E3 2016: Bethesda Preys on Nostalgia for Elder Games, Expects No Fallout or Doom…Quake

Probably the biggest source of excitement when gamers tune into E3 each year is the announcement of new games. That’s just a given. We froth at the mouth for the big announcement during each press conference. With that in mind, Bethesda’s approach to this year’s conference was curious. Except for Quake: Champions and Elder Scrolls: Legends, the latter of which was actually mentioned during the pre-show already, no brand new major games or franchises were announced. That’s a weird foot to start out on.

First, we’ve got new DLC for Fallout 4, Elder Scrolls Online, and Doom. There were announced yet not demonstrated VR ports for both Fallout 4 and Doom. Prey, a sequel begun in 2011, was revived from development limbo with a new cinematic trailer. Although Elder Scrolls: Legends could be a cool new collectible card game, coupled with the DLC reveals for the MMO and the Skyrim remaster, it’s not quite the next step in the series fans desire. Quake: Champions is new this year, but it’s yet another revival for id Software, and we didn’t see it in action. The largest amount of time was devoted to Dishonored 2, which was revealed at last year’s E3 press conference.

Speaking of last year, that was a huge year for Bethesda at E3. Regardless of what the other publishers put on stage at this year’s expo, one need only compare Bethesda to itself. In 2015, they announced Fallout 4, Dishonored 2, Battlecry, and the Doom reboot. And the icing on that cake was Fallout Shelter, the mobile title that dropped as they said its name and had people playing and discussing it for weeks afterward. Compared with arguably five slam dunks at their previous show, seeing a bunch of DLCs, gameplay of a previously-announced game, and some revivals felt quite milquetoast by contrast. Not to mention that this is followed by Blink 182, now with a new frontman, performing at their post-conference event, themselves a kind of reboot of their own franchise.

This is not to knock the quality of the products Bethesda is putting out. I’m sure Quake fans were thrilled to see their prized franchise getting a second wind. And the Dishonored 2 presentation, though surprisingly long, had me chomping at the bit to play it already. But I wonder if Bethesda is just not saying something. Could this be a transition year for them where most of their studios maybe be working on new IPs but can’t announce them yet? Are potential new hardware announcements preventing them from revealing bigger titles? Why didn’t they actually demonstrate either of the VR titles they mentioned? The HTC Vive has not yet been on a major E3 stage yet, and this would’ve been an excellent opportunity.

I can only speculate so far, but what’s certain is that Bethesda’s choices this year left me puzzled and feeling a bit cold. Generally, I depend on publishers that are not also console manufacturers to carry a lot of the innovation at E3. So when an hour is spent looking at rehashes and revivals, talk and cinematics with very little gameplay, it’s no surprise that it’s dissatisfying. This is all said out of love, of course. I prefer to believe that there’s just stuff they can’t talk about yet.

I just hope it’s true.