Microsoft has recently completed its acquisition of ZeniMax Media, which included Bethesda Softworks. Bethesda Softworks, for the uninitiated, is the publishing arm of Bethesda, with a separate development team called Bethesda Game Studios responsible for the company’s various critically-acclaimed games over the years.
Since Bethesda Game Studios was established in 2002, the studio has put out a number of high profile games. These include some industry-leading titles that have set the bar for their genres, like the Fallout and Elder Scrolls games, as well as some smaller-scale releases that even the most hardcore Bethesda fans may be unaware of.
Bethesda Game Studios will now be developing games under the Xbox umbrella, and to fully appreciate what that means for the Xbox brand, one just has to take a look at the games the studio has developed so far.
The first game developed by the Bethesda Game Studios team was none other than The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, which launched on both PC and the original Xbox console. It served as a major evolution of The Elder Scrolls‘ open world action-RPG gameplay, increasing the graphics considerably while also completely reworking the combat and other gameplay mechanics. The foundation for future open world Bethesda action-RPGs was laid with Morrowind, which won numerous awards and widespread critical acclaim at the time of its release.
In The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, the player character explores Vvardenfall, an island within the province of Morrowind. Players are able to explore the world from a first-person viewpoint, completing quests, fighting enemies, and leveling up their character. Some aspects of the game may seem archaic by today’s standards, but many agree that Morrowind has aged well, especially when taking mods into account. The game is readily available to play on modern platforms thanks to the Xbox backward compatibility program, and like many other Bethesda games, can even be played through the Xbox Game Pass service.
Bethesda Game Studios is primarily known for its work on action-RPGs, but the studio has occasionally branched out into other genres. This includes the racing genre, as Bethesda Softworks once published a series of racing games called IHRA Professional Drag Racing. The 2005 edition, released in 2004, was developed by Bethesda Game Studios and launched for PC, PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox. None of the games in the series were particularly well-received or noteworthy, and so it’s no surprise that IHRA Professional Drag Racing 2005 is rarely brought up in discussions about Bethesda’s games.
Morrowind was a monumental success for Bethesda Game Studios, but The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion took the studio to the next level. Releasing for PC as well as consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Oblivion was another massive step forward for The Elder Scrolls franchise, dramatically improving the graphics and making sweeping quality of life improvements to make the experience more accessible to all players. Oblivion lets players explore a massive world with incredible depth, rich storytelling, and no shortage of memorable moments. It’s generally regarded as one of Bethesda’s all-time greatest games, and so it’s no surprise that there are many fans who want an Oblivion remaster of some kind.
Bethesda purchased the rights to the Fallout IP and got to work creating a third entry in the series. But instead of producing another isometric RPG, Bethesda instead created a first-person action-RPG set in the Fallout universe. Essentially Elder Scrolls-style gameplay mechanics with a Fallout twist, Fallout 3 won numerous awards and, like many of Bethesda Game Studios’ other projects, earned near-universal acclaim.
Fallout 3 helped revitalize the Fallout franchise in gaming, spawning spin-offs like Fallout: New Vegas and convincing Bethesda to double-down on the franchise in the decade to follow. It had a number of innovative gameplay mechanics that kept the spirit of the turn-based originals, like the V.A.T.S. system.
Five years after the launch of Oblivion, Bethesda Game Studios returned to The Elder Scrolls franchise with the landmark release The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. Widely considered to be one of the best video games ever made, Skyrim has made a lasting impact on the industry, inspiring countless open world games that followed it. Skyrim made some significant improvements over its predecessors, with better graphics and more quality of life improvements. Later Skyrim expansions would extend the experience further, giving fans new storylines to complete and homes to build. However, what’s really kept Skyrim at the forefront of gaming industry discussion is its mod support, which has gone a long way in keeping the game just as relevant in 2021 as it was 10 years ago in 2011.
Following the launch of Skyrim and its post-launch expansions, Bethesda Game Studios went dark, with the company not announcing any new projects for years. Things changed at E3 2015 when Bethesda officially revealed its next projects, including two big Fallout games for the year. This included the mobile game Fallout Shelter, which was admittedly much smaller in scope than Bethesda’s other projects, but still generated quite the dedicated fanbase. A life simulation twist on the Fallout universe, Fallout Shelter was generally well-received by the community, especially since it was revealed alongside a core Fallout game in Fallout 4.
The long-awaited sequel to Fallout 3, Fallout 4 was all the rage in 2015 and stole the show at E3 that year. Bethesda offered a deep dive into the game and the improvements it was making to the established Fallout formula, like base building and other new gameplay mechanics for players to engage with. Some of the changes Bethesda made in Fallout 4 didn’t quite resonate with the community as one might have hoped, but that didn’t stop the game from still winning numerous year-end awards and being hailed as another excellent game in Bethesda’s growing library of titles.
Bethesda has been made fun of over the years for its insistence on re-releasing Skyrim instead of releasing The Elder Scrolls 6, but when one considers how large Skyrim is, it makes sense. With the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles hitting their stride in 2016, Bethesda saw the opportunity to re-release Skyrim on the newer consoles, bundling the base game together with its DLC, improving the graphics, and making some small tweaks to make for an overall superior experience to the original.
Virtual reality finally became widely adopted by consumers in 2016, and so the next year saw many of gaming’s biggest franchises make the jump to VR. Bethesda first entered the VR space with The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim VR, which is, as its name suggests, a virtual reality version of the classic action-RPG.
Bethesda’s foray into virtual reality didn’t stop with Skyrim VR. On the contrary, Bethesda Game Studios also put out Fallout 4 VR, which lets players explore the post-apocalyptic wasteland in virtual reality to become even more immersed in the experience.
While Bethesda’s VR games earned relatively mixed reviews, the majority of its gameography has consisted of acclaimed, award-winning titles. That changed in 2018 when Bethesda Game Studios launched Fallout 76, its attempt at making an online-only take on the Fallout series. Fallout 76 launched with a wide range of technical issues and bugs, not to mention gameplay that generally was not appealing to many Fallout fans.
The negative reaction to Fallout 76 had some long-lasting, damaging impact on Bethesda’s reputation, as it had, up to that point, released nothing but games that were reviewed well and embraced by fans. In the years since its rocky launch, though, Bethesda has made an effort to improve Fallout 76, taking fan feedback into account and making a wide host of changes to the game through free content updates. Fallout 76 may still not reach the same heights as some of Bethesda’s other games, but it’s in a much better spot now than it was in 2018.
Something that didn’t help Bethesda’s reputation around the Fallout 76 era was its decision to release an Elder Scrolls mobile game while having very little to say about The Elder Scrolls 6. The Elder Scrolls: Blades is a free-to-play action-RPG that features gameplay somewhat similar to the core Elder Scrolls series. In the game, players are able to explore an Abyss for PvE combat, battle other players in the Arena, and manage their Town. The game earned mixed reviews from critics but was still nominated for some mobile gaming awards nevertheless.
Bethesda’s next game is the sci-fi RPG Starfield, though little is known about it to date. There are some rumors that Starfield will launch in 2021, so it’s possible that fans will have their hands on the next large scale Bethesda Game Studios game by the end of the year. However, almost nothing has been shown about Starfield so far, and so it’s hard to make that determination one way or the other.
Besides Starfield, Bethesda has confirmed that it is actively working on The Elder Scrolls 6. Like Starfield, all Bethesda has shown of The Elder Scrolls 6 so far is a logo and little else, leaving fans to speculate about what exactly the next game in the long-running franchise will have in store.