By Josh Di Falco 11.01.2017
Zen Studios has been in the pinball game for quite a while now, and each new table or pack that they develop finds new ways to recreate the pinball table formula. Just when it seems that they have reached the peak of where their ideas can take them, they reinvent themselves again. Bethesda Pinball sees Zen Studios adapt the three biggest games from Bethesda into pinball tables. Rather than getting regular pinball tables, elements from Fallout 4, Skyrim and Doom are woven into their respective tables, creating a unique combination that feels fresh, but eerily similar.
The best table on offer in this pack is easily the Doom table. From the moment the table loads, a nightmarish Cyber Demon opens up proceedings by dominating the field. The heavy metal music kicks in to ramp up the tension and excitement of partaking in an intense round of pinball, while the Hellish setting looks incredible. Right before the round is initiated; there are two difficulty settings to choose from. "Hurt Me Plenty" is the regular mode that includes all the expected gameplay elements from a pinball table, with kickbacks and ball saves. Otherwise, the gruelling "Nightmare!" mode eliminates these advantages, but multiplies the amount of points earned, and it is a great way to earn those big scores after being accustomed to the table and what is required.
The Cyber Demon then starts firing its laser beam down the ramp, where the ball gets fired from. The Skill Shot is quite easy on this table, as avoiding the laser beam is the only requirement to earning it, and it does not take long to get its firing rhythm down to pat. Once the plunger sets the ball on its way, a game full of fire and chaos begins. The Cyber Demon sets the pace for the table due to its overbearing and daunting presence, and it gets involved in the various missions.
These missions usually involve a set of enemies appearing on the table, and hitting them with the ball causes damage to them. The Doom Marine stands on the table to the left of the screen, with his own ammo set, armour and life bar. As the pinball battle rages on, upgrades are available, while new weapons enter the mix and can be equipped at any stage during the game. This customisation is akin to the Doom game released in 2016, though it rarely seems like these upgrades do anything to affect anything on the table. As missions begin and monsters invade the table, the Marine engages in firefights with them, but this merely serves as eye-candy for an otherwise hardcore table.
Of the three, the Doom table is the most open table, which allows the ball to manoeuvre through the field quite seamlessly. The ramps are spaced out in a way that allows for the constant flow of the ball, and ball outs do not happen a lot during the course of a game in a way that seems unfair. A mini game initiates from time to time that requires rebounding a ball off a three-prong moving stones, with the aim of sending the ball through the portals. Like most of the other mini games from previous tables, this also feels clunky, but it is fun and easy to figure out.
The Skyrim table is a little bit more difficult to navigate around due to the oddly placed ramps, as they surround the Dungeon set piece known to fans from the hit game. More often than not, hitting the ball into the Dungeon causes the ball to drop straight down the middle of the flippers. This is a shame because overall this table is a unique blend of pinball but also retaining the RPG elements from the fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls series.
The table begins by creating a character. Choose from seven selections, ranging from a Human Mage or Knight, to an Elf Archer and an Argonian, to a Khajit or the Orc. Then the story mimics that of the game, beginning with the character having to escape from the Dragon, who flies across the table billowing fire and burning up the lanes. This is a truly epic moment when it first takes place; however, after a while it does get stale and repetitive, especially after the numerous restarts required to figure out the precision ball movements required to last a while on the table.
The inventory management system, loot drops, skill upgrades and slaying enemies in the dungeons adds many complex layers to an otherwise simple table setup. While it was great to try and incorporate the RPG elements that Skyrim is known for, playing this pinball table is difficult and complicated, especially for those looking for a casual experience to burn an hour or so in. Adding to that the poorly placed Dungeon which sets up a lot of dead balls; the entire table unfortunately suffers for it.
Finally, the Fallout 4 table rounds off the pack, and is similar to the Skyrim table in terms of introducing the RPG elements from the Fallout 4 game. Begin by creating a character, though it is limited to just selecting a gender, and then assign SPECIAL points to them. Again, while this is a cool and neat feature, it doesn't seem to add anything to the overall experience of the table. The agility stat increases the dodge times, though what does that even mean in terms of pinball? Then select one of the companions to accompany the created character on the journey for a further buff increase.
Similar to the Doom table's Cyber Demon, the Super Mutant takes the centre stage for this table, as his looming presence and ability to get involved in most of the quests adds to its daunting presence. While this is another cool feature, it really seems to be just a palette swap from the Cyber Demon and the Dragon. However, the Super Mutant has its own ending animation where upon losing all three balls, it just nukes the table.
The Sole Survivor can partake in faction quests for the Brotherhood, Railroad, Minutemen or the Institute. These faction quests are a great way to earn experience points in order to level up the Survivor's skills. Apart from being a way to character build based on the game, these skills do not seem to affect too much of the gameplay, if at all. Throw in the collection of bottle caps in order to purchase further buffs that seem to appease to the RPG elements without a fundamental gameplay change, and what is left is a stock standard pinball game without window dressing RPG elements.
On paper, the ideas for how to integrate the best that these three games offered and marrying them with the pinball mechanic worked. Even in practice, for the most part, it comes out well. The three tables based off Doom, Skyrim and Fallout 4 are fun arenas to play around in, and the bevy of missions and side quests to complete are enjoyable in their own right. Each of the three tables perfectly encapsulates the feelings and emotions from the original games, as well as retaining the look and feel of the worlds. The RPG elements thrown in for the two role-playing tables sounded great, though they rarely impact or cause any real fundamental changes to the pinball formula, which kind of renders the entire character creation and role-playing elements as pointless. All that aside, this latest trilogy pack from Zen Studios is a blast to play, and is a worthy addition for pinball enthusiasts.