Between Oblivion, Morrowind, and Skyrim (and I’m currently poking around in Daggerfall), the Elder Scrolls series easily ranks at the top of my most played video games of all time. Just under that? Probably a weird tie between Final Fantasy and Unreal Tournament. I have eclectic tastes.
Unfortunately, these days I’m feeling a bit wary of the next Elder Scrolls.
Bethesda’s recent activity leaves me wondering just what horrors might await us when the sixth entry to the series finally releases. Paid mods? Loot boxes? Always-online connections? Epic exclusivity? Will it be multiplayer? Choose your poison, because I doubt we’re getting out of this one unscathed.
While Bethesda has been tight-lipped about just where Elder Scrolls VI will take us, an obscenely short preview and a few tiny hints here and there point us toward Hammerfell. I’ve often heard they have curved swords there, but unfortunately they might also have a few other things.
Fallout 76 may give us a glimpse into our grim future — the rushed release, the Atomic Shop, the botched collector’s edition bonuses and moldy helmets. The recently announced Fallout 1st subscription service. One fumble after another has seemingly thrashed the Fallout brand. But that’s Fallout.
The recent re-release of classic DOOM, of all things, has itself been plagued by superfluous log-in requirements, which they’ve since walked back. And while I haven’t played it, myself, the “free-to-play” mobile game Blades also includes the works, with time gating, a gem system, and loot chests.
We’re in the muck, here, and unless Bethesda changes gears by the time Elder Scrolls VI meanders over around 2024, I can only imagine what our future voyage to Tamriel will entail.
And yet, even with all of that in mind, it’s easy to forget: This isn’t new territory for ZeniMax or Bethesda Softworks. At all. We’re talking about one of the progenitors of the modern microtransaction.
This is the company that introduced $2.50 horse armor to the Xbox Live Marketplace all the way back in 2006.
Prior to that, we were all familiar with the idea of expansion packs. The Sims, Command and Conquer, Everquest, even Morrowind — expansions added new features and gameplay, and in some cases new lands to explore. But microtransactions? DLC? It was a brave, new world back then, and there came Bethesda, testing the waters with Horse Armor™.
You can’t blame them. Even in 2011, five years after the release of Oblivion, people were still buying that $2.50 horse armor. For all I know, they still might be. Why? Only Sheogorath himself knows the answer to that question.
Bethesda’s never had a problem testing the waters of monetization, and it’s obvious they still don’t.
The big problem, the one that might taint Elder Scrolls going forward, is that monetization has evolved. That over-priced $2 Oblivion horse armor has turned into $100 jets in Grand Theft Auto V, and $5 hair style changes in Fallout 76. Tiny bits of content that would’ve been bonus unlockables 15 years ago now cost more, in many cases, than full games.
That’s just the monetary cost, though. No one has to pay. Right?
But what about the immersion cost? The integrity cost? The cost you feel every time you open a chest and find not gold but cash shop currency inside? And then you wonder what content was cut to later be included in the shop, or whether or not the gear you’re wearing is the best you can get in the game, or just slightly worse because you didn’t pay extra…
I don’t hate Bethesda. In fact, I desperately want to like them. The Elder Scrolls is the most fascinating fantasy world out there, if you ask me. It’s weird. It’s alien.
We’ll see what the future holds. I just want to go to Valenwood, some day…