Why So Many People Put Up With Bethesda’s Bugs

The chatter around Fallout 4’s release has reached the same point of controversy as the last couple of Bethesda’s games (as well as Obsidian’s New Vegas which ran on Bethesda’s tech) — their generally buggy and unstable nature. Understandably, some people are baffled as to how Skyrim and Fallout 4 can be so popular while being so buggy, especially while other high-profile games get chewed out for their stability problems.

Wired went ahead and ran a story adamantly defending Bethesda and all its bugs. I think it makes some good points but I stop short of agreeing with it 100 percent. The main point that counts and the main reason I continue to enjoy Fallout 4 despite its stability issues is due to how unique Bethesda’s games are.

I spent a whole previous blog post on how uniquely interactive Bethesda’s games are, and this is generally why I put up with all the bugs. You can’t get around the fact that basically no other open-world game right now let’s you manipulate every individual object while remembering where you put them, or stumble upon a location that let’s you skip half the main storyline. That factor makes games like Fallout 4 and Skyrim feel dynamic in a way no other recent big-budget game does. Even The WitcherAssassin’s Creed, and Grand Theft Auto don’t provide the same level of freedom.

I won’t defend the bugs to the extent the Wired article does. I’m not saying the bugs are part of the experience or make the game better. I actually ran into a serious glitch in Fallout 4 that would have completely broken the game had I not been playing the PC version which let me fix it myself with the command console. Maybe the relatively small team size of Bethesda Wired defends allows for a creative organism other big companies don’t have. Maybe it’s part of what lets Bethesda make this game that basically nobody else makes. Maybe it even gives its games a sort of raw feeling some consumers find appealing. You at least have to appreciate Bethesda for trying to avoid the “hire and fire” cycle most other AAA studios follow these days. My point is, we have to put up with all these bugs because no one has provided us with the same kind of immersive sandbox game in a more polished state.

A game in a somewhat similar position is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Its fans hail the franchise as one of the best and most unique blends of first person shooter and immersive sandbox elements ever made. People still go back and play it despite the fact that you have to install heavy mods to make it really playable. In some ways it’s probably at least as buggy and as messy as a Bethesda game. However, the organic feel of its world and artificial intelligence haven’t been reproduced in the eight years since the first game came out, and that’s why some people continue to put up with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s inelegance.

ArmA has the exact same problem, but arguably to an even greater scale than Fallout, and I still happily pumped hundreds of hours into it. Over and over again on this blog I’ve stated how I’d love for some other developer with more money and manpower to try to make a shooter with ArmA’s level of scale and something resembling its incredibly dynamic combined-arms combat in a more stable form, but thus far no one has. No one is even trying.

For some reason, even though immersive simulators like Skyrim and Deus Ex (and Bioshock, sort of) are among the most popular games around today, their approach to game and world design hasn’t been fully copied. Some games have borrowed superficial aspects of them without really understanding why they worked or without evoking the complete feeling. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make a game like Fallout 4 without all the bugs, I’m just saying that no one is doing it.

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3 thoughts on “Why So Many People Put Up With Bethesda’s Bugs

  1. Machocruz says:

    (forgive the length, but I feel strongly about this subject)

    I’m of two minds on this. On one hand:

    “You can’t get around the fact that basically no other open-world game right now let’s you manipulate every individual object.”

    Yes, but to what noteworthy effect? Merit isn’t inherent in the mere existence of a feature. “You can do this” may or may not be a rigorous defense in light of flaws . I could put buckets on heads in Skyrim. I would have rather had multiple quest solutions, more interesting spell selection, spell-making, sensical faction advancement, better itemization, stuff worth stealing, dragons that weren’t treated as dime-a-dozen and less formidable than a bear, etc. These are all values subjective to the individual, but most people stop at check-listing and don’t articulate what the value in the thing is.

