Zen Pinball 2: Bethesda Pack Review

When I was told I would be getting a Bethesda Pinball Pack to review, I immediately thought that, along with the crazy myriad of other things they are working on, someone at Bethesda had decided to design their own pinball system. I laughed. I was then corrected and told it was a Zen Studios joint. I laughed harder because of course it is. Who better to translate Skyrim, Fallout, and DOOM into pinball tables?

As it turns out, nobody, because the three tables are easily among the best they’ve designed. Two feature an almost silly amount of depth by way of character leveling systems, and the third, well, has two difficulty levels to choose from. I thought about doing this fairly and determine the order of tables to discuss through a coin toss or some random contest. I’d rather talk about DOOM.

Following in the footsteps of this year’s release, DOOM the pinball table is a fiery masterpiece. Looking at it, the very first thing you see is a towering Cyber Demon growling at you, followed by a close up of DOOM Marine and the text, "Choose your difficulty." The options, Hurt Me Plenty and Nightmare, break down as follows: Hurt Me Plenty is normal pinball, complete with kick backs, saved ball time, and other typical pinball mechanics designed to keep you playing. Nightmare, on the other hand, removes all of that stuff and instead doles out rewards by increasing point values about 50%. The difference is extraordinary, and I found myself paying more attention to the shots I was trying to hit because of the lack of bonuses and special multipliers.

Aside from the difficulty levels, the table itself is brilliant and visually dominated by the terrifying visage of the Cyber Demon. The ramps feel like they were designed well, with nothing appearing to impossible to hit, even during the heat of the moment. Adding to the inspired design, ramps that need to be hit during the table’s many quests have a holographic display cast over them, making them far easier to pick out then the small lights used in Zen Pinball's Civil War table.

I would be hunted by snarling Pinkies if I also didn’t mention the table’s soundtrack, which is as hard and metal as the game from which it was birthed. There is nothing, nothing, quite like hitting a ball as a guitar wails in the background, drums kicking seemingly in sync with the maddening movement of the flippers. I love this table, and it absolutely ranks up there with Zen’s fantastic Bob’s Burgers release from earlier this year.

The Skyrim table slows things down considerably. Asking you to pick either a class or race specific to Bethesda’s RPG series, Skyrim is all about completing quests and earning skill points to level up your character. The table takes on the design of a castle, with the ramps and top acting as the main ramparts, while the middle of the table shows off a cave entrance that’s used to start missions. Following the path of the Dovahkiin from the game, Skyrim impresses with its use of dragon set pieces and all around depth when it comes to leveling your character and increasing their stats and skills.

The final table is themed around Fallout and also offers character creation though it’s relegated to choosing a sex and distributing SPECIAL (stats) points. The table itself carries the theme as well as you would expect, with everything looking as though it were put together out of bubble gum, duct tape, and metal frames. As with the other tables, Fallout features a big bad, though this time it’s a Super Mutant instead of a dragon or demon. He taunts you from the corner, occasionally fires at you, and every so often even involves himself in one of the quests.

As with the main game though, Fallout focuses on factions and Vaults, with most of the quests aimed at either making good with the Brotherhood, Railroad, Minutemen, or Institute, or exploring one of the many numbered vaults scattered across the Wasteland. Vaults each reward you with a stat bobble head upon completion, while faction missions tend to give caps which can be used to buy goods from a store. Lighting plays a large roll with differentiating the quest types and adds some real flavor to what amounts to a pretty standard table.

Individually, the three tables on offer in the Bethesda Pinball Pack are all entertaining, with DOOM easily topping the pack with sheer attitude and atmosphere. Together as a pack, these tables represent the strongest outing of pinball that Zen has had since the Ball of Glory pack earlier this year, with this one coming in higher overall because there’s no American Dad table holding it back. Recommending this one is a complete no-brainer. Now excuse me, I have a Nightmare run to get back too, cause these demons aren’t going to kill themselves.

Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!