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Bethesda doesn't get enough credit for their storytelling.

Berserker976

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Oct 21, 2013
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I was playing Fallout 4 recently when I was struck by a realization. For year and years I've seen people discussing how terrible the stories were in Bethesda games, yet I always found myself extremely invested in their worlds. I could see the the issues people constantly pointed out, but I still got the feeling that there was something that wasn't being talked about, and I think I figured it out.

Bethesda's storytelling is based on groups and organizations, not on individual character relationships. That's what makes their worlds feel rich and alive while leaving their plots feeling empty. RPGs that are traditionally praised for their storytelling and dialogue almost universally focus more on interpersonal relationships in service of advancing the overall plot, while in Bethesda games the intrigue comes from different groups interacting with each other in complex ways.

To avoid spoilers I won't be going into much detail on what, specifically, prompted this revelation, but I will be talking about events in a very broad sense.

Late in Fallout 4, depending on how you've decided to ally yourself with the various factions, you will potentially be faced with a struggle to untie a tangled web of allegiances. Most of what you'll do is subterfuge as you double and triple cross organizations you'd been doing quests for, and formed a bond with, a few hours earlier. It really drives home what Bethesda is good at in their storytelling. They create unique, interesting, and complex groups that interact in compelling ways.

Some examples, to illustrate my point:

-In Morrowind, the plot is traditionally about the reincarnation of a great warrior fulfilling a prophecy to save the world. But through the "group" lens, it's about the clashing ideals and beliefs between the empire's secret agency The Blades, The Tribunal Temple, Dagoth Ur and the Sixth House, and the Ashlander tribes.

-In the Elder Scrolls series in general, you don't just become a great mage, or a great thief, you become the leader of a guild of mages, or a guild of thieves. This puts the emphasis again on group relations.

-In Skyrim, everything you do is based around your allegiance to particular factions. From the civil war, to The Blades, to the Greybeards.

-In Fallout 3, you're trying to find your father and purify the water in the Capital Wasteland. But you're also learning about the Brotherhood of Steel, the Enclave, and a bunch of small, self-contained settlements like Rivet City and Megaton. (Fallout 4 takes a lot of the minor factions here and greatly expands upon them.)

Now, I'm not saying that Bethesda games couldn't benefit from better quality character writing and dialogue, but I would argue that their form of storytelling is no less valid than the other, more popularly recognized form, and furthermore, I'd say they're pretty great at it. Bethesda games get me thinking about motivations, history, and relationships, just at a macro level.

So, am I on to something, or am I just making excuses for liking shitty writing? :p
 

Wagram

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Jul 11, 2013
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In the case of Skyrim - (in my humble opinion) you're making a case for shitty writing (bar a few quest lines like the thieves guild).
 

Meffer

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Jun 16, 2014
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I think the smaller details in their games that you find are better like finding the Vaults and learning what happened in each one.
 

Ooccoo

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May 12, 2011
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Bethesda is not a good example of storytelling mastery. They're pretty bad at it.
 

Jebusman

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Nov 10, 2013
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So, am I on to something, or am I just making excuses for liking shitty writing? :p
This, although that's not a bad thing.

It's alright to like shitty writing. Everyone's tastes are different. It can be a genuine like or a guilty pleasure. Just don't ever try to pretend like it's a valid excuse for their shitty writing.

As long as you admit "The writing is shit but man I just can't help but like it", that's ok.
 

Psychoward

Banned
Aug 17, 2011
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Nobody is criticizing random happenings in the world, it's just the main stories and dialog are pretty shitty in their games. Also using Skyrim as an example of good faction use is hilarious considering the Stormcloaks and Imperial Civil War Quest line is basically the same (raiding forts), you can be the leader of all 4 major guilds at once and you're forced to join the Grey beards anyway.


Play New Vegas if you want a Bethesda-like game with actual faction relations.
 
