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Elder Scrolls: Blades Early Access Preview

by on April 1, 2019

First, the good. Elder Scrolls: Blades looks amazing. It does so without absolutely destroying my battery, which is quite a feat. It also transitions from portrait to landscape seamlessly on the fly. It’s a solidly built thing. It’s very impressive the level of detail achieved on mobile. Sound design is spot on as well. If you saw a screenshot from this game it would seem like someone was playing Skyrim on their phone.

That’s where it ends. Blades is all of the trappings of an Elder Scrolls game with none of the fun or soul. You can go into a dungeon, collect some frost salts, and slay some skeletons, bandits, and the occasional goblin. Something so very Elder Scrolls. Then get ready to do that over and over and over again. The small repetitive dungeons seldom changes, but every once in a while you get a mission in a forest. It’s not any more expansive, it’s still a small bite-size dungeon crawl to either kill a certain amount of something or collect a certain amount of something else. Over and over and over again.

You won’t even find equipment or weapons in missions. Only through timer-based chests.

You also won’t find loot dropping in this game. You simply pick up chests out of the world that add to a very limited chest inventory. Between missions you can open these chests to get materials, and if you’re lucky some new equipment. Wood chests will open in a quick 5 seconds, and often only drop some basic resources, which begs me to question why you even need to wait to get whatever these things were going to drop. Really it’s because they clutter up your chest inventory pushing you to either open chests with gems, or expand your chest inventory with gems. Even then if you play regularly your chest gain will always outweigh how quickly you can open a chest. You will quickly and often find yourself running into that chest limitation.

One of the big aspects about the game is bringing back materials to help build up your camp… I mean city, with decorations, new dwellings, and new merchants. This process, once you realize the number or resources needed just to put up a decorative Dwelling, becomes so boring and grindy. You’re so limited in how you can even put together your new city. It’s like if Super Mario Run only let you add three very similar looking pipes into your Kingdom. Your ruined city is littered with build areas with give you small subsets of things you can actually put there. The point of most of these is to build up your city level. Even with the lowest tier of house I’ve already run into issues finding Limestone. Of course missing resources can be filled with, you guessed it, gems. It also feels increasingly like this game is built only of timers for you to try and speed up.

21 hours of chest unlocking through roughly a half-hour of play. Chest capacity becomes a huge issue.

None of this city stuff would be so annoying if progressing your city level didn’t also gate you off from furthering any story missions. You will sometimes get missions that you simply can’t start until you are a certain city level. This left me trying to grind out limestone in one-or-two per run situations. My hope beyond hope was to try and get lucky with a good chest, but then I was waiting 3 hours at a time to try and get some limestone. That’s this game in a nutshell.

The worse part was I didn’t want to keep running missions to find stuff because they became so repetitive. The combat within these is also incredibly uninteresting. It consists of hold shield button to try and parry opponent, then bash a few times by holding a finger on the screen until a little circle fills. If you release at the right time you can do a harder hit. You can tap some buttons for spells or abilities. There’s also a good chance you will get hit while trying to cast spell and it fizzles. The combat is so plodding and locked in it barely feels like the sort of free-form spell slinging combat of the actual Elder Scrolls games. There is no ranged weaponry or spells either. Just ones you can try and trigger in combat. I get not being able to recreate exact Elder Scrolls combat, but this doesn’t even feel reminiscent of it.

You will also unlock ways to improve and enhance your gear, but even when using the smithy to enhance an item it will take the item from you for an hour or more, and lock your ability to use other smithing aspects such as repairing current items. Suddenly there is another timer pressure that can be bypassed with gems. You can at least just equip a different weapon to continue doing missions, but more and more I find myself just not playing anymore until I get the notification that my improved item is ready.

The controls go from decent to bad depending on orientation of the game. So if you want to lose width to view the portrait mode controls aren’t too bad. It’s a point and click style control. Landscape mode offers some digital sticks but they suffer from poor design leaving the view stick to feel very swimmy and awkward. It actually works better to try and reach over the right side of the screen to drag closer to the middle as you move around with the left stick, except that more often than not you trigger the view stick to pop in instead. More control options would have been better. Even if they split the virtual stick option into two options of showing virtual movement stick, and virtual view sticks would fix a lot of the control issues I have with this game in landscape mode.

You must gather resources to rebuild this destroyed kingdom. Your quest progression depends on it.

Overall this game feels a lot like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp in that it’s all the trappings of an Elder Scrolls game with none of the heart. The story is lazy and uninteresting, causing me to mash my way through most dialogue sections. There are only a tiny subset of the enemies and items from an Elder Scrolls game, but it’s just not enough to make me feel like I’m actually in the world of Elder Scrolls instead of a game that knows the names Frost Salt and Lesser Soul Gem. The character creator is less robust, which is forgivable given the platform, but when I realized the only difference between characters what what damage types they were good and bad against, suddenly my goto choice of Argonian seemed to have a lot less benefits. All races become very samey.

No matter the opponent, combat is a repetative mini game of block, then swing your weapon a few times.

I understand that making a fully fledged Elder Scrolls game on mobile isn’t exactly feasible, but what this is is a lackluster game experience with a whole heap of timers on top. Bethesda could have done so much better, but along the way they prioritized monetization techniques over player experience at most turns. With entries like this being pushed by big name developers it only serves to put one more nail in the coffin of relegating mobile to be the platform of heavy handed micro-transactions.

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