I wrote some months ago about the downward spiral of Bethesda Games Studios, culminating in the disaster that is Fallout 76. As we approach the anniversary of the game, the online RPG continues to amuse and mystify in equal measure. The developer hasn’t given up on the game, releasing several large updates during the past year. Still, these have failed to deal with the underlying problems of Fallout 76. I’m doubtful that Bethesda’s latest ploy, the Fallout 1st subscription service, will entice many new or existing players.
What is Fallout 1st?
Players have kept the faith, hoping that the franchise they once loved would make a turnaround, but have once again been left cold by the developer’s recent business moves, namely their newly released Fallout 1st subscription service. The “premium” service doesn’t feel so premium; you receive access to private worlds, exclusive emotes, unlimited junk storage, etc. Things that should already exist in the base game will now cost you $12.99 a month.
Bethesda wants you to pay a fee to enjoy their broken game on your own, without the risk of being trolled by fellow players. This idea hasn’t gone well with the majority of gamers, some of whom have suffered trolling for purchasing the subscription. You also receive a monthly stipend of 1,650 Atoms (Fallout 76’s currency). It may not buy you much, but maybe Bethesda will add the ability to bribe other players into not trolling you.
After all the controversy and damning criticism Fallout 76 has faced, why pile on more? It’s generally accepted that the latest Fallout is a bad game, not to mention an abysmal addition to the franchise. Bethesda has added content, namely the new Battle Royale mode and next year’s Wastelanders expansion, both of which are free. Regardless, it still feels predatory to provide a paid service in a game that is still fundamentally broken.
Worse still is that Bethesda knows that those looking for a more traditional Fallout experience (something Wastelanders claims to provide) will cough up the $13 to play it their way, giving gamers little room to maneuver. Either risk the uncertainty of public servers or pay us to enjoy a single-player-like experience. Tactics like these should be below Bethesda, but they continue to prove me wrong on how low they’ll fall to make a buck.
The Hubris Of Bethesda
What I find striking is that Bethesda announced this subscription service in the same week that Obsidian released The Outer Worlds, a superior RPG experience in every respect. Did they think this would cast a shadow on the release of an industry rival? Surely not. If so, it was a pathetic attempt. A paid service may be an indication of where the game is heading. Bethesda is wringing Fallout 76 for all it’s worth before even the most ardent supporters give up.
There is a darker side to all this. Bethesda has, whether purposefully or indirectly, created a class system within Fallout 76. A way of distinguishing the haves from the have-nots. Those who spent good money for a terrible game are punished by being barred from having access to private worlds unless you pay Bethesda or have a friend who has Fallout 1st. What happened? Why create such a toxic environment for those who love your games? Considering the nonchalant attitude the studio showed at this year’s E3, I don’t think we’ll get an explanation anytime soon.
I have a strong affection for Bethesda’s older RPGs. My teenage years were dominated by The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Fallout 3. But, as western RPGs have matured as a genre and new competition has emerged, Bethesda seems to be struggling to find a home in this competitive space. The immediate future looks bleak for the studio. Uninteresting new projects and a focus on mobile gaming and sequels seem to suggest a move away from the fan base that the studio spent over twenty years building. Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield remain Bethesda’s only hope of salvaging some of the respect lost over the recent years; I only hope they get here in time.