Bethesda will unleash a line-up of just four games in the next 12 months, the result of a long play on slow burn, high budget, high quality development. This year, we all win the jackpot.
Bethesda's parent company, Zenimax, isn't slave to shareholders, and its founders came from the core Bethesda Softworks team. The same attitude and approach which enabled the original Elder Scrolls games - enormous, high resource, unlikely beasts - is strongly apparent in the company today.
The Big Four
In just over six weeks, Splash Damage will release Brink. A new IP with some daring departures from regular shooter fare, this multiplayer-focussed title comes from a team which lives and breathes FPS. Modders turned id contractors, Splash Damage is using this game as its graduate thesis. Expect it on May 17 in the US, and May 20 elsewhere, for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC - the last benefiting from dedicated servers.
As summer heats up, Hunted: The Demon's Forge makes its bid for blockbuster. A good old-fashioned dungeon crawl with a new-fangled action core, its the Bard's Tale team going back to its fantasy roots. The co-op gameplay makes a play for the Gears of War crowd come June 1 in the US and June 3 internationally, on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Don't be put off by the tropes and leather bikinis; there's something good happening here.
Leading into the holiday season, we'll see id's first new IP since Quake, in 1996. RAGE drops on September 13 in the US and September 16 everywhere else, and, thanks to id Tech 5, will turn up on Mac as well as the usual three core platforms.
id has a big story tell, so it's made a big world to tell it in, and has given you cars to drive around in between bouts of the studio's famous first-person expertise. This is your chance to have a good old goggle at the new engine, so you really should.
Bethesda drops its H-bomb on November 11. Productivity in essential and non-essential industries is expected to take a hit for weeks, as a sudden and mysterious plague keeps besotted players home "sick" with shiny new copies of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. While a core fan base has always lauded Bethesda's flagship series, the aftermath of Morrowind and the fantastically successful Oblivion suggest the audience lining up on launch day will be the biggest the company has ever seen. Bethesda has been beavering away at it for years, determined to live up to the hype; that Skyrim will stand tall among the worthiest games of 2011 is without question.
And then some
The resurgent Bethesda's strategy of juggling a small number of heavy titles would be dangerous for any other publisher. The big B ensures each of its releases gets the development time and the marketing oomph needed to maximise potential, and as each one hypes, releases, and slips away, another slides in almost immediately.
With a constantly shifting hand of cards, it's difficult to predict what Bethesda will being to this year's major trade shows. Will it focus on marketing its imminent and recent releases, or risk overshadowing them with new announces and reveals?
The only confirmed 2012 release so far is Prey 2, from Human Head. The original game was built on the previous iteration of the id Tech Engine, making Bethesda a natural home for the new game. This may be Bethesda's last release of the financial year, or it may slip back to FY2013, but it's definitely next for the hype machine and should make an appearance at this year's shows.
DOOM 4 is the next most obvious contender for some major media love. id has been focused on RAGE, and nobody's dared to put a date on a title with so much to prove, but we may finally see something at QuakeCon in August. The timing would be right: RAGE will be on the verge of shipping and will be the big push at the Texas event, so a brief look at Carmack's next won't get in the way of success.
Fallout is a cagier prospect. New Vegas shipped just two years after the original, so we could see a year-end announce for a new title to ship in late 2012, following a "rest" year. If so, it's not clear who'd develop; Bethesda Softworks and Obsidian are both occupied elsewhere. Don't count on this just yet.
Elder Scrolls goes online
A wealth of recent studio acquisition sees Zenimax and Bethesda primed for a new portfolio of IP in the coming years. Arkane Studios and Machine Games each have an unannounced title in the works. Both were confirmed almost a year ago, but no further details have emerged, suggesting Bethesda is indeed lining up another power group.
Bethesda drops its H-bomb on November 11.
We're unlikely to see anything from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami this year. The designer has been heavily involved with Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows of the Damned, but a few artworks suggest Tango Gamework at least has some idea of what it's planning.
And, of course, Zenimax Online Studios will have to lift the veil on its top secret project eventually. An ongoing battle with Interplay over the Fallout license and some suggestive website art hint at a post-apocalyptic MMO in the works, but don't fall for these red herrings. Before it mines a purchased property, Bethesda will take its baby multiplayer: The Elder Scrolls MMO. This E3 will be all about the Skyrim, but two announced Elder Scrolls properties side by side is not unthinkable.
Hype up. It's going to be a golden year for Bethesda.