Although Fallout and Elder Scrolls are likely the names that most suddenly spring to mind in association to Bethesda, it’s the company’s publishing efforts that have more aptly distinguished its recent portfolio. Specifically, a dogged push to revive an eclectic range of dormant first-person shooter (FPS) franchises, which basically flies in the face of everything we’re told about contemporary gaming: that single-player games are dying, and that games as a service are to soon rule supreme, complete with nickel and dime microtransaction schemes.
On the surface of it, then, everything Bethesda is doing in supporting its catalog of single-player shooters goes against the grain of traditional wisdom. Between the craze of MOBA’s and hero shooters on PC and the rise of the third-person action game on consoles, story-driven FPS titles feel so… mid-2000s. These days, the FPS genre is supposed to be limited to mega-budget annual releases like Call of Duty – though even that’s rumored to be dropping its single-player campaign – and shared-world shooters such as Destiny 2. But ignoring that, Bethesda systematically acquired the studios necessary to reboot a bunch of franchises from a bygone era and then supported their resurgence within their original (and now old hat) design blueprint: single-player, story-driven action games. Was the intention to capture a niche audience, was it a chivalrous effort to sustain and nurture a so-called dying breed, or did they just miss the memo entirely?
Whatever the reason, let’s thank our lucky stars that in 2018 there’s a publisher willing to shrug its shoulders at the hoopla and deliver us quality AAA single-player experiences. And more importantly, not lose its nerve after what we understand were less than satisfactory sales numbers for, well… all of its most recent titles. Wolfenstein 2 infamously went on sale just a month after its release last year after sales failed to match the first game; before that, Prey struggled to make an impression on any of the game charts, as did Dishonored 2.
The word “Publisher” has become synonymous with suited men peering down their glasses at spreadsheets and graphs, ready to hit the cancel button at the slightest sign of dwindling numbers. You could have forgiven Bethesda this time, I think, for throwing its hands in the air and trying to morph whatever the next iteration of Wolfenstein, Doom, Prey, or Quake into something more in line with the zeitgeist of multiplayer-centric, games as a service design. Maybe they still will? But for now, we’re sitting here in 2018 reacting to the announcement of another story-driven first-person experience: a Rage sequel that precisely nobody asked for.
That’s not to say Rage isn’t a franchise worth following-up. On the contrary, a key takeaway from the original game was that its universe and lore suited a grander, expanded vision that was never adequately realized to its potential. So I’m all in for an open-world shooting experience with input from Avalanche Studios, the minds behind Just Cause’s explosive sandbox action, and the typical superb gunplay iD Software has built its reputation on. But I still can’t quite believe that we’re being treated to yet another story-driven shooter completely out of the blue. Between the apparent shifting interest away from story-driven FPS games on the whole, the comparatively small interest in Rage as a franchise, and the recent sales track record of Bethesda’s recent, nothing about this project seems at all sensible. I’ll leave the business acumen to people far more intelligent than me, though, and gladly accept the offer anyway.
Of course, Rage 2 might still end up a shared-world experience or with a multiplayer-heavy design. We already know that iD plans to support the game with content drops a la’ recent open-world titles like Assassin’s Creed: Origins. By this point, though, it’s safe to say that encouraging its studios to insert Battle Royale modes or other in-vogue features for the sake of ticking a box seems distinctly un-Bethesda. I’m expecting an experience that more or less mirrors the original: a focus on single-player with optional multiplayer modes such as PvP driving combat and various co-op missions.
Ultimately, regardless of how Rage 2 shapes up, the announcement itself serves as a gentle reminder that Bethesda is, and remains, a bastion for the traditional game design we’ve all made such a song and dance about protecting, and it really does deserve our appreciation. Without Bethesda, there’s a huge void left in the FPS scene that has dwindled in recent years. So here’s hoping Rage 2 does catch the eye of its intended audience, and that Bethesda’s catalog of recent games has at least recorded the minimum numbers required to keep this admirable enterprise afloat.