One of the common traits shared by the games published by Bethesda Softworks is how they always immerse you in rich, detailed worlds, whether it’s the medieval fantasy realm of The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, the ’50s-flavored post-apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout 4, or the Hell-adjacent space base of the new Doom. So it’s interesting to see how the equally skilled folk at Zen Studios have not only translated these games into excellent pinball tables for Bethesda Pinball, a triple pack for Pinball FX 2 (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC), Zen Pinball 2 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Vita), and Zen Pinball (iOS, Android, Amazon), but have done so in a way that makes them as fun for pinball fans who aren’t into Bethesda’s games as those who do.
For those who are new to Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball 2, here’s a quick primer. Basically, they’re pinball video games that pair realistic physics and sound effects with mechanics that are physically or financially impossible. In the case of the three tables in Bethesda Pinball, this is best illustrated by how, on the Fallout table, the ball moves and bounces around like it would in real life, and sounds like a metal ball rolling on wood, but also has what looks like a fully animated and articulated action figure of a super mutant who hurls insults at you when you miss the ball, and then sets off a mini nuke when you miss the last one, ending the game.
Similarly, while the physics that dictate how the ball moves on The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim table are the same as they would be if there was a real Skyrim pinball machine, I doubt anyone could make one that has a fire breathing dragon flying over it, and if they did, it would be so expensive that a game would cost more than a quarter.
As always with tables for Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball 2, the three included in the Bethesda Pinball collection are also full of fan service that goes beyond the expected appropriation of imagery, iconography, and sound effects. In the Fallout table, for instance, you not only get to create a male or female character, and then watch as they waltz out onto the table, but you can also take optional quests that will earn you Nuka-Cola bottle caps for meeting certain conditions. These caps can then be used to buy Stimpacks, as well as such pinball-related consumables as a ball saver.
Though it should be noted that, like other tables Zen Studios have made for Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball 2 that were based on games, such as Telltale’s Walking Dead (my review of which you can read here) or Portal (review here), you don’t need to be a fan of The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, Doom, or the Fallout series to appreciate the tables in Bethesda Pinball. Sure, it helps, a lot, but these tables are so complex, inventive, and challenging that unless you’re dragonophobic or blindly hate Bethesda’s game for some reason, you’ll still have fun with this.
The tables for Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball 2 are also somewhat complex, regardless of how many or few items are on the table’s surface. And the same is true for the three in the Bethesda Pinball collection. By meeting certain conditions, you not only unlock typical pinball rewards like a round of multiball or brief stints on a mini table, but there are some rewards that aren’t usually available in real pinball machines, such as mini arcade games or interactive fights between characters. Well, their virtual action figures, anyway.
In regards to how the three tables in Bethesda Pinball stack up, the strongest of the three (though not by much) is the one for Doom, which also happens to also be the most complex. Filled with numerous ramps, pathways, traps, and even transporter portals, it’s an especially busy table, both compared to the other two in this collection and to other recent tables for Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball 2 such as the Marvel’s Women Of Power Two Pack (review here) or the Aliens Vs Pinball Pack (review here). Which is why it’s the most fun. Because of the complexity, following the ball’s movements on this table can be difficult, which makes things rather challenging. And that goes double, literally, when you unlock the multiball and things get really frantic.
Slightly less busy, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim table in Bethesda Pinball doesn’t have as much in the way of structures in its upper half, but what it does have makes things quite fun, especially the ramp that curves out of the table and back in again. There’s also a dungeon you can aim for, and even times when you have to take down a bandit who’s standing in front of it, by which I mean you have to hit a figure of a bandit with the ball a bunch of times. But while it may not have as much to it as the Doom one, it still works well, especially since the open space lets the ball really build up speed and momentum.
The same is also true for the Fallout table, which is even less busy than the The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim one, though only slightly. Inspired by the whole series — though especially such installments as Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, and Fallout 4 — the Fallout table also isn’t overloaded with ramps, bumpers, or targets. Instead, it has a relatively simple design, especially in the comparatively sparse lower half. This, again, leads to a lot of fast moving balls, which will give your flipper fingers a good workout.
Of course, like all the tables for Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX 2, the three in the Bethesda Pinball collection are not without their faults. The biggest of these is that if you play it on console, and you sit at a reasonable distance from your television, you’ll have trouble reading the mid-game messages that pop up. Not that it really matters, since most are unimportant notifications like how you’re about to beat your friend’s high score, but it’s still something I hope they fix when they make Zen Pinball 3 and Pinball FX 3.
That said, I did notice, for the first time, that when I was approaching my high score on The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim table, a text box appeared below the score board, and the type that counted down until I hit the high score was nice and big. Which may not be new to this collection, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed it.
The only other issue with the Bethesda Pinball tables is that actor Ron Perlman, who uttered the iconic line, “War…war never changes” in every Fallout game save for Fallout 4, doesn’t do say it here. Someone else does. Which isn’t as bad as getting Kiefer Sutherland to voice Sold Snake in Metal Gear Solid V, but in a series that prides itself on going so deep with the fan serve, it seems like an odd omission.
The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim
Even with this oversight, though, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, Doom, and Fallout tables in the Bethesda Pinball collection for Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX 2 all do justice to their respective games by being fun pinball games that are exciting and enticing, even if you’re not a fan of those games.