The first decade of the 2000s was a special time in gaming history. As a sports gamer, there was no better era as there was an assortment of sports games to scratch that virtual sports gaming itch. Another genre that really took off was the western role-playing game. As Japanese role-playing games began to wane a bit from their prominence throughout the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, western RPGs were ascending to a more prominent status in gaming. This era gave us some darn great games that I believe have left a positive mark on gaming as a whole.
It was in the early 2000s that Bethesda Softworks started to establish itself to a wider audience as The Elder Scrolls series started to take shape. There was The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind in 2002 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2006. These games helped set the stage for what would become Bethesda’s most successful titles in the series, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) and The Elder Scrolls Online (2014). All four titles are highly praised expansive open world games that are easy to lose yourself into. The Elder Scrolls games feature large maps to explore, many different types of enemies to defeat, and many non-playable characters (NPCs) to interact with that can provide more missions and game content. Despite some bugs along the way, they are great experiences. My personal favorite is Skyrim because I felt the game had more polish than its predecessors and was easier for a beginner to the series like me to get into.
Let’s not forget about the mods. It is ridiculous how many mods exist, particularly for Oblivion and Skyrim. We’re talking everything from appearances and weapons, to graphical upgrades and other quality of life enhancements. Some mods convert the games into something completely new. It’s a labor of love that continues to this day. The Elder Scrolls series has always been very mod friendly. As a result, the games have stood the test of time and offer endless replayability. With the enormous amount of mods available, I would not be surprised if some gamers only play Oblivion and/or Skyrim exclusively.
Like Bethesda, BioWare had already been around before the 2000s came. The company was linked to the Baldur’s Gate series in the 1990s. But in 2002, the release of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic showcased how a mixture of meaningful dialogue with consequences and solid RPG action could create unforgettable experiences. For many gamers, it was the first time they knew a company named BioWare even existed. Seeing my words and actions actually matter within the context of a story and then see it play out throughout the game was a new experience for me. BioWare built upon this idea and it showed in both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. In my opinion, the space and fantasy series are BioWare’s crowning achievements. It’s no wonder that Mass Effect Legendary Edition has sold as well as it has and I would not be surprised if a remastered edition of the Dragon Age titles were equally as lucrative.
This intricate focus on dialogue and character development is what differentiated BioWare from Bethesda at the time. Bethesda specialized in giving the player more unprecedented freedom in an expansive open world (the game maps were huge) with countless nonplayable characters to interact with. Also, Bethesda games were developed with modding in mind from the beginning, which naturally gave it the edge in mod support. On the contrary, Bioware gave you a large but limited world with more of a defined story, greater depth to its characters, and the ability for your dialogue choices and actions to have a more significant impact in the game. It’s not that the Elder Scrolls games didn’t have consequences for actions taken, but just not on the level of what would occur in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles. So explorers and gamers that want to experiment with the game world through mods would better appreciate Bethesda games while players looking to get immersed in a great story in its characters would find Bioware’s approach better suited for them.
Perhaps the other open-world series that Bethesda is best known for is the Fallout series. The first 3D version of the series, Fallout 3, was released in 2008 and had stronger sales than The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Whereas The Elder Scrolls takes place in a fantasy setting, the Fallout games are rooted in a post-apocalyptic setting where humanity is simply trying to survive. The games paint a future that is gritty, violent, and dangerous. Yet Fallout and The Elder Scrolls are very similar in how they present the player with a large, explorative open world with a ton of freedom and fantastic mod support. Since Fallout 3, there’s been Fallout New Vegas (2010), Fallout 4 (2015), and Fallout 76 (2018). But it was Fallout 3 that was the turning point for the series.
Though this post was intended to focus on Bethesda and BioWare, I felt it proper to give some attention to Fable. Developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios in 2004, Fable was an original Xbox exclusive that provided its own brand of exploration in a fantasy setting where you could choose to be good or evil. It had multiple sequels, but you’ll find many gamers that believe the first game was the best in the series. Unlike the other games mentioned in this post, you’ll find that Fable’s look and aesthetics to be more fantasy based versus the more realistic graphical style of Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls. Because of its link to Microsoft Game Studios, you will not be able to play any of the Fable games outside of an Xbox console or Windows PC. If you have only owned PlayStation or Nintendo-related consoles, you may have never heard of the game. I mention Fable in this post because it was another choice for gamers in the early 2000s as western RPGs entered into a boom period.
All of the games spotlighted in post ones you should definitely play at least once in your gaming journey. They all do a great job of taking you on unforgettable journeys with memorable characters and great moments. If there were ever games that you can lose yourself into as if you’re reading a gripping novel, these are it. I can’t recommend these games highly enough. If you’ve played these games, which ones are your favorites?