Bethesda is one of the rare cases of a game developer finding so much success that they branched out to become one of the biggest publishers in the Western gaming market. While not quite as gigantic as the likes of an Activision or EA, Bethesda has a great stable of developers, themselves included, that have made some of the most ambitious games on the market. Whether it’s the cutting-edge technology coming out of ID Software, the high-octane FPS action of Machine Games, or even the more experimental titles from Arkane, Bethesda’s name is attached to far more than just their high-profile RPG series.
Since they were acquired by Microsoft, all of Bethesda’s games, including the games made by the studios under them, will be console exclusive to that platform moving forward. However, there is a long history of games already released for multiple platforms, and between all the studios Bethesda is in charge of, there are games of all types to check out. You will obviously know the major players here, such as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, but there are way more Bethesda games that are just as good. That’s why we’ve rounded up this list of the best Bethesda games of all time.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
What is there that can be said about Skyrim that hasn’t been said already? This massive game is not only the pinnacle of the Elder Scrolls series (at least until the untitled Elder Scrolls VI releases), but it also shattered all expectations. It wasn’t just a critical hit but a sales juggernaut as well. The game originally came out in 2011 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, but it has been ported almost as much as the original Doom and has sold well every time it was released after that. It makes sense why — the world Bethesda created, or rather this region of it, is just brimming with unique and dynamic events to experience. The number of things to do and see and ways to play make it feel like a true RPG experience in ways most other games could only hope to be.
Yes, Skyrim is not immune to the usual bugs and glitches that Bethesda games are known for. In this case, though, none of them are really game-breaking, unless you’re playing on the PS3, and the game was so ambitious for the time that many people were willing to overlook a few rough edges. The plot isn’t much to write home about, and many people never even saw it through, but that’s just a minor fraction of the content on offer in Skyrim. Side quests are everywhere, caves and dungeons to explore are around every corner, and interesting characters populate all the cities. Skyrim is a game where you can easily spend 100 or more hours never touching the main quest and still have plenty to do.
Read our full: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review
Fallout: New Vegas
While it was Bethesda themselves that took the old Fallout series and brought it back to life as a more modern 3D RPG, it was actually Obsidian Entertainment, also purchased by Microsoft, by the way, that really blended the old-school RPG mechanics and tone of the original game with the gameplay mechanics Bethesda revived the series with. Fallout 3 was a great game, don’t get us wrong, but the fans of the older titles certainly had some problems with it. While it was an open-world game, it was far less open in terms of player choice and influence and not quite as strong in the writing department. Many just assumed that was the price we had to pay for bringing the game into a fully 3D open world with voiced NPCs. That was until Fallout: New Vegas arrived.
An unfortunate trend with Obsidian is that they’re constantly given criminally short development times to produce what are expected to be blockbuster hits, and Fallout: New Vegas is a great example of that. Eighteen months is almost no time at all to create a game, let alone a massive open-world RPG that players expect to have deep systems, dozens of quests that can be completed in multiple ways, tons of weapons, and strong writing. The fact that Fallout: New Vegas manages to accomplish basically all of those things without falling apart at the seams is nothing short of miraculous. That said, it does have more than its fair share of bugs and glitches, even for a game made on Bethesda’s engine, but playing on PC with some mods essentially cleans all those problems up.
Arkane Studios is, in our opinion, one of the most underrated studios out there among gamers. Critics have been praising their games for the near masterpieces they are, but for some reason, sales have never matched up to the quality of the games they put out. Dishonored 2 should’ve been their breakout hit. It was an improvement over the original in almost every way while still sticking to what made that game and world so much fun in the first place. Every mission lets you loose in a systems-driven mini-hub world with tons of secret paths, side quests, and optional ways to accomplish your goal. They were essentially the natural progression of a level from Dues Ex, but even more elaborate. Oh, and you had an awesome kit of powers and weapons.
This time around, Dishonored 2 let you pick between two playable characters: Corvo, the protagonist from the first game, and Emily. While there are plenty of overlapping elements, they are different enough in how they play to warrant going back for at least a second playthrough. We say at least a second playthrough because there are just so many ways to tackle each mission that you’re going to miss out on at least a handful of things on any given playthrough. Seriously, this game would be worth playing for the level design alone, but the fact that it is so much fun to actually interact in that world, plus see how the world reacts to you, make it an all-time great that few people have played.
