, what about the long term? Starfield is very much a next generation project. I have no hesitation in my fingers when typing that. Part of writing that gives me excitement, considering the closer our traditional home consoles move to becoming gaming PCs, the greater the spectrum of immersion can open up to provide us with greater experiences; but how can this dated engine be expected to not only transition to improved technology, but also continue to satisfy fans who are already quite vocal about wanting the developer to move on from it?
And that was just Starfield. We haven’t even touched on the crown jewel of Bethesda, The Elder Scrolls and their now officially announced sixth mainline entry. I, like many long time fans of the franchise, felt a feeling of euphoria when Howard finally confirmed the existence of the game with its quick 37 second teaser trailer at E3 2018. Hearing those bellowing drums transition into the exuberant brass section as we clear the mist and stumble into a vast new region still gives me goosebumps. Finally, the Skyrim memes and jokes could be put to bed (who am I kidding, those will always be there). We, the Tamriel faithful, finally have a brand new adventure to look forward to, even if it is years away. Yet, my worries still fester in the back of my mind in a post-Fallout 76 world. How does a struggling Bethesda not only right the ship of a supposedly rocky development of its next in-house game Starfield, and then move onto the game the collective gaming population has been asking for now for the better part of a decade?
The only answer: a new engine. With the newest Elder Scrolls experience assumedly still in pre-production, there is still time to adjust the trajectory of this project. Bethesda has the financial backing of ZeniMax, its parent company, who knows the sales power that the juggernaut franchise has. With the next console generation all but confirmed to launch in 2020, the best thing Bethesda has going for the Elder Scrolls franchise is time. Starfield, while very much cemented in its development within the Creation engine, could see forgiveness on its first outing in a multitude of way; mainly being presumed late 2021 release and early title for the next generation of systems. While it isn’t necessarily excusable to use this reasoning, this project sounds to have the makings of an early generation ‘toe in the water’ experience (i.e. not reaching the full potential that the hardware offers). Even if it isn’t ready, ZeniMax will want a Bethesda product available as close to launch as possible. But the Elder Scrolls shouldn’t necessarily have this issue.
If you’re fully expecting to see the next entry in the Elder Scrolls series within the next three years, I truly think you are going to be let down. Some have suggested to fast track the development of the game, just in an attempt to win back fans after the disastrous launch of Fallout 76, but why repeat history? Doing so circles us back to where we began, a broken, buggy mess. While we all want to explore this vast new experience (which is rumored to now have the surname ‘Redfall’), sometimes patience is key. Moving away from the Creation engine, to a new, modern skeleton sets up the next generation of Bethesda games for years to come. I continue to think of Shigeru Miyamoto’s famous quote of “a delayed game is eventually good, but a bad game is bad forever”, and while the modern convenience of software updates via the internet is always available, the foundation has to be good.
Maybe this article is all for nought, and the development road map for the next Elder Scrolls project has been altered to apply a new engine, but my gut says ‘think again’. There is still time, Bethesda. It has almost been seven years since Skyrim. Personally, I think waiting an extra year for my next Elder Scrolls adventure won’t kill me, and I think your fans will appreciate it for years to come.