When Todd Howard revealed at the DICE awards that Bethesda Game Studios were working on three as yet unannounced projects, the internet quickly descended into rampant speculation on just what these projects could be. Unquestionably, the most popular (and mostly likely) possibility is Elder Scrolls VI: Insert Province Here. Given Bethesda’s previous cycle of Elder Scrolls, followed by Fallout, followed by Elder Scrolls, you would be a foolish Argonian to think otherwise. Many fans are already demanding news on a new rendition of the blockbuster RPG franchise. Such a move, however, would be woefully inappropriate for the studio. Rather, they should focus their attentions on a brand new game engine.
Fallout 4 has been an unbelievable success for Bethesda, with the post-apocalyptic RPG quickly becoming their best selling game of all time. This success, however, does not detract from the blazing fact that the game is riddled with concerns of nuclear proportions. Many of these find themselves stacked under the ‘technical’ tab of the game’s inventory of issues. Animations are frequently robotic in nature, and I’m not just talking about those lumbering Protectrons. The awkwardness of NPC movement is off the Geiger counter, and it just looks amateurish next to other large-scale, open-world Western RPGs such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The graphical fidelity of the title suffers the same fate when compared to CD Projekt’s momentous technical marvel.
This is a major problem for Bethesda, and one they absolutely have to address if they don’t want to be blown away by their competitors in the RPG market. With Fallout 4 they had the benefit of the doubt due to their ‘in the dark’ approach to developing the game. The studio started initial production on the game back in 2009, with development ramping up after the completion of Skyrim in 2011. This was two whole years before the release of the then next-generation consoles on which the game was eventually released. During this entire process, up until the eventual announcement in June 2015, no one knew for certain just what the studio were working on, or how they were doing it. They were in the dark to the rest of the industry, heads buried in the sand in an effort to keeping the much anticipated game shrouded in shadow until the last possible moment.
However, Bethesda do not have the same privilege this time around. They have to react, and throw out the ageing Creation Engine in favour of a completely new, built-from-the-ground-up engine. Another ‘evolution’ like from Gamebryo to Creation Engine, is impossible. The Creation Engine was a repurposing, and updating if you will, of the arthritic Gamebryo engine. Yes, it improved upon that engine significantly. Unfortunately, the fundamental weaknesses were still present in the ‘new’ engine. They were deep-rooted in the DNA of the former and thus, like from parent to child, they were carried forward into the new generation of technology. This cannot happen this time. The sins of the father must not become, once again, the sins of the son.
The only possible answer is for Bethesda to create an entirely new engine from the ground up. Only by doing this will future games avoid the issues which have plagued former titles for years and years. And I’m convinced that the studio know this has to be done. The industry has moved forward since Skyrim’s release back in 2011. Bethesda are no longer the trend-setters, a title which has been taken by CD Projekt Red, and thus need to go away and recalibrate their strategy. A new bespoke engine will do wonders for reinvigorating the studio, and has to take priority over any other project, even The Elder Scrolls VI.