The news that Microsoft was to buy Bethesda made my wizened old gaming heart skip a beat. I have spent many years playing Bethesda titles, and the thought of all their new games being released on Xbox Game Pass on day one, or even having exclusivity to the Xbox brand, made me so excited I had to have a little lie down. You can keep Spiderman, Sony – I’d rather have a new Fallout or Elder Scrolls game, thanks very much.
So, having been uplifted by the news, when I was starting to come down from my excited state, I began to think about all the games I’d played, and how they had had an effect on my gaming life. I’ll never forget, just as a for instance, coming out of the dungeon at the start of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and seeing a world that had previously been all corridors and cells open out before me. The sheer scale of the world amazed; how you could see for miles – honking great hills and nasty monsters notwithstanding, you could pretty much wander where your heart took, choosing to do missions or not.
Now, this experience helped shape my gaming tastes even to this day, and I’m never happier than when in an open world, with a host of things to do, places to go, and time to kill, usually literally. So, what this rambling introduction is leading up to is a list consisting of five of the very best Bethesda Games, in no particular order. Here we go…
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
This is actually less of a no-brainer than you might think.
As I mentioned earlier, Oblivion had a massive effect on me, and to be honest I think that The Shivering Isles is a strong contender for being one of the all-time favourite DLC packs of all time. Sheogorath and his increasingly bonkers missions made me love every second of the quests that came along with the DLC, but I think, overall, Skyrim has to just shade it.
The scope of the story, the scale of the land, the amount of side quests that you can take on – the whole game just blew me away. Who can forget the first time you saw a dragon, or the first time you met Alduin? Climbing the steps to the Throat of the World? All these and more are moments that are seared onto my gaming brain.
In fact, until Bethesda went and ruined it by releasing DLC, Skyrim was one of my proudest 100% completions, and it certainly took many more hours than I care to remember for that to happen.
The expansions, when they came, were again a joy to play, and while I never really got the hang of building a house, it was nice to have the option. Of course, Skyrim now seems to be making a strong grab for world domination, having been released for about every platform that is capable of running it, and with re-releases for the Xbox One I was of course forced to buy it again, and once more I found myself getting lost in its massive world.
For me, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the pinnacle of Bethesda’s powers; the benchmark that all open-world games need to be judged against. FUS-RO-DAH!
2. Fallout 3
Fallout 3 is another of those games that just blew me away with the scope of what was possible.
The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system was a stroke of genius, with the traits that went to define your character being made up of Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Having high strength may be good, but certain dialogue choices only appear if you have sufficient intelligence (I’ve struggled with my roll for years!).
The thing that really ensnared me with this game, however, was the ability to do what you wanted, when you wanted, where you wanted. Who can forget visiting Megaton, with the ability to either disarm the massive nuclear weapon that sat at its heart, or, if you really wanted to be a bad guy, cause it to blow up and wipe out the entire settlement? I had to watch that ending of the town on YouTube, as I’m too much of a goody two shoes to actually kill all these innocent people.
Still, wandering around, using V.A.T.S. to blow arms and legs off ghouls with gay abandon, enjoying the results of taking the “Bloody Mess” perk which caused enemies to explode into, well, a bloody mess all over the floor, trying to find all the locations without falling prey to a wandering Deathclaw; these were some of the happiest times I’ve had in a game.
With the DLC, Bethesda kept us entertained as well, and Mothership Zeta in particular was awesome, with the Alien Blaster quickly becoming one of my favourite weapons in-game. Fallout 4, while a good game, didn’t hit me quite as hard as the game that preceded it did, and so it is the stunning Fallout 3 that gets the nod over its successor.
3. DOOM (2016 reboot)
DOOM is a franchise that I have been playing for longer than I care to remember. I played it on old 386 machines, I played it on my Playstation, I played it on Xbox. And as a shooter, it’s always scratched that old ultra-violence itch.
