While it would be a stretch to suggest that 2019 was Bethesda’s annus horribilis with the company likely having raked in plenty of money from its mobile fare and The Elder Scrolls Online, almost everything new they published simply didn’t stick, or a game from the previous year kept dragging their name through the mud along with it.
Away from that circus, Bethesda experimented with its IPs to some very worrying results.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood, a Wolfenstein game that seemed to entirely forget what makes Wolfenstein so fun, released to middling reviews and poor sales, its microtransactions and bullet sponge enemies not endearing it to franchise faithfuls. Gone was the simple joy of mowing down Nazis, replaced with shoehorned looter shooter nonsense to bloat playtime and (naively) keep players coming back over time.
A sequel that nobody was really desperate to play, Rage 2 released to a smattering of “meh” responses, its short playtime and half-baked world not really a huge step up from its predecessor. Curiously, it too received microtransactions despite being single-player, the horrendously named “Rage Coins” allowing you to acquire better loot earlier on.
So it’s something of a shock to read that DOOM Eternal, comfortably Bethesda’s biggest game of 2020, won’t feature any microtransctions. It says a lot for Bethesda’s downwards turn in terms of public opinion that it was almost a surprise when it was announced that there won’t be any “DOOM Coins” or “Time-Slayers”, but it wasn’t even all that long ago that they seemed all-in on pure single-player.
Back in 2017, Bethesda released a humorous ad for #SavePlayer1, a video in which they promised that they would support single-player experiences off the back of a year that included Prey, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, The Evil Within 2, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, all excellent single-player games without microtransactions that maybe didn’t get the commercial love they deserved.
Since that video, they have published Fallout 76, The Elder Scrolls: Blades, Rage 2, and Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Half of these are multiplayer with microtransactions, the other half are single-player with microtransactions. This is to say nothing of them planning to remake Commander Keen as a mobile game.
DOOM Eternal being “clean”, then, is a welcome surprise; a AAA single-player game being sold without ugly caveats or its core not being twisted to crowbar in microtransactions. You’d suspect that DOOM getting the “modern gaming” treatment would be the final straw for many, one of the most illustrious franchises in history forgetting itself and even the recent no-nonsense brilliance of its 2016 predecessor.
In amidst the EAs and Activisions of the gaming world, Bethesda were one of the last big publishers who hadn’t completely sunk into the snakepit of microtransactions — even though they started all this nonsense. To see that they supposedly gave in to the easy money was worrying, to say the least. With so few of the biggest publishers not resorting to questionable monetisation practices, if Bethesda were to fully follow suit, who would be left in the AAA space to keep things as they should without seeing the dollar signs?
But that they are trying to keep DOOM like DOOM suggests that they’re starting to wise up again, that players would prefer expansion packs and different editions over fake currencies if they had to choose between either. As long as content isn’t carved out to fill the post-launch offerings, I will take decent-sized expansion packs that are bonuses rather than necessities for the full experience over the very core of a game’s experience being manipulated to fit microtransactions around them every day of the week.
There’s a lot riding on DOOM Eternal for Bethesda, and not just in the financial sense — the reputation of the company hinges on it. If the game delivers without any controversy, it’s a sign to players that they still know what they’re doing, as well as proving to Bethesda that they can hang their hat on single-player experiences after seemingly being let down by them in the past. I really hope it succeeds, even if it has to take part in a deathmatch with Isabelle and that dreaded Tanuki.
DOOM Eternal releases March 20th for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One with a Switch port due at a later date. And Stadia? Are we sure?