    Just as Bethesda is delivering something no one else really is, there are other games delivering what Bethesda games don’t. This is so obvious as to be not even worth citing, and that being the case, I fail to see why Beth in particular gets so much defense on this point* -there are things I can do in Phantom Pain that I can’t in other open world games, and it has nearly unparalleled character control compared to the rest**. (You say STALKER has similar merits of uniqueness, but I haven’t seen multiple websites writing high-profile articles defending its flaws or going on about how unique it is, and it’s reviews weren’t as glowing as the average Bethesda game . That’s the difference being called out by the baffled). We have to go through this rationalization game every time Beth releases a game. But increasing numbers of users are not buying it anymore, as reflected by MC user scores and discussion in forums. They just see it as circling the wagons around a gaming media darling. The pattern of praising a game to the sky at launch, then a few months later comes the article citing egregious flaws and maybe the game wasn’t all they cracked it up to be. There is even a term for that play, called “The Rybicki Maneuver.” To be fair, GTA4 got the same treatment. Beth, Rockstar, and Naughty Dog are the holy triumvirate that can do no wrong…until after those first few crucial weeks of sales….

    On the other hand: I haven’t experienced any notable bugs in any of these games. Maybe freezing while passing through a door in Morrowind and Skyrim, but that’s about it. Bugs are the least of their problems, and being as much a PC gamer as a console gamer, I am mostly un-phased by them; take away the issue of the soft gloves the media and fandom treat them with, there would be no story here. But I can see why people who put more weight on bugs than I are bewildered by the dynamic taking place in the media. They just don’t agree that Bethesda’s games are providing virtues that make up for the technical flaws. I think New Vegas offers the better argument: no one else but Obsidian was as thorough in bringing 90s PC RPG values to AAA games last generation (From a RPG systems perspective, I say it was the best last gen). It’s pretty much singular in that space, moreso than the Beth games. But even then you only have iteration. From the pitch of ecstatic praise that these games get, you’d think there was some Ultima level ground-breaking shit in them, that RPG design was being taken to the next level (not coincidentally, I think a lot of the puzzled reactions to the hype come from the older CRPG crowd, who have seen all of what these AAA RPG devs are offering before, and often with more depth). To be fair again, Mass Effect gets labeled as ground-breaking for things that were more or less done in other Bioware games and CRPGs. Maybe a new Bethesda release is just the lightning rod du-jour these days, for the bigger picture of skepticism and distrust towards the media and why they come to the defense of certain games and not others.

    *Could be that the unique things that Bethesda games offer are just more appealing to their defenders than those unique things other games are offering. Another subjective value, so I would like to see someone present an argument that articulates the Why behind the What.

    **Something I predicted would happen because of its country of origin, where character action and movement was mastered early in arcade and console games and has been a point of pride. See also Dragon’s Dogma.

    • RedSwirl says:

      The unique things Bethesda games do offer are indeed more appealing to a bunch of people, at least in my opinion. The sales might be proof enough. Being encouraged to essentially break a game has a lot of appeal to the mainstream audience. I also think another unique aspect however is Bethesda’s insistence in creating a world that feels like it really functions. Since the STALKER series Bethesda is kind of the last developer keeping the immersive sim dream alive. I will admit though that a game that combined the best aspects of Phantom Pain and Fallout 4 would indeed be incredible. Crysis 1 is probably the closest thing I can think of to a game that combines truly open-ended missions with an immersive simulation world.

      I actually don’t think the specifically RPG-oriented elements are the most important thing in nailing that kind of feeling. Fallout 4’s RPG mechanics are certainly diminished compared to its predecessors, but the immersive sandbox elements are still there. STALKER isn’t an RPG at all — it has some interface elements common to RPGs but it’s really an FPS that takes place in an incredibly organic environment, and that’s what’s important about it.

      And as it stands, Japanese developers will probably always be better at third person character control and melee combat. It’s one of those situations where you wish Obsidian or CDProjekt would write the world of an RPG and then just let Capcom or Platinum do the actual gameplay.

  2. drakulus23 says:

    I guess I’m in the minority when I ask… what bugs?

    I’ve put over 600 hour in Skyrim and never got a game breaking bug. I’ve crashed plenty of times by testing out mods, but never from bugs.

    I put over 100 hours in Fallout 4 and I have yet to come across a game breaking bug. I’ve had a bug that turns my weapon invisible for a few seconds, but that’s literally it.

    I don’t count Fallout New Vegas because Obsidian made that game it’s the buggiest piece of crap I’ve ever played in my life. I have yet to complete that game.

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