As a publisher, Bethesda has established a track record of quality. Despite the missteps with titles like Rogue Warrior, it’s almost a guarantee that snagging something under their label will yield a solid experience. Sure, things might be a little buggy out of the gate for some of their more ambitious titles, but the post-release support sees most of the issues ironed out. This is why the announcement of mobile game, Elder Scrolls: Blades, was so exciting. Fans have been clamoring for a new title in the series and practically everyone has a device that can play this. They’ve shown that they can produce a good mobile title with Fallout Shelter, so an Elder Scrolls title should be a safe bet. After getting some hands on time, though, it seems responsible to report that things are looking a bit rough for the title.
One positive to mention up front is that the game’s graphics are absolutely up to par. Maintaining the appearance of Skyrim while surpassing the switch port of the title, the mobile game looks like a proper entry into the series. The little details stand out, like notches on a blade, or the rot of an undead monster interested in defending their territory. Seeing game footage is something that would excite even the most skeptical critic.
Once hands are on the game, though, the chinks in the armor shine through. During our demo, we explored a gray, dreary dungeon. Teeming with sword wielding skeletons and other classic Elder Scrolls enemies, it certainly looks like a full fledged game. Controlling it, though, is an exercise in frustration. Moving forward is as simple as tapping a spot on the floor ahead of the player, and automatically moving there. At least, that’s the theory. In practice, the hero will get hung up on every piece of geometry possible, left walking in place. To get out of this, the player needs to turn, move forward a little bit, turn back and try again. This would be annoying but not catastrophic for the game, except the title uses a virtual stick for turning, and the thing is tuned horribly. Frankly, for a mobile game, it might make more sense to have a “swipe to turn” mechanic that could be used as an option. As it is, we found ourselves overshooting our direction and needing to slowly turn back.
Fortunately, this issue doesn’t affect enemy encounters. When a monster approaches, the game automatically turns the player to face it and brings up the virtual buttons for battling. This was a smart decision built around the limitations of the platform. The fights themselves are tedious, though. It basically devolved to holding the block button until the foe attacks. Once they do, hold the attack button and release to get a hit in. There is magic to speed things up, but the spells have a long cooldown timer. It’s entirely possible that different character builds will alleviate these issues, but with the basic mechanics in the state that they are in, there’s reason to be doubtful.
Otherwise, the only other activity in the demo was to bash barrels to collect money and gems, with no treasure chests or equipment to be found. There was something at the end that did make it seem that there would be loot on offer, but we didn’t get a chance to open it up. We do know that loot will play a huge part in customizing the character and increasing their power, there is just some question as to how it will be implemented as this is a free to play title.
We’re not saying that Elder Scrolls: Blades will be a bad game. The graphical technology behind it indicates that this is a product the studio cares about and isn’t just phoning in. It will be free to play when it launches, so there’s no harm in checking out the full version. Just be sure to temper expectations to the proper level. Hopefully, the controls and gameplay will see some much needed polish before it hits the digital shelves.