At E3 last year, Bethesda seemed to strut around as if it owned the place. It talked about how amazing its games were, showed off its hot new online Fallout game, and Todd Howard even said a bad word.
Of course, Fallout 76’s launch didn’t go very well. In fact, very little about Fallout 76 ended up going well, to the point that the term "unmitigated disaster" is a pretty accurate description. Whether it was the bugs, the lack of content that you’d find in any other Fallout game, or those controversial canvas bags, nothing seemed to go right for Bethesda.
This year, it wasn't walking into E3 as god-like titans of the gaming industry. However, Bethesda is the kind of company that can take a joke (or at least act like it can take a joke), so this year it tried to endear itself to the audience it had let down by being as self-deprecating as a major developer can be. Let's take a look at the conference, and see how Bethesda tried to poke a little fun at itself.
:45 - Dinga Bakaba of Arkane Studios talks about how Bethesda's fans help "keep us in check," which is kind of a low key way of saying "your bad reviews cost us money, please stop it."
:56 - "And you are definitely not afraid to tell us how you feel." Well, maybe gamers wouldn't complain so much if the games didn't feel so incomplete.
1:53 - After passively aggressively telling us that it knows about everything we've been saying about it, it's kind of unnerving to have a bunch of Bethesda developers look at the camera and say "I see you."
3:30 - Pete Hines is sitting in the crowd. He's one of us, y'all!
6:24 - Hines introduces Todd Howard to the stage and you can tell this is a much more humble Howard. He's not quite as cool and collected, he isn't dropping any f-bombs, and most importantly, he isn't wearing a cool leather jacket.
6:42 - “We have had an incredibly exciting year here at Bethesda Games Studios. Given some of that excitement, impressed that you’re still here.” This is poking fun at the fact that he made an unpopular game that he knew was going to bomb but released anyway.
7:32 - I don't think Todd intended his understatement that Fallout 76 "had a lot of difficulties at launch" to get the smattering of giggles that it did.
8:00 - "We made a post-apocalyptic game survival game where you can do whatever you want, and everybody's nice to each other!" A game where no one is mean and everyone gets along? Take my wallet!
10:14 - The way Craig Lafferty smugly says "Switch Blades."
10:54 - If there was one hero who stood out in the crowds of E3, it'd be this guy below. We don't know who this glorious man is, so we can only refer to him as The Skeptical Clapper.
If E3 had a spirit animal, it'd likely be him. That look that screams "I'm not really buying into this, but I'm on camera so I guess I'll clap for it" is the look of a hero. We salute you, Skeptical Clapper, never believe a word that any game developer says.
12:08 - That is the nervous giggle of a man who can't believe he still has a job.
14:07 - Somehow no joke is made about the fact that adding NPCs and full dialogue trees into a Fallout game is supposed to be a monumental game altering event.
15:56 - Fallout 76 has a battle royale mode, which is also somehow not a joke.
17:54 - Okay, he said the f-word, now I'm excited about the battle royale mode.
19:13 - Todd Howard said "Starfield" and "Elder Scrolls VI." Sure, we have absolutely no footage or information about either game, but, he said their names.
21:30 - Ghostwire Tokyo looks great and all, but next year maybe it should just have the entire conference be done by Ikumi Nakamura. She has the kind of adorable, excitable energy that most teleprompter reading marketing executives at E3 can't match. We'd all play Fallout 76 as long as Nakamura told us to.
25:21 - A video of passionate Bethesda fans talking about why they love Bethesda games that was immediately followed by a presentation for The Elder Scrolls Online (27:08), a game that few Bethesda fans are passionate about.
27:39 - The Elder Scrolls Online has dragons now, which begs the question, how did it not have dragons to begin with?
33:43 - The Elder Scrolls Online gets a standing ovation, so either this crowd is drunk, bribed, or full of family members who are trying to make Bethesda feel better about itself.
35:51 - Commander Keen is a mobile game now. This would have been a very good place for any kind of joke to show that the people of Bethesda at least understood how insane this is, but nope.
38:09 - "Choose from a caboodle of contraptions to conquer challenges, and try saying that five times fast." The crowd laughed at this joke. All faith in humanity is lost.
39:09 - It was around this point in the show where the words "kick some asteroid" were uttered.
42:08 - "See? Dragons!" All we see is a card battle mobile game.
54:27 - Not gonna lie, that Deathloop trailer would make me drop a f-bomb like Moustache Guy did too.
54:45 - Now Dinka Bakaba says the f-word, so Arkane Studios are twice as cool as Todd Howard.
57:29 - Bethesda owns id Software, so it can now claim to be the inventors of first-person shooters. Again, not a joke, just a really bizarre flex.
58:51 - Considering how buggy everything else from Bethesda is, we're a little worried about any kind of revolutionary technology from it. This feels like the kind of thing that's going to lead to the end of the world. Which could be its plan, because then we'd all get to live in Fallout!
1:02:10 - "We'll see you in hell." It took over an hour of this conference to get to Doom: Eternal footage. We'll see you in hell, too.
Overall, the Bethesda E3 press conference demonstrated that while Bethesda can take a joke, it's serious about its new direction. We did get to see some cool looking new games like Deathloop, as well as some glimpses of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and Doom: Eternal, but those games are all being published, not developed by Bethesda.
Throughout all the jokes, it's actually kind of sad that it kept showing so many videos of fans talking about how meaningful its games were, all while having a presentation full of games that had nothing to do with why they loved Bethesda in the first place. The vast majority of the show was taken up by its mobile games and online services, which unfortunately seems to be its focus going forward.
Bethesda started off the show seeming like it gained some sense of self-awareness and humility, only to slowly reveal that it was just as deluded as ever. It's a company that built its reputation on immersive single-player experiences, and now it's willing to throw that away for the golden goose of free to play games with microtransactions galore.
However, at least we got to meet the Skeptical Clapper. We like to think he's still out there somewhere, not listening to a word any developer tells him and still sarcastically clapping along for all of us.