Jul 18, 2015
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I just snort laughed. Come on. They made a story about people who live in a town with a nuke inside of it when there's a town nuke-free literally one mile away to the west.

Bethesda's storytelling sucks.
 

User 479360

Banned
Sep 9, 2014
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I've always enjoyed the games' worlds and had no issue with the writing or storytelling. I know GAF doesn't seem to like the stories, though.
 
May 4, 2014
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Bethesda doesn't get credit for storytelling because their storytelling is really bad. You are, unfortunately, doing little more than identifying plots as opposed to making any sort of case for quality storytelling.
 

Hektor

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Those groups make you their leader right after you successfully finished their first trainee mission. I can't take them and their story seriously in any shape or form.
 

nynt9

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Jun 7, 2013
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I think while their storytelling is pretty bad on a macro scale, it's pretty neat on a micro scale. The random quests you find around in the world can have amusing/interesting plotlines or implications. The Witcher 3 took that to the next level by having even random side quests having very involved and well-written side stories, but Beth usually do it in a more sandboxy way and I think there's value in what they do.
 

Lingitiz

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Sep 19, 2010
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Their faction stuff is the same thing every time. You join the faction as a nobody that gets recognized by one of the higher ups. You work your way through and somehow end up as the head of the faction by the end.

The bigger problem is the lack of consequences or reactivity. You can be the head of every major faction and the Dragonborn in Skyrim and no one will bat an eye. It's lame and speaks to modern Bethesda design that is simply meant to make the player feel cool and allow them to see every piece of content in the game.
 

Nere

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Jul 29, 2014
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Bethesda main quests suck all of them with the only exception of Morrowind, that was an excellent told story. Where Bethesda excels though is the side quests and especially the factions. I don't know how they manage to have better stories on the guilds than the main storyline everytime but they somehow do it. So I am not complaining the main quest writing might be shitty but the guilds and side quests are always good so I don't mind.
 
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I've always enjoyed the games' worlds and had no issue with the writing or storytelling. I know GAF doesn't seem to like the stories, though.
I thought I was just being crotchety being an old school Fallout 1 and 2 fan when 3 came out and while fun was sort of derp a lot of the time. Then New Vegas came out and I went nope its possible to have a good story/rpg with Bethesda engines.

Elder Scrolls I never invested in so they can do what they want and It doesn't bug me beyond lame level scaling.
 

Meffer

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Jun 16, 2014
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The stories aren't what people want from these games, they want the experience you get from the games.
 

partyphone

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they always build this big, detailed worlds full of stuff but it's rarely ever good stuff. I suspect some of the side quest storylines are better than the main one because they're more likely to be the product of a single writer(or fewer writers) and aren't constantly fucked with while the game is in production.

i'm glad bethesda makes these games because no one else does anything on this scale. but they focus on quantity and never quality.
 

Chillz0r

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Nov 9, 2014
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Is this thread coming from bizzaro world? Bethesda makes great open worlds but MY GOD their writing has mediocre at best since Oblivion.

Fallout 4 in particular. Its like they made forum hyperbole real.

People actually praising Bethesda games' writing most likely just play Bethesda games.
 
Apr 27, 2008
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So, am I on to something, or am I just making excuses for liking shitty writing? :p
I just don't think you know what good writing is, but I'm not so mean as to call their's "shitty". It just leaves a lot to be desired OR they aim to be enjoyed most by the twelve year old in all of us.

Because if they're not aiming for saturday morning cartoon discourse mixed with grim humor then yes, they're shitty.
 

Zemm

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Oct 11, 2012
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Those groups make you their leader right after you successfully finished their first trainee mission. I can't take them and their story seriously in any shape or form.
haha the very first quest in Fallout 4 is this.

The writing and storytelling in Bethesda games are awful.
 

User 479360

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Sep 9, 2014
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I thought I was just being crotchety being an old school Fallout 1 and 2 fan when 3 came out and while fun was sort of derp a lot of the time. Then New Vegas came out and I went nope its possible to have a good story/rpg with Bethesda engines.

