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Bethesda’s Failure To Capitalize On The Fallout Renaissance Has Been So Very Bethesda

In hindsight, the best thing Bethesda could have done to contribute to Fallout's comeback was nothing

Amazon

At some point during the production of the Fallout show, Bethesda must have realized that executive producer Jonathan Nolan and his crew were about to hit a home run. According to Bethesda Game Studios head Todd Howard, they were “meticulous about translating every little thing” from the jump, going so far as to 3D print real-life versions of iconic items based on game files Bethesda gave them. Flash forward to the present, however, and Bethesda seems utterly unprepared to capitalize on the Fallout renaissance we now find ourselves in. Anything would have been better than this. Or perhaps nothing.  

It would not have been reasonable, of course, to expect Bethesda to suddenly drop a new Fallout game day and date with the Amazon show. Even taking into account the show’s considerable budget and star power, we’re still talking two entirely different scales of production – and Bethesda Game Studios has an entire Elder Scrolls game to deliver first, after having only just released Starfield last year. 

But what we ended up getting alongside the Fallout TV show was worse than nothing: a botched rollout of Fallout 4’s long-awaited “next-gen” update, which was meant to squash bugs, improve performance, and add a 60 frames-per-second option on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. Instead, it created creepy crawl spaces for new bugs, broke most mods, took away options on Steam Deck, and led to an indefinite delay of the enormously anticipated Fallout London mod, essentially a new Fallout game unto itself. 

Amidst all this, Fallout fans went nuclear over what they perceived as a “retcon” of series lore that could potentially invalidate the events of Fallout: New Vegas, by many measures the most beloved game in the series since Bethesda revived it, but which was developed by Obsidian rather than Bethesda. Over the years, fans have dreamed up increasingly elaborate theories suggesting that Bethesda resents New Vegas with every fiber of its collective being, going out of its way to prevent Obsidian from developing another Fallout game ever since.  

All of this culminated in a series of interviews from Todd Howard – and particularly one he did with Kinda Funny last week – that put him in a much more defensive posture than you’d expect from somebody ostensibly celebrating having a hand in Amazon’s second-most popular show ever, not to mention a suddenly resurgent game series. Howard had to field questions about Fallout canon and (once again) clarify that New Vegas is “very, very important to us,” and he went on to provide cover fire for Starfield as well. He also stopped just short of apologizing for how long it’s going to be until Fallout 5 comes out, saying that Bethesda Game Studios is looking to “increase our output” because “we don't want to wait that long either.”

Now, hindsight is 20/20, and Howard and co didn’t have a crystal ball to tell them which specific elements of the Fallout TV show fans would go apeshit over. But come with me on a journey to an alternate universe in which Bethesda – recognizing that Fallout 4’s next-gen update wasn’t ready and that it had little of substance to say about future games – opted to simply do… nothing. In this universe, the show still comes out and is a huge success, and the Fallout games still receive a nice sales bump (especially Fallout 76, which still gets a second lease on life and a full-blown critical reappraisal).

Sure, a vocal minority of Fallout diehards once again wax conspiratorial about Bethesda hating New Vegas, but nobody at Bethesda engages with that line of thought because they’ve already put the kibosh on it before. Then, two weeks later, fans forget all about that because what is functionally a new, extremely ambitious non-Bethesda Fallout game, Fallout London, hits its original release target of April 23, and between that, Fallout 76’s resurgence, and the show, Fallout fans have never eaten better in their lives.

I don’t think a gargantuan, Microsoft-owned company like Bethesda would’ve actually done something like this, as it would have required putting a lot of faith in modders, as well as fans (the ones digging back into the games like normal people, not the ones frothing at the mouth over supposed passive-aggressive inter-studio warfare). Still, it’s fun to dream. As is, we instead got the most Bethesda outcome possible: A smash hit that will doubtless be referenced for years to come, surrounded by asterisks that will fade with time. If nothing else, it’s certainly fitting. I never imagined that glitches would detract from a TV show’s release, but Bethesda found a way. 

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