Note: Article updated on August 5th.
Bethesda does so many things well, but multiplayer is not one of them.
The Elder Scrolls franchise is one of the most recognizable in the gaming industry. Ask anyone who owns a PC or console, and they have probably played a title in the series. The same goes for Fallout, which is arguably more popular than The Elder Scrolls.
These titles became wildly popular for a reason; they featured narrative-driven, open-world gameplay. Players could choose to go anywhere, be anyone, and know that their choices had an impact on the world around them. Interactions with the world around them had consequences, and it was their job to determine its future.
My World To Our World
After launching the critically acclaimed Skyrim, Bethesda decided not to focus on The Elder Scrolls VI. Instead, they chose to work on The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG that was developed by ZeniMax Online Studios and published by Bethesda. Upon initial release, the game was not well received. The game lacked the deep narrative driven experience from previous titles, and watching thousands of other adventurers run around destroyed the feeling that this was your world to shape. Player decisions didn't seem to mean as much, and the gameplay itself was solidly MMORPG, frustrating players looking for a traditional Elder Scrolls RPG experience.
Even after all the backlash, Bethesda then went ahead and did the same thing with the Fallout franchise, releasing Fallout 76. This time around the title was developed and published by Bethesda, so players were hoping for an experience similar to what they'd played in the past. While not exactly an MMORPG, it eschews previous game design choices of the series in favor of crafting a multiplayer experience. Initial reactions were overwhelmingly negative, but Bethesda has been adding content to help improve the game and make it feel more like a traditional Fallout title.
Changing What Wasn't Broken
Why did Bethesda decide to go this route? Why would they decide to turn some of the most beloved franchises into something fans didn't want? The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series are hailed as some of the best open-world RPGs in the industry, so this wild departure was a shock to fans. Perhaps they thought that the game world would become more immersive if everyone you met was a real player. Instead of having fixed interactions with NPCs, players could have spontaneous encounters with other adventurers, adding to the overall experience.
Sadly, the end result was the opposite of what they expected. The feeling of player choice was diminished, and the most players no longer felt like they had a lasting impact on the world around them. In the transition from single player to multiplayer, some features were watered down or removed in order to fit the expectation of the multiplayer genre.
The Elder Scrolls Online has bounced back from the grave, and is one of the most successful MMOs on the market today. While the game has a distinct MMO feel, it retains enough of that Elder Scrolls charm to entertain die-hard fans until the release of The Elder Scrolls VI. Fallout 76, on the other hand, is still having a rough time winning over fans of the series, but some new changes coming this summer might help bring in new players.
With that being said, Bethesda's future lies with publishing it's critically acclaimed single player titles. Although their multiplayer games might be a fun diversion for a small subset of the gaming population, their core, single player titles will always remain the most popular. Even if these titles are developed by other studios, Bethesda is the one who publishes the final product, and these are their games as much as the developers. While they may not be bad titles, there is no denying that the gaming world much prefers the single player titles they publish. No one else can craft massive worlds like Bethesda, and we can't wait to see what they have in store next.