Pinball FX 3: Bethesda Pinball Pack

If you want to make a good pinball table, you have to keep in mind that the most important part of it is that you keep it moving. It goes with the genre – much like you wouldn't put turn-based commands into a character-action game like Bayonetta, or suddenly turn a Civilization into a shooter. It should also stand to reason that a pinball table should be designed around kinetic action and fast reflexes. 

This is something that Zen Studios, the team behind Pinball FX3, has always struggled with. It reaches its nadir with the Bethesda Pinball Pack, with two of its three tables unnecessarily filled with hard stops and weird decisions that maybe fit the games the tables are based on, but most definitely not a pinball table. It's not to say that tables based on these properties can't be good. To be as good as popular games such as Skyrim and Fallout 4 might deserve, the tables should probably have to be developed by someone else - someone who doesn't think that pausing the action to level yourself up is a good idea, or someone who can figure out a smarter way to integrate VATS so that it's actually fun to use instead of slow and detrimental. 

The Skyrim table is far and away the worst offender in the pack. It's definitely not impossible to turn a game as expansive as Skyrim into an enjoyable table, especially when you're dealing with digital tables where some of the rules can go right out the window. With few exceptions, though, the Skyrim table is far too focused on how it can keep the analog feel. It's a huge problem because of how oddly important incorporating menus into the context seems to have been.

I'm pretty sure no one likes the menus in actual Skyrim, which makes the decision to pull them into the pinball table even more baffling – especially because you have to navigate them with the flipper buttons instead of having a more direct control. And they're multiple levels deep! While the game does at least pause the ball while you're in the menus, but when you come back, there isn't any kind of countdown before starting again – it just starts right back up. If you don't remember exactly where your ball was or where it was going when you got into the inventory, you might lose the ball as you scramble to catch it again.

Doubling that, when you're in combat, the game will just stop you, the ball in mid-motion and all, to make you level up. Don't do that on a pinball table! Stop me on a loop or make it a drop-shot or something, don't just stop it in the middle of the table like this! Same goes for the lockpicking mini-game, which is exactly the same as in Skyrim itself, but with you using the flippers to control it instead. Bad, bad, bad!

Bad is also the word to describe the dragon battles. When the dragon is flying down onto the table, a giant invisible rectangle of space is created, bouncing your ball off even before the dragon actually gets there. It resulted in the ball getting stuck on top of this invisible barrier a lot, and I had to risk a tilt to get it out of there.

Basically, you shouldn't be buying Bethesda Pinball Pack for the Skyrim table. The gimmick of it being a full RPG with persistent characters is good, but the developer has done it better with Epic Quest, available in their medieval pack. It had good combat, a better layout, and didn't constantly stop you. I easily recommend it over the Skyrim table.

I can also recommend the Fallout table more, which excels above Skyrim by being extremely middle-of-the-road. There's not much frills, but it's a more fun experience overall with way less in the way of hard stops and cutscenes. The big thing that counts against the Fallout table is the huge Super Mutant who hangs out on the table and shouts things like "THIS IS BORING" when you're doing things not related to him. Hey, developers, never have a character talk about how boring everything is. It's annoying, and really, it can be infectious, making you think that the game itself is boring.

Also, he stomps on the table which throws off the direction and speed of the ball, and it sucks. 

It was also kind of surprising that the player character isn't persistent – since this one is ALSO based on a sprawling RPG, you'd think that would be in there too? But instead you have to create a character at the start of every play. Luckily, there's a "random" button that just makes a character for you. I don't know why the Fallout table doesn't have persistence of the Skyrim table. Maybe it's to avoid having too many similarities between the tables, which must have been hard to do since they're both based on games have a lot of similarities - both being inventory and exploration-heavy western RPGs. Luckily, Zen Studios made the good call on this one to not include so much of inventory! 

The main benefit of the Fallout table is that it has a way more involved combat than either of the other two tables in the pack, with sneak, melee and projectile attacks, the ability to launch a nuke, VATS, and dodging involved just through hitting the correct lanes. Enemies also drop loot on the table that has to get picked up. There are also two main missions: Vault missions and faction missions. The latter are more varied while the Vault ones are basically "explore vault, then fight" affairs. It's pretty simple but so is the rest of this table.

The real winner of the pack is the DOOM table.

It's not even a contest. The DOOM table does all the things I've mentioned right, while avoiding those which I singled out as bad in other tables. The table is fast and it keeps you moving. It has leveling up, but it's done when you hit the drop shot. It's got items, but they don't have to be managed through a menu. It's got combat, but it's fast and frenetic and doesn't interrupt what you've been doing with giant invisible blocks in the middle of the field. It's got a giant cyber-demon hanging out on the table, but it doesn't mess up your ball.

Really, the DOOM table is also one of the most fun tables Zen Studios has ever put out, and that's in part because DOOM is a great game to base a pinball table on. Unlike downtime-heavy Fallout and Skyrim, DOOM is always going, extremely kinetic on its own. You honestly don't have to change much when turning it into a table, just replace the Doomguy with a ball and that's like 90% done.

The only really weird thing is that the missions are extremely long and can go on for a bit, but even then they're fun and about exploring and smashing up demons in the exact similar way to DOOM. If you're buying Bethesda Pinball Pack, you're doing it for this table, pure and simple. But it's how it always goes with these Zen Studios packs – you're only ever plunking down the money for one or two tables, and the others wind up just taking up memory.

Odds are there are better overall table packs out there for FX3. While the DOOM table is pretty excellent, it's difficult for me to recommend the pack that heavily because the other two tables just don't particularly give you much to go with. If you own those other and better packs and are just looking for more, then give this a go. Otherwise, I recommend reading some of our other pinball table pack reviews to see which ones are more worth your time.