Publisher and developer Bethesda Softworks has put one of the more unlikely underdogs in the spotlight with the announcement of a new Wolfenstein title. The next installment in the series, Wolfenstein: The New Order, will be developed by MachineGames, and on id Tech 5 at that. Admittedly, and largely due to my pleasant experience with the Tomb Raider reboot, I’m quite happy to hear that the old-school shooter will be seeing a next-gen reimagining. The title is set to release for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, and next generation consoles, and with id Tech 5 under the hood, Bethesda has power on their side. However, behind the pretty logos and fan-servicing statements, is there an innate doom on The New Order?
I like Bethesda—love, even. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into their name-brand RPGs as well as their more recent action titles. But no amount of grandeur or boasting can cover up their horrendous history. From Fallout 3 to New Vegas, Oblivion to Skyrim, and even Rage to Dishonored, the developer has effectively popularized several of the more detrimental business practices that have become far too common in today’s gaming industry. The more infamous of the bunch is their habit of pushing games and DLC out the door prematurely, without a second thought to the actual readiness of the title.
Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skryim, four of the most popular RPGs of this generation, were bogged down on all platforms by entirely avoidable flaws. Rushed releases left many of the games entirely unplayable until a batch of fixes were released. Ultimately, this process translates into the developer knowingly releasing an incomplete product with such an update in mind—updates which, historically, have proven to be nothing more than shoddy patchwork. Even after the enormous patch hits, new problems continued to pop up for games like Skyrim, which wasn’t viable on the PlayStation 3 for months.
The DLC for many of Bethesda’s games also renders the game irreparably broken. This was apparent in both New Vegas and Fallout 3 from day one, and Oblivion later fell victim to similar compatibility issues. Despite this, all three games saw “Game of the Year” and “Deluxe” editions, which not only included all DLC content to date, but completely refused to address the pervasive complaints of freezing, save corruption, and installment errors. That Skyrim is now slated for a rerelease in its “Legendary Edition” despite the obvious flaws in the process is ridiculous.
This boils down to an abundance of underhanded business practices, and on a scale that should never be tolerated. Strangely enough, however, PR nightmares such as these are frequently sugar coated by industry leaders and players alike.
Because of the fan loyalty that Bethesda has garnered, particularly where the Elder Scrolls franchise is concerned (Skyrim was voted most anticipated game of all time, after all), the developer has been given a free pass on what would otherwise be unacceptable actions. If literally any other developer acted as frivolously as Bethesda has in the past, they would be branded a pariah without hesitation. Just imagine EA adding this sort of negligence to their already impressive repertoire of consumer gouging. Yikes.
This is where negativity begins to spoil the Wolfenstein announcement. Clearly, everyone isn’t happy about the confirmed reboot. The news only cropped up this morning, but a few big-wigs have already gone after it, critical cynicism in tow. A recent piece from Destructoid covers what Warren Spector, the director of Disney Epic Mickey, had to say on the matter. Cloyingly jaded and bitter as Spector’s comments were, he presents a valid point in asking, “Did the world really need another Wolfenstein game?” Spector obviously brought this up to take jabs at the shooter genre, and at the declining diversity of gaming as a whole, but it also raises an ugly red flag about the value of a new “kill-the-Nazi-giant-robot game.”
Wolfenstein is antiquated, plain and simple. We’re talking about a series that helped concrete the FPS genre when it was still in its Doom-flavored infancy. As Spector puts it, Wolfenstein games are “generically dark, monochromatic, FPS” games, and we don’t necessarily need another one of them in the market. However, in spite of Spector’s opinion, the release of a new Wolfenstein will not singlehandedly undermine the entire non-shooter market and send the industry crashing down in a burning heap. Shocking, I know.
That being said, age and genre color aren’t the true drawbacks of The New Order. The biggest problem here is that the IP itself is untimely and irrelevant. E3 is fast approaching; we’ll be seeing the next line of consoles within the year, and Bethesda chooses Wolfenstein as their poster child? Sure, they’ve got The Elder Scrolls Online going for them, but the MMO market isn’t the primary focus of a developer whose fame is rooted in multiplatform releases which eventually find great success on consoles. The abrupt announcement of the game will only serve to draw attention away from ESO, which is, presumably, Bethesda’s biggest project.
Bethesda’s current-gen track record is far from pretty, but this year’s E3 and the impending holiday release of the PS4 and NextBox have created a rare opportunity for the developer to turn away from the issues which plagued their releases. However, by abruptly announcing the return of a comparably archaic series, reboot or no, they have devalued that very opportunity. Still, far be it from me to write them, or The New Order, off just yet. We know virtually nothing about the game, nor can we make claims about Bethesda’s 2013 agenda, so pessimism needs to stay at speculation. Regardless, Bethesda has several daunting but necessary improvements ahead of them, and a new Wolfenstein, of all things, isn’t exactly a pioneering step forward.
Date: May 7, 2013