Bethesda’s going through a bit of a tough spot, but for years it’s been known for delivering games that stay in people’s positive memory for years, and show remarkable ambition even as the execution might sometimes be a bit rocky.

But even as we all know The Elder Scrolls and the modern Fallout games, and on these we shall write at length further down the article, it’s not at all where Bethesda started out.


Best Bethesda Games, from Arena to Fallout


The Elder Scrolls


The Elder Scrolls: Arena

MS-DOS
Release year:1994
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Softworks

The grandfather of Bethesda’s iconic playstyle, Arena came out in 1994 for MS-DOS and despite early distribution issues, quickly gathered critical acclaim for complexity, scale, and execution of its ideas. Originally it wasn’t even supposed to be a role-playing game, but during development, priorities shifted and the game about arena fighters became an open-world RPG.

elder-scrolls-arena

Gameplay-wise, it’s not hard to see the seeds of what charmed people about Morrowind or Skyrim were all there. The game is played from the first-person perspective, for one. The world is huge, but as it’s procedurally generated, it won’t ever look the same way. There’s also the very familiar case of side-quests distracting from the main, dungeon-crawling, questline.

Key features
  • A massive, procedurally generated world open for exploration
  • 17 dungeons for the main plot, hundreds of others
  • Challenging beginning of the game
  • The first chapter in the convoluted lore of The Elder Scrolls

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

MS-DOS
Release year:1996
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Softworks

For a long time suffering under the fan nickname “Buggerfall” due to its somewhat broken launch state, Daggerfall was a huge game, dwarfing its successor, Morrowind, by a huge margin, partially thanks to procedurally generated areas. It improved and elaborated on many of Arena’s features, laying the groundwork for Morrowind’s complexity and immersiveness.

elder-scrolls-daggerfall

Daggerfall was certainly an ambitious project, especially for a 3D game in 1996. Spell creation, enchanting weapons, kingdom politics and other features may have been more or less faulty, but the ambition of making a game that enables and tracks them in a non-isometric space is commendable. The game’s several ending also broke the lore, which somehow made it even more interesting.

Key features
  • An enormous world to explore. Really enormous
  • Greatly expands the lore of the setting
  • You can become a wereboar
  • Six canonical endings

An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire

MS-DOS
Release year:1997
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Softworks

With a title bearing the same energy as “A Star Wars Story”, Battlespire doesn’t even take place on Tamriel. It’s diving deep into the Oblivion, the same that was leaking into the world in The Elder Scrolls IV. The titular Battlespire is a training and testing ground for Imperial battle mages, but as it usually happens, something goes wrong due to Daedric meddling, and you’re the solution.

elder-scrolls-battlespire

This time the demonic prince of messing things up is Mehrunes Dagon, and you are but an inexperienced battlemage. The Daedric prince had no chance. Battlespire has a nifty spell crafting system, several large levels across the titular realm, character creation and progression based on Daggerfall’s. A forgotten, but interesting game, certainly.

Key features
  • A more directed, limited take on the license
  • You come to blows with Mehrunes Dagon
  • Handy spell crafting system
  • Multiplayer-capable

The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard

MS-DOS
Release year:1998
Genre:Action-adventure
DeveloperBethesda Softworks

Redguard is a bit of an odd one out, because of all the Elder Scrolls games, this is the one that doesn’t have a customizable player character. Its story precedes Arena by several centuries, making it one of the earliest installments of the series, if we go by in-universe chronology. It took inspiration from games like Prince of Persia, except with a more pirate-oriented theme.

Elder-Scrolls-Redguard

Your avatar in the world is a Redguard man called Cyrus, who’s mission is to find his missing sister. Things, as usual, aren’t quite that simple and he becomes tangled in political intrigue. It was a surprisingly good adventure game, even if it ultimately lost to Grim Fandango according to several outlets. After Redguard Bethesda committed to the open world, freeform RPGs, however.

Key features
  • Predetermined character
  • Both a good action game and a good adventure game
  • Inspired by Prince of Persia
  • Takes place 400 years before Arena

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

PC
Xbox
Release year:2002
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios

Morrowind is by far the TES installment that’s the most fondly remembered by the fans. Abandoning the procedurally rendered maps of Arena and Daggerfall, as well as the limited, closed designs of Battlespire and Redguard, Morrowind opened the full map of the island of Vvardenfell to the players to explore, every location placed by hand by Bethesda developers.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind GOTY - spider

From the moment you step out of the character creation, you can go anywhere, do anything. You could decide to become an alchemist, devote your time to any of the guilds, explore Dwemer ruins, or pursue a career of an enchanter. Paired with a unique, ashen landscape with weird fauna, Morrowind is certain to stay in your memory for a long time, as it has for others.