Moving from ridiculously pixelated enemies, all on one level with no vertical aiming needed or indeed possible, I have enjoyed every iteration of this franchise. However, with the 2016 reboot, it was only then that DOOM started to find its feet as the blood-soaked, bullet gauntlet speed-fest that it always should have been.
Seriously, playing the alpha, the beta and then the demo, I was increasingly blown away by the speed and sheer savagery on display. Whoever came up with the Glory Kill mechanic should probably be kept away from sharp objects and be forced to do all their writing with crayons, as the animations were truly disturbing. Ripping off creatures’ arms and hitting them with it? Punching them so hard in the face their heads explode? As much fun as it was, it was a little disturbing.
Add to this some truly monstrous creations to fill full of holes; the speed at which the game ran and the satisfying weapons to locate and use, this really was as good as DOOM got and it is certainly the option I would point others to checking out if they haven’t yet done so.
4. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein was another game that I remember fondly from my school days, running shady copies of the game on the school network and trying to hide it from the computer lab technicians. I realise looking back now that they knew full well what was going on (really, how much homework needed to be done in the computer room?), but it is still a fond memory.
Fast forward a few years and Bethesda rebooted Wolfenstein as The New Order, and again the cycle of shooting Nazis in the face could begin.
A nice touch here was in finding the various secret locations in the game, where you could have a “dream” of playing a level from classic Wolfenstein, complete with shonky graphics and old school difficulty.
Again, this is a game that was ripe for a reboot, and the story of an alternate end to the second World War was a classic one. Playing as B.J. Blazkowicz, we were tasked with stopping the Nazi war machine in its tracks. With imaginative enemies to kill, including giant robot dogs and diesel-powered super soldiers, the game was never easy – but was fun nonetheless.
One thing I really enjoyed was the way it rewarded you for playing in certain ways, unlocking extra skills depending on what you did. For example, playing stealthily unlocked different skills than charging about dual-wielding firearms, and being able to almost get perks that suited your playstyle was a very cool idea.
The follow-ups were also very good indeed, particularly Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, but for me the original is always that little bit more unexpected, a bit more of a surprise, and so for that reason gets the nod over the arguably more technically accomplished sequels.
Dishonored was something of a departure for me, being largely stealth-based and with Leroy Jenkins-ing about the place frowned upon. I didn’t expect to like it. You see, in real life and in most games, I am about as stealthy as an elephant in carpet slippers, and find enforced stealth annoying. It’s why I’m no good playing as a sniper in Battlefield games; I get bored of sitting in a bush and go running off, searching for adventure and usually an ignoble death.
But I digress. In Dishonored, stealth was actually a great deal of fun, and moving between patches of shadow in order to catch an enemy unaware was a great feeling. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t see myself getting the achievement for beating the whole game without killing anyone any time soon, I’m much too accident prone for that, leading to more fights than I’m sure the game thinks is necessary, but as a mechanic it’s a good challenge to try and beat the game as quietly as possible.
With a sword in our right hand, and an ever increasing and evolving arsenal of magical and supernatural powers in our left, we were never short of options when it came to combat. Having magical powers such as the ability to possess enemies, and Blink, which allowed us to cross short distances without being detected, up to more powerful abilities like the wind magic that could knock enemies down, whichever approach appealed to you, you could become a holy terror of the darkness. Each mission in the game was, in essence, a mini story, and while the overarching narrative didn’t always hang together perfectly, the game was more than the sum of its parts.
Again, while the later games are more refined, the original is still the best in my eyes, and so Dishonored takes its place on the podium.
And that’s your lot. Now, obviously the main reason that articles like this are written is to reach out to you and ask for your feedback, for the games that make your personal lists. In all honesty, Dishonored could just have easily been The Evil Within, and while I’m going to brush Fallout 76 under the carpet and pretend it didn’t happen, Fallout Shelter was another great game that I don’t feel got the love it deserved. But what say you? Let us know in the comments!