"Elder Scrolls Blades" is a tedious, money-hungry slog
The game is missing something, but it still functions. It's like a cake with only a fifth of the recommended sugar – you’ll still eat the cake, but you're never really satisfied.
I’m going to make this one short and sweet. "Elder Scrolls Blades" is far from the medieval RPG you’ve been waiting for. In fact, the game is so infested with microtransactions, repetitive gameplay, and leashed upgrading, it feels wrong to even place it in the same category as "Skyrim" and "Oblivion." So, is the game worth downloading? Yes, and here’s why.
Like many mobile games, the concept for "Blades" is greater than the function. On paper, a mobile "Elder Scrolls" game is brilliant. Think about it – a free-roam world full of secrets, an expansive character upgrade tree, unlockable perks and weapons, and everyone’s favorite pastime, collecting and selling valuable loot. Granted, all of these elements are featured in ‘Blades,’ but they are dumbed down to the point of non-existence.
You start by choosing a class, each with a mildly different trait from the next. Give yourself a name, and boom, you're in. The main area you'll be spending your time in is a recently pillaged town, which you get to name. As you walk around and meet citizens, you’ll be tasked with rebuilding the pile of rubble back to glory. Blacksmiths, alchemy labs, enchanting workshops, town halls, estates – you name it. Of course, building new structures requires materials, and finding materials will take time. Lots and lots of time.
Missions are designed with dungeon crawlers in mind, each with varying locations and enemies. There’s a forest map, a castle, and a gloomy maze of interlocking tunnels. On my first playthrough, these locations felt distinct, and each provided enough secrets and discoverable lore to warrant a replay. The graphics are also incredibly crisp for a mobile game, especially in outdoor areas. Sunlight washes over rooftops and streets, and weapons will shine in a heavenly golden color. In the darker levels, the lowlight and dreary cobblestone structures feel very in touch with the medieval setting, making traversal worth the somewhat-wonky controls.
However, when you’re sent to these locations for the fourth, fifth, or twentieth time, the sparkle begins to fade. That’s when things become tedious. That's when the honeymoon phase comes to a brutal end.
Because "Blades" features no stealth or ranged combat mechanics, all enemy interactions are the same. You place your finger on the screen and wait for a glowing circle to change color – that’s when your character will strike. Different weapons react at varying speeds, and deciding whether or not to hold a shield will also play into how successful each attack is. Because you're locked into combat, unable to flee or flank, each encounter feels restricted and turn-based. There's no tactic - only action.
Adding to this, players use their level-up points to acquire and upgrade Perks, Spells and Abilities. Spells use Magika, Abilities require Stamina, and Perks are silent modifiers. While choosing what to upgrade and equip is entertaining, the actual effects of these attributes aren’t different enough to make each choice all that distinct. In fact, rarely could I tell the difference between Abilities, which led to me just tapping buttons and winging each battle.
The same can be said for the weapons. You have standard one-handed and two-handed swords, maces and axes, as well as a few other melee tools. Weapons and armor can be enchanted to harbor special effects, such as poison or fire damage. These additions make for some fun crafting moments, but long wait times and the demand for large amounts of resources really cuts down on playtime.
Speaking of playtime, the biggest issue with "Blades" is its blatant disrespect to the player. The game is absolutely drowning in microtransactions. Whether you want to open a chest, upgrade a weapon, or even build a house faster, all of these can be sped up using real-world money. So long are the days of exploring and making decisions on the spot – now, everything has a value. You see a golden chest while exploring a dungeon? You want to open it? Too bad, bucko! You need to wait three hours before it will unlock. Don’t feel like waiting? Great, toss us a few bucks and we’ll open that right up for you.
It’s insulting, especially for a developer who has prided themselves on providing the best bang-for-your-buck with their other titles. Even 2015’s "Fallout Shelter" encouraged players to clock in dozens and dozens of hours, and that was an even more restrictive game. The bottom line is that it doesn’t take much to make fans happy, especially when a game is free-to-play. However, as seen with "Blades," if you try and bleed their wallets in little-by-little increments, they’ll resent you for it. And no, Bethesda, allowing us to play the game in landscape or portrait mode won't hide your greedy motives.
With all of that said, why on earth would I tell you to download such a game? It’s drenched in corporate agenda, lacks any real RPG elements, and the lasting effect is stale and lukewarm. Well, even with all of these disappointing traits, "Blades" is still able to accomplish one thing: it gives us a clue as to what the future holds.
So far, Bethesda has been tightlipped when it comes to future installments in the "Elder Scrolls" series, but with "Blades," some elements are new enough to warrant a glimpse at what’s to come. The game is free, and what better way for Bethesda to test their new ideas than with an installment that holds very little weight. It can only make the next game better. At least, that's the hope.
As I said before, the idea of "Blades" is interesting, and being able to build your very own town in a mystical and medieval world is truly wonderful. The problem is the device in which we're playing it on, and the motivations behind the game. The ideas themselves are quite unique.
So, does the very idea of the game make up for its lackluster design? No, not at all. But all games, especially ones that have been around for decades, will falter from time to time. It is likely that Bethesda is working on implementing huge changes to the "Elder Scrolls" franchise, but before putting all of their money on black, they want to see how a dumbed-down version resonates with fans. While the final product is far from perfect, it shows that Bethesda is thinking ahead to what the next big-time "Elder Scrolls" title will be, and that is reason enough to at least give it a try.
- Final Thoughts -
"Elder Scrolls Blades" is a bland interpretation of one of the greatest video game franchises of all time. The role-playing elements are sparse and simple, the gameplay is repetitive, and the lasting appeal is minimal. However, the concept is strong, and may point to a bright future. It's also free (mostly), so give it a try if you're curious. In many ways, it will make you respect the console and PC installments even more.
("Elder Scrolls: Blades" image courtesy of Slash Gear)