Tanner is a writer for Parallax Media
When The Elder Scrolls Blades was announced by Bethesda last year at E3, I wasn’t expecting anything from it. My expectations weren’t high and they weren’t low. It’s a free-to-play mobile game with microtransactions. After it was announced, I just thought to myself, “sure, I’ll play it.” When I first started playing I was impressed at how close to a traditional Elder Scrolls experience I was getting but just on my phone.
At the beginning, everything starts just like every game in the series has. You pick a name, create your character and introduce yourself to some stranger.
The first two quests I went on were fun, I didn’t hate the combat and it seemed like something I could get into. It’s once you get going that things start to get a little rough. The game’s lack of respect for the player rears its ugly head very soon into the experience. I’ve liked other Elder Scrolls games and more recently I put a good amount of time into Skyrim.
I’m ready for another Elder Scrolls game, but not this one.
One of your main objectives is to rebuild your town. You go on quests, earn resources and then apply those resources to rebuilding structures such as housing and the blacksmith. The biggest issue with the town building in this game is that nothing that I’ve done has felt worth it. A good town building game is one that rewards the player for the time they put in. I haven’t felt rewarded for my time since the blacksmith, which is one of the first buildings you should repair.
After you rebuild the blacksmith you’re granted with the ability to purchase equipment, temper, craft and repair items. You put in the time to rebuild it and now you’re rewarded with being able to improve your character. No other building that I’ve encountered in the game has done this. I haven’t found a reason to even want to do it which is very detrimental to a game where your main objective is to rebuild your town.
Instead of rewarding me for my work, the game makes you wait. Almost every action you do in this game has a timer. Open a chest? Timer. Repair a building? Timer. Temper, craft or repair an item? Timer.
At least several times now I’ve gotten into a solid groove of completing quests and then once I have enough resources for what I want to do, I have to wait 30 minutes to do it. At that point I just put my phone away. Maybe I’m just impatient or used to console gaming where this isn’t as popular, but I can’t find a reason to excuse timers like this in a video game because its reasoning just seems dirty to me. It’s a cry for your money. Don’t want to wait? Pay us and get back to playing!
One of the more surprising aspects of this game is that I encountered zero bugs while playing. After Skyrim was riddled with plenty of them, the fact that this game was released with seemingly none is actually quite impressive especially when you consider it’s still in early access. It’s a shame the town building isn’t rewarding and the timers are annoying because there is a decent experience buried in there somewhere.
At first I was a little worried about how an Elder Scrolls game would play on a phone but I quickly realized that it doesn’t play terribly and I was pleasantly surprised. Once you get into a rhythm, the combat begins to feel really solid.
Combat encounters begin with an enemy approaching you which then locks your camera onto them. You can block by tapping the shield icon, use spells by tapping on the corresponding spell icons and attack by pressing and holding on the enemy. When you try to attack you have to tap on the enemy, hold your finger there for a second as a circle fills up, then release at the right time to follow through with the attack. It takes a while to get used to but once you do, it actually feels quite natural and doesn’t hold back the game at all. I enjoy it and I wouldn’t mind Bethesda taking another crack at an Elder Scrolls mobile game with the same combat mechanics.
While the combat is fine, the movement is a bit too slow for my liking. You tap on the area you wish to walk and swipe to move the camera. It sounds good in theory but it actually results in a frustratingly slow experience that makes longer quests a grind to get through. The longer quests can be a real pain due to the same paths being recycled, resulting in a stale experience as you keep playing.
I appreciate the ambition by Bethesda to put this game out and try to deliver a quality Elder Scrolls experience on a phone, but they just simply didn’t do that. I believe if this game was less a town builder and more a traditional Elder Scrolls RPG, I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more because that’s what I was hoping for. Blades is still in early access and has a new update almost every time I boot up the game, but I don’t know how much of this game can be improved through simple updates. Sure some things can change such as making rebuilding the town feel a little more rewarding but I just can’t help but fear that this game is simply disappointing at its core.