Key features
  • A huge map filled with dungeons and secret hideouts
  • You can create a custom class or select from a list
  • Quite complex and flexible progression system
  • Two substantial expansions: Tribunal and Bloodmoon

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

PC
Xbox 360
PlayStation 3
Release year:2006
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios

Following Morrowind, Oblivion came out in 2006 and introduced players to Cyrodill, the capital province of the Empire. You start by aiding the emperor Uriel Septim escape assassin’s through a hidden passage in your prison cell, and your quest begins as you are given the task to deliver the Amulet of Kings to the leader of the Blades, the emperor’s bodyguard force.

elder-scrolls-iv-oblivion

Oblivion differed a fair lot from Morrowind. It pushed the player stronger towards the main storyline, for example, and the environment looked nothing like Morrowind. As a result, TESIV appeared closer to the more run of the mill fantasy RPGs, even as it delved deeper into the lore of the series, with its plot revolving around closing dimensional rifts to the realm of Oblivion.

Key features
  • Improving at a skill unlocks new abilities
  • Nearly full freedom of exploration, barring quest-locked areas
  • 21 skills that can be roughly divided into combat, stealth, and magic
  • The story faces a strong involvement from a Daedric Prince

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

PC
Xbox 360
PlayStation 3
Nintendo Switch
Xbox One
PlayStation 4
VR
Smart fridges and soon pretty much every home appliance 🙂
Release year:2011
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios]

The game that launched on a thousand platforms, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of Bethesda’s most critically acclaimed games, and one that made big waves when it launched back in 2011. Set in a Scandinavia-inspired province of Skyrim, it is the place of meadhalls, big axes, and, perhaps most importantly: dragons, which are the axis around which the story revolves.

There’s a lot to like about Skyrim. The province has a lot of harsh beauty to it, and there is plenty of things one could do, especially with the expansions. Enchanting is back, there’s a lot of things to smith, and you could play Home Improvement thanks to several small houses, and a few large mansions you can decorate however you want to. And that’s just a taste of what’s in there.

Key features
  • Two large expansions: Dawnguard and Dragonborn, and one cozy: Hearthfire
  • Using skills give you levels, levels give you perks, perks give you new ways to use skills!
  • You can shout dragons to death and absorb their souls
  • Plenty of Draugr tombs to plunder

The Elder Scrolls: Blades

Android OS
Nintendo Switch
Release year:2019
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios

A controversial mobile entry in the series, The Elder Scrolls: Blades tries to translate the series’ magic into smartphones and Nintendo Switch. Blades harkens back to The Elder Scrolls’ beginning by having some of its content procedurally generated in addition to pre-generated content. There are three game modes to spend your time with, including a multiplayer Arena and a roguelike Abyss.

elder-scrolls-blades

In the main mode, called Town, you play as a member of the Blades, a now-outlawed imperial protection force, and you get to rebuild a town from the ground up after it was destroyed. You’ll do a bit of dungeon delving, a bit of investigation by way of story developments, and a fair bit of exploration. Unfortunately, there are also timers that will test your patience and/or wallet.

Key features
  • If you don’t have Switch, this is the most readily available TES on the go
  • Procedurally generated elements alongside hand-crafted ones
  • Three distinct game modes to choose from
  • The smartphone version can be played in both landscape and portrait mode

Fallout


Fallout 3

PC
Xbox 360
PlayStation 3
Release year:2008
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios

Bethesda’s first foray into the Fallout series strayed a lot from everything the fans knew to expect. The shift to a very The Elder Scrolls third/first-person perspective in a 3D open world nevertheless stood on its own. The turn-based battles were replaced with V.A.T.S., which is basically a bullet-time/tactical pause system for those who don’t want to aim and shoot on their own.

Fallout 3 gore

The story starts out two hundred years after the war which ravaged the world. You begin as a new-born dweller or Vault 101. After some things happen in the Vault on your player character’s father disappears, you need to escape yourself, which sets you on a journey that might change the world you step out into.