Read our full: Dishonored 2 review
Sometimes gaming doesn’t have to be much more complex than blasting demons with your super shotgun as heavy-metal guitars celebrate the carnage and gore. While Doom Eternal can be just that, a raw action, incredibly satisfying gore-fest, play on anything higher than the lower difficulties, and you’ll find that this game has way more depth in its combat than basically any shooter released in the past decade. ID made combat a multilayered puzzle of sorts, with a genius design that forces you to stay mobile, aggressive, and strategic all at once. Each enemy has a weakness you can exploit, but ammo for each gun is limited, forcing you to use your entire arsenal as well as your chainsaw to refill. Enemies hit hard and fast, so you’ll need to make sure to weaken enemies for glory kills to restore your HP, but also utilize your flamethrower to make them drop armor to preserve that health.
All those pieces make each combat encounter both mentally and physically challenging, or at least in terms of execution, exhausting (in the best way). Successfully taking out the most dangerous threats, double-jumping and dashing to avoid damage, keeping your health up, and perfectly dispatching smaller foes with brutal glory kills for just a brief second of reprieve, all while the drums and guitars ramp up with the action, leads to feeling like an absolute beast when the final demon is splattered against the wall. The game could’ve been just that, but under the hood, there are wide maps you can platform through for collectibles that show up on your ship between levels, as well as even more challenging optional fights to unlock. Doom Eternal is the full package in ways no other single-player FPS has been in years.
Read our full: Doom Eternal review
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
This will be the oldest entry on the list, but even with so many years removed, we can’t ignore how much The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion changed the console RPG landscape. Yes, Morrowind did come first and established a lot of the systems Oblivion would build upon, but it is far, far harder to go all the way back to Morrowind on the older hardware of the original Xbox. The skill system of leveling up specific attributes by actually performing those actions felt so intuitive and right, despite being a bit exploitable. The world was the biggest we’d ever seen, especially on a console, and the amount of content packed in felt truly endless.
The plot was also a great tale. Your created character is given the mission of stopping a group called the Mythic Dawn from opening the titular Oblivion Gates, thus preventing the Daedric horrors inside from invading the world. Of course, that was just one such story to follow. All the major groups were present and had their own individual questlines, including fan favorites like the Dark Brotherhood or the Thieves Guild. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is basically the prototype for Skyrim but a little stronger in terms of RPG systems and elements, though weaker in looks and actual moment-to-moment gameplay.
The world of Tamriel seems tailor-made for an MMO, and Bethesda obviously thought so too when they created The Elder Scrolls: Online. However, things weren’t quite so perfect when the game first launched. The famous Bethesda bugs were there, most notably broken quests, but only exacerbated when playing in a shared world, though it was really the design that was at odds with itself. It was an MMO, obviously, but the main story almost pushed you to play the game solo. There just wasn’t a cohesive marriage of what we loved about the single-player Elder Scrolls experience and MMOs. There’s also the fact that the reused voice actors, and even specific lines, become grating far quicker in a game where you’re encouraged to do tons of quests to level up.
On the plus side, The Elder Scrolls: Online has seen a lot of improvements. Bethesda continues to support the game with new content and expansions. The world was already big when the game first came out, but with even more regions to explore, the game has really made good on the promise of allowing you to explore the entire world of Tamriel. The combat has always been solid, at least by MMO standards, and PVP is actually quite exciting. It will never be as immersive in the same way Skyrim is, but The Elder Scrolls: Online has worked itself into a very good MMO wearing an Elder Scrolls coat of paint.
Read our full: The Elder Scrolls: Online review
Bethesda’s first stab at making a Fallout game after purchasing the rights also remains their best. Fallout 3, as touched on, took the classic CRPG and reinvented it as a more action-heavy FPS-RPG hybrid. To translate the old turn-based, dice-rolling combat of the originals, Bethesda innovated in some creative ways that would go on to define what the series would be going forward. VATS are the big one in this regard, allowing you to slow down time and select where you want your next attack to be aimed at an enemy, with hit chances shown for each body part just like they would be in the old games. Skills and perks also carried over, but they’re more streamlined for the console market.
Your created character has a very basic motivation for leaving the vault and heading into the desolate wasteland that Washington, D.C., has become: Find your father. You do get a little bonding time with him, played by the awesome Liam Neeson, no less, before getting kicked out to roam the ruins, but the real game is all the other things you can do. Even though this game came only two years after Oblivion, it looked like a huge jump graphically. Yes, the world is as gray and brown as the memes about games from this time poke fun at, but it was still one of the best-looking open worlds out there at the time. The gunplay, aside from when you used VATS, also left a lot to be desired.
