When Bethesda demo’d Elder Scroll: Blades at E3 2018, I was extremely excited to play another chapter of a series I hold dear to my gamer heart but I was equally nervous for the jump to the mobile platform. Unless it’s a puzzle game of the likes of Monument Valley or Myst, I usually don’t want anything to do with cellphone games. Blades is not a puzzle game, though. It’s a free to play dungeon crawler, infinity blade-esque slasher, and town simulator game all rolled up in one and you know what? It’s been pretty ok so far.
Visuals and Sound
Overall, Blades looks very good. Environments look especially impressive, doubly so for a mobile game. Textures are detailed and lighting looks dynamic. Bethesda did a great job with non-organic materials in Blades for sure. On the flip side of that coin, some character models look really bland and low detail. On top of that, there’s a good deal of male NPCs walking around that look like they’re wearing a mall Santa’s beard.
In the sound department, Bethesda isn’t messing around. Blades seriously sounds better than it’s console brethren at times. From the start of the app, you’re treated to haunting strings and horns leading to what we come to expect from an adventure like Elder Scrolls. There’s a mix of Skyrim and Fallout here, with the latter surprising me a bit. A great example of this is when you’re in a combat sequence, fighting off various NPCs and you get that typical Fallout low end horn sound.
Blades runs relatively well on my OnePlus 6T, somewhere around the 30 fps range. Obviously, Blades is still in early access and Bethesda could add better optimization down the road. The only real hiccups I’ve noticed were when I was in the Abyss descending to another floor, which was probably being loaded in memory causing the brief stutter. For what Blades is, it’s not bad but I’d imagine your mileage will vary depending on the device you’re running it on.
The million dollar question is how does an Elder Scrolls game feel with touch controls. The Answer? Somewhat clunky… but for the most part that’s ok, because during combat sequences your character is in a fixed position with no “leg” movement. This is both a curse and blessing but ultimately a necessity for touch screen controls. I still would prefer an “unlocked” combat mode so I can strafe around the NPCs.
Outside of combat, the movement is controlled either by tapping a location on the screen to send your character to or by using the onscreen “dual sticks” at the edges of the screen. The “dual sticks” only appeared to work in landscape mode for obvious reasons. All in all it’s fine and I got used to it relatively quickly. I’m sure either of my kids would have zero issues with these controls.
Much like other Elder Scrolls games, combat is broken down between melee, block, and magic. Melee works by holding your finger on the screen, waiting for the onscreen UI circle to fill, and releasing it or swiping for combos. If you time the attack just right, you’ll get a critical hit on the NPC you’re fighting. Block works by pressing the block button. You will take damage from some enemies even when blocking and some NPCs cause a negative modifier like poison. None of this is new to an Elder Scrolls fan though. Magic is handled a little different and is more or less a single tap charge attack. If you are interrupted while casting your magic, the spell will backfire and you’ll take damage. Because of this, magic takes a little more strategy when planing out your next move.
Early on in Blades you’re introduced to the hub world, a burned down city much like Oblivion’s Kvatch. This ruble is your new home. It may not look like much at the beginning of Blades but one of the cooler features is the ability to rebuild your town and even name it. I called mine Doomberg, of course. So far I’ve rebuilt the main hall, a few houses, and a smithy where I can use the smith to craft, repair, or reinforce weapons and armor. I haven’t done the latter but I have crafted a few pieces of armor. Basically, any upgradable part of the town requires materials like iron ingot, which is retrieved while you’re out on quests or through chests. Speaking of chests… It’s probably a good time to address the other elephant in the room…
You probably know by now that Blades is a free-to-play mobile game and what’s a f2p game without loot crates? Yes, Blades has loot crates, boosters, timers on unlockables unless you grind for in-game currency, and many other f2p “features” we all hate. That being said, these f2p tropes haven’t really stopped me from having fun with Blades – yet. There was one point where I ran out of room in my inventory for “chests” and because you can only open one chest at a time I decided to put the game down until my golden chest opened… 6 hours later. Like most f2p game, you can use the in game currency, or purchase in game currency with real money, to expedite the process. The reality is, I’m not going to be grinding for hours on end on my cell phone. These timers are nice reminders that I should go play non-f2p games that I’ve happily purchased for full price.
A good start…
Elder Scrolls: Blades has been a good amount of fun so far. I’ve enjoyed several hours of dungeon crawling, town building, and leveling up my character. There is a nagging feeling that gameplay could be less repetitious especially involving combat. Blades also lacks that deeper RPG feeling I normally get when I immerse myself in an Elder Scrolls game. At the very least, Blades is a fun time killer dressed up like an Elder Scrolls game and only the Nine Divines know if it has what it takes to site next to it’s console brethren.