Elder Scrolls I never invested in so they can do what they want and It doesn't bug me beyond lame level scaling.
I've only played Fallout 3, New Vegas and 4, and they're some of my favourite games. Fallout 4, I'm ten or eleven hours into, and am enjoying, but not as much as I enjoyed Fallout 3 (a 10/10, game of generation alongside TLOU for me). Unfortunately, Fallout 4 has been spoiled for me, but I still look forward to finding out how everything unravels. It's too bad, too, because this was my most anticipated game for several years.

I don't think the older Fallouts would interest me as much. And, while I don't think the storytelling is Oscar-worthy, it's solid.

I liked Skyrim a lot as well, and need to play Oblivion.
 
Dec 3, 2011
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Those groups make you their leader right after you successfully finished their first trainee mission. I can't take them and their story seriously in any shape or form.
Don't forget when the thieves guild asked the the archmage of the mages guild to steal a staff from and leave a message for the archmage of the mages guild without the game acknowledging any of this.
 

Meffer

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Jun 16, 2014
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they always build this big, detailed worlds full of stuff but it's rarely ever good stuff. I suspect some of the side quest storylines are better than the main one because they're more likely to be the product of a single writer(or fewer writers) and aren't constantly fucked with while the game is in production.

i'm glad bethesda makes these games because no one else does anything on this scale. but they focus on quantity and never quality.
The side quest stuff is better. Oblivion's Thieves Gulid final quest is awesome and the Dark Brotherhood in general was great.
 

Spaghetti

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Nov 4, 2013
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I really think saying that faction/guild missions in the recent TES games are about "group relations" is giving them a wee bit too much credit. They are more about bar filling :p
yes, absolutely. skyrim is a huge offender on the progression front in this respect, even compared to oblivion. the faction questlines are short, and are of little consequence to anything else in the world.

fallout 4, so far as i've played, is only slightly better by the virtue the factions are tied into the main story so the actions have to be given more weight.
 

The Technomancer

card-carrying scientician
Jun 18, 2009
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Fallout 3 is actually nonsensical in its plotting, that Shamus Young piece was spot on. I can't speak for FO4
 

Rushersauce

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Jun 22, 2013
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Omg, are those 2 skeletons holding hands, sitting there with their clothes intact looking at what was their last sunset?

5deep8me
 

Crisium

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Feb 8, 2009
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When I compare Fallout 3 to New Vegas I can truly give no credit to Bethesda's storytelling.

I'm not super far into the FO4 story yet so I cannot fully comment, but so far it does not offer the variance of intriguing choices that New Vegas had.
 

Purkake4

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Dec 26, 2008
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Nobody is criticizing random happenings in the world, it's just the main stories and dialog are pretty shitty in their games. Also using Skyrim as an example of good faction use is hilarious considering the Stormcloaks and Imperial Civil War Quest line is basically the same (raiding forts), you can be the leader of all 4 major guilds at once and you're forced to join the Grey beards anyway.


Play New Vegas if you want a Bethesda-like game with actual faction relations.
This.
 
Dec 3, 2011
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When I compare Fallout 3 to New Vegas I can truly give no credit to Bethesda's storytelling.

I'm not super far into the FO4 story yet so I cannot fully comment, but so far it does not offer the variance of choices that New Vegas had.
In Fallout 4s defense, New Vegas never allowed you to choose Sarcastic.
 

Syf

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Oct 3, 2012
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Story and writing are some of the last things I'd praise Bethesda for, just ahead of their ability to release polished games.
 

User 479360

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Fallout 3 > New Vegas

New Vegas, as a whole, wasn't as interesting to me. It didn't blow me away as much. But I still thought it was a very good game. Its DLC also wasn't as good.