Before ID brought Doom back, Machine Games started the trend of reviving an old series and injecting it with strong character writing, plot, and modern gameplay that still felt true to the original. In the case of Wolfenstein: The New Order, not many people would even know the original well enough to tell if this reboot-sequel hybrid strayed from the conventions of one of the first FPS games ever made. Either way, based on the simple premise of one man shooting Nazis, Wolfenstein: The New Order managed to craft an excellent single-player campaign as well as make the otherwise blank slate BJ a deep and relatable character. No one would’ve predicted that a new Wolfenstein game, without any multiplayer, mind you, would turn out to be such a massive hit.
Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t just story and character, though. The majority of the game remains true to that original premise of shooting Nazis in the face. Only now, you can do it with more guns and in full HD across tons of locations. Every gun, from pistols and assault rifles to shotguns, can be duel-wielded without any negatives except not being able to aim down sights. Combine that with the overcharging health system, where you can go above your maximum health temporarily, and you’re free to run and gun your way through most of the game. That’s not even touching on the perk system or stealth mechanics, either!
Read our full: Wolfenstein: The New Order review
Depending on what you value more, Doom may be above Wolfenstein: The New Order for you, and we wouldn’t even argue. This was yet another strange reboot/sequel from the earliest days of FPS gaming, only this time, people knew what Doom was. It had endured and remains a seminal classic that people still go back to even today. So the prospect of bringing it back had gamers placing a ton of expectations on ID to do the game justice. Somehow, they managed to break those expectations — or rather, snap its legs off and ram it through its skull. This game is as ultraviolent as, well, a game where ultraviolence is one of the difficulty settings. Demons are disgusting, hulking mounds of flesh just waiting to be blown up, chainsawed, and brutalized in as many ways as the Doom guy can come up with.
It isn’t all just guns and gore, though. Doom introduced the glory kill system, which would show up again in the sequel among other systems, where playing aggressively was the only way to survive. Unlike basically every other FPS on the market, health in Doom doesn’t regenerate. You can either find pickups on the map or perform a glory kill by weakening a demon, getting nice and close, and jamming their own heart down their throats. That alone would make this game a breath of fresh air, but it also ran buttery smooth, had fun weapon challenges, secrets, and a campaign that wasn’t short — and it didn’t outstay its welcome.
Read our full: Doom review
The second Arkane game on this list befell the same sad fate as their Dishonored games, only this time with a much stranger history. Prey, the original, was a weird sci-fi FPS that had some fun portal and gravity mechanics but was otherwise forgotten about by basically everyone. A sequel was announced with a gripping prerendered trailer promising a unique bounty hunting-type game set on an alien world. The IP then came to Arkane, which decided to reboot the series (can it be called a series with just one game?) by basically just making its own game with the same name. All that weird stuff doesn’t matter, though, because Prey is a great game regardless of what it’s called.
Prey puts you in the shoes of Alex Yu, who can be male or female, on a space station infested with creatures called the Typhon. The small, black, goo-like creatures come in many forms, but the most famous are the smallest ones that can disguise themselves as any object in the environment to ambush you. They can be a lamp, coffee cup, or random chair knocked over on the floor. The constant threat keeps you second-guessing everything in your environment, which is genius because it leads you to appreciate just how great Arkane’s level design is. You have just as much freedom with the RPG elements as a game like Dishonored, but the gunplay isn’t quite as responsive or fun, and while they do a great job with what they have, the environments can get a little repetitive to look at.
Read our full Prey review
The Evil Within 2
The first Evil Within game put itself in a terrible position. Not only did the name have a clear reference to the Resident Evil series, with a perspective, atmosphere, and gameplay style just as obviously trying to evoke feelings of Resident Evil 4, but it was also directed by former Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami. That first game, while by no means the masterpiece that Resident Evil 4 was, still turned out to be a solid survival horror game that just happened to be bogged down by technical issues and a not-all-that-great plot. It just had too high of expectations put on it for anything less than another Resident Evil 4 to be seen as a disappointment.
Fast forward to the sequel, and many people had written the series off, but a new writer and director had taken the reigns to make a game that punches way above its weight. Sure, that means the game does creak under its own weight at times, specifically in how it can’t quite manage to quickly transport you between vastly different locations like it clearly wants to, or how the plot kind of splits in the last quarter of the game. However, the new semi-open-world structure, with side quests, collectibles, and surprise encounters with unique enemies, is just plain fun. Sneaking around the shattered world, as well as navigating more linear sections, all form a game that, while not a master of horror or action, does both well enough to be a really good (but not quite great) time.
Read our full The Evil Within 2 review