Key features
  • The first Fallout in a fully 3D environment
  • A substantial Broken Steel expansion which tweaks the ending
  • A post-apocalyptic rendition of part of Northern Virginia and Maryland
  • A family story at the heart

Fallout Shelter

Android OS
Xbox One
PlayStation 4
Release year:2015
Genre:Simulation
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios, Behaviour Interactive

Fallout Shelter is definitely not a game would have expected not only from Bethesda but also in the Fallout franchise. It’s not an RPG, it’s not even an action game. It’s a Vault simulation with an ant-farm view and populated with the characters based on the iconic Vault Boy. You get to build your own Vault, room by room and level by level, descending ever lower underground.

fallout-shelter

Of course, there’s a fair bit of management to do on a nearly constant basis. You need to attract survivors from the outside world to support your workforce, which in turn has to be assigned to jobs based on their ability scores. There are radroach, bandit, and deathclaw attacks you must deal with, and eventually, you’ll send your subjects on expeditions for experience and resources.

Key features
  • Expeditions taking place in real-time
  • Friendly aesthetic cheerfully depicts horrible injuries and irradiated monstrosities
  • A casual and entertaining vault simulation
  • Progression systems for both the dwellers and the rooms

Fallout 4

PC
Xbox One
PlayStation 4
Release year:2015
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios

With Fallout 4 Bethesda leaned more into the action bits of the preceding Fallout 3, drastically changing progression and the moment-to-moment experience. The RPG roots aren’t gone, but got simplified as the cost of bringing in a fully voiced protagonist. However the lesson of Hearthfire sunk deep into Bethesda’s mindset, however, which resulted in F4’s probably biggest draw.

Fallout 4 - sight

See, this installment of Fallout really likes the idea of you building settlements all over the wasteland, and it’s a process more engaging than building a mansion in Skyrim, by virtue of a mostly freeform building interface. In fact, playing with real estate is absorbing enough to have your protagonist completely forget about finding their missing child.

Key features
  • Rebuild the wasteland, because nobody else wants to do it
  • The main story has you looks for your kidnapped child after decades in hibernation
  • A brand new progression system
  • Several large expansions and DLCs with new tools and storylines

Fallout 76

PC
Xbox One
PlayStation 4
Release year:2018
Genre:Action role-playing
DeveloperBethesda Game Studios

Probably the most controversial game in Bethesda’s modern lineup. Fallout 76 is at heart a multiplayer survival game in the vein of Rust, DayZ and others. A side-project experiment that due to an overwhelming amount of bugs, glitches and controversial design decisions by many was deemed unplayable. Regardless, it’s still trucking along with a dedicated player base.

fallout 76 mech suits

The map is a slice of West Virginia, a hundred years after the bombs fell when the Vault dwellers start to emerge into the outside world. Due to the lack of NPC’s for most of the game’s existence up to the time of writing the weight of providing social interaction fell to the players, of which there’s still a sizeable number, proving the game provides enough entertainment to latch onto.

Key features
  • A large map full of unique locations
  • Narrative driven mostly by discovered audio logs and other records
  • A reinvented SPECIAL progression system
  • Eventually, you can launch a nuke at other players’ base


Before The Elder Scrolls


Starting out in 1986, Bethesda was mostly in the business of making sports games, like Gridiron!, or Wayne Gretzky Hockey. The last one pretty much made Bethesda known, paving the way for future developments. In 1991 they released The Terminator, based on James Cameron’s movie, and followed it up with a Home Alone adaptation later the same year.

In the next couple of years they made a couple more Terminator and sports games, as well an odd experiment like Delta V. This continued even after TES: Arena in 1994. Between that game and the fourth TES release, TES Adventures Redguard in 1998 they still dabbled in genres other than RPGs, but with the coming of Morrowind, there’s been a split.


Current status and the future


Bethesda Game Studios would take on The Elder Scrolls, and later: the Fallout series, while Bethesda Softworks would continue to make sports and racing games until 2006. But these sports and Terminator games aren’t what everyone associates Bethesda with, so let’s get into the meat of the Canadian studio’s legacy: The Elder Scrolls and 3D Fallouts. We have presented them in two parts, one for each of the series, with games listed in chronological order within each.

At the time of writing Bethesda has two games announced: Starfield, still deep in production, will be a science-fiction, space-faring game of some sort, probably; The Elder Scrolls IV, of which we know next to nothing about, and allegedly the development on this won’t start as long as Starfield isn’t deemed ship-shape.