The game was soured upon me a bit at launch, because of freezing issues. I stopped playing it because it kept locking up, and waited for patches. I went back to it a couple of years later and played through it all plus the DLC, which I was able to profit on. (I bought the GOTY Edition for $20 using a coupon, played through the DLC on the disk, then traded it back in and got $30).
 

CecilRousso

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Jun 29, 2008
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Their world building is second to none, but holy moly the dialogue/writing is poor. Especially so in FO4.
Compared to what games?

To older Black Isle games? Absolutely.
To some of the new Obsidian game? Yes.
To their previous games? No.
To smaller competitors, like Piranha Bytes? No.

Fallout 4 might be worse in some aspects compared to New Vegas (premise, overall goal, Mr. House, etc), but absolutely not in every aspect. And I'm one of those who feel that New Vegas was much much superior to Fallout 3, and thought the writing in Skyrim was pretty horrible.
 

Ikuu

Had his dog run over by Blizzard's CEO
Mar 7, 2007
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I'd say they don't get enough criticism, Fallout 4's story is honestly complete shit.
Fallout 3 > New Vegas

Its DLC also wasn't as good.


The Fallout 3 DLC was terrible apart from Point Lookout.
 

MayMay

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Oct 5, 2013
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They're certainly masters of world building. Everywhere I go in FO4, every building I enter - there's a story to the place. Even if its just told by how some random props are aligned.

But yeah, the dialogue and actual writing leaves alot to be desired
 

Berserker976

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Oct 21, 2013
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I guess I can't say I didn't see the responses in here coming. :p

I see some people bringing up world building.

I wanted to differentiate between Bethesda's "group story" approach and general world building because world building, to me, is a term for the static environment of a world, whereas groups in Bethesda games do generally progress, change, and have a dynamic impact on the story.

I'll also reiterate that I'm familiar with most of the common criticism towards Bethesda's storytelling, that's why I'm asking people whether it works better when viewed in a different light. I'm not here to say that these criticisms are invalid when taken in their original context.
 

Rushersauce

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Jun 22, 2013
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Fallout 3 > New Vegas

New Vegas, as a whole, wasn't as interesting to me. It didn't blow me away as much. But I still thought it was a very good game. Its DLC also wasn't as good.

The game was soured upon me a bit at launch, because of freezing issues. I stopped playing it because it kept locking up, and waited for patches. I went back to it a couple of years later and played through it all plus the DLC, which I was able to get for free.
Let's not talk crazy. It's good to have opinions yadda yadda
 

pizzacat

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Nov 10, 2014
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Fallout 3 > New Vegas

New Vegas, as a whole, wasn't as interesting to me. It didn't blow me away as much. But I still thought it was a very good game. Its DLC also wasn't as good.

The game was soured upon me a bit at launch, because of freezing issues. I stopped playing it because it kept locking up, and waited for patches. I went back to it a couple of years later and played through it all plus the DLC, which I was able to profit on. (I bought the GOTY Edition for $20 using a coupon, played through the DLC on the disk, then traded it back in and got $30).
so you're telling me a sequel to a game didn't have the same impact? o wow

New Vegas was a refined 3, it's dlc was the high point for me and fallout 3 only had point lookout tbh
 

partyphone

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Dec 27, 2012
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I guess I can't say I didn't see the responses in here coming. :p

I see some people bringing up world building.

I wanted to differentiate between Bethesda's "group story" approach and general world building because world building, to me, is a term for the static environment of a world, whereas groups in Bethesda games do generally progress, change, and have a dynamic impact on the story.

I'll also reiterate that I'm familiar with most of the common criticism towards Bethesda's storytelling, that's why I'm asking people whether it works better when viewed in a different light. I'm not here to say that these criticisms are invalid when taken in their original context.
I'm super confused about what you mean by "group story" and how having an effect on a shitty "regular story" is a good thing?
 

RDreamer

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Aug 3, 2009
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I think they get too much credit for everything to do with writing and storytelling. They're bad. Very bad.