The Elder Scrolls: Blades Review
Seeing the success of Fallout Shelter, Bethesda appeared to want to stay in the mobile market. Heading from the Fallout franchise to the Elder Scrolls franchise seemed like a no brainer to do just that. Sadly, I’m not sure if that’s the case. Elder Scrolls: Blades is a simple mobile game that uses free-to-play tropes well without overly damaging the quality, relies heavily on the Elder Scrolls charm, and has a hook that takes a little too long to fully engage the player.
This free to play first-person action role-playing game starts with you as a surviving member of the Blades. The Blades were a group of warriors forever tasked with protecting Tamriel. However, as a result of the Great War, the Blades are then hunted and forced into hiding. You seek refuge in your childhood town only to find it ransacked via the Bloodfall Queen. From there you are tasked with rebuilding your town and discovering the purpose behind its destruction as well as uncovering why the Blades are being hunted.
Elder Scrolls: Blades boots up looking akin to a Playstation 2 game, whether that’s impressive or not I’ll let you decide, alongside a short and underdeveloped introduction of the world’s lore, followed by a loading screen that overstays its welcome. Players should get used to them too because the game’s loading times are atrocious. Then comes an unsuccessful tutorial that hardly touches on the fighting mechanics. For instance, I struggled for a long time before learning that blocking is essential to successful combat. The game never truly teaches you how to maneuver in combat effectively until you can ask the character’s old mentor to train. Even then, he still only teaches examples from very specific scenarios. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but feel some level of monotony with practically every action I pursued.
Once the tutorial has been completed, the player is greeted by a character customization menu that leans heavily on the established DNA of Elder Scrolls. From there, players are thrust into linear quest-based gameplay rather than the open world which some Elder Scrolls fans may be expecting. The environments featured in these quests can quickly become stale, as players will quickly retread old ground.
Luckily, quests do eventually grow in complexity as you level up your Blade character, however, their difficulty can often spike unexpectedly, which keeps the conclusion from feeling natural or earned. Blades’ gameplay loop, which was surprisingly satisfying, builds into a loop of adventuring via quests, gathering loot, rebuilding a destroyed town, and restructuring armor and other gear for the Blades’ benefit. This pleasant cycle of events carried me through my time with Elder Scrolls: Blades, but only for so long.
After completing quests, the player can choose to explore. While there are secrets to discover in the environments, I never felt too compelled or challenged by them. However, there’s a lot of food to be found while exploring which assisted with health management immensely and helped to avoid wasting hard-to-come-by potions. Still, because of the lackluster environments, I found myself trying to get to the next quest as soon as possible.
The game’s combat is odd, to say the least. To start, players cannot jump or sprint, or even initiate an encounter or sneak attack. Rather, battle is conducted in one-versus-one combat wherein enemies have a pattern they follow which will rarely assist you in avoiding an enemy if you wish. Heavy or light armor can be equipped to your character, but I never noticed a significant difference during combat. Whether I was slower with one armor set over the other, I could not tell you.
As to be expected, Elder Scrolls: Blades places a big emphasis on dialogue, however, the various narrative through-lines take a while to blossom, but even when they finally do, I never felt invested enough to fully care. However, I still experienced a few surprising narrative moments. One, in particular, centered around sparing a necromancer I encountered in the middle of a mission. At first glance, this enemy seemed to be a typical evil-doer, however, through conversation I convinced him that his occupation wasn’t true to his nature. After a discussion of hardships, the necromancer stood by and let me pass by to inevitably confront the final boss unscathed.
As previously mentioned, the legacy of Elder Scrolls is quite apparent throughout Blades, and it often can be the game’s saving grace. Fans of the series will find a little piece of home here with a familiar soundtrack, stylish characters and weapons, and the various high-fantasy characters we all know and love. A skill tree makes its return too but sadly seems underutilized, as I never felt incentivized to use my abilities or magicka despite a few experimental exceptions. I will say, however, that the game gives players the option to reset their level abilities and perks, which is a nice addition. You can reassign all the skill points you’ve earned making an entirely new character. Something else synonymous with Elder Scrolls DNA is glitches. These aren’t quite as fun though. I encountered several glitches in combat where I would find myself stuck in an attack and unable to progress, several floating objects, and my character teleporting through the environments due to intense lag.
Blades offers more than your typical story mode with the inclusion of challenges, which offer optional goals to pursue during quests like dealing elemental damage to enemies or earning a specific amount of gems or coins. Most challenges are easily obtainable and help you to experiment with different playstyles. Abyss and Arena are serviceable modes as well. The first is a challenging endless dungeon with specific rewards as well as XP multipliers, which came in handy when trying to complete challenges or grinding levels. Lastly, Arena is a player-versus-player multiplayer mode that I did not play too much of but did manage to snag a win in.
Initially, I was very let down to learn that hotkey options aren’t really available for items, but you are able to use potions at the click of a button once your health, stamina, or magicka bars fall low enough. This means there aren’t any weapon swaps, poisons, or armor changes on the fly. You have to use the menus. However, they do eventually unlock load-outs once your town hits prestige level 3. Which I happily used for a fire build. Screw those frost trolls.
Overall, I went back and forth with this game. Unfortunately, I was not very engaged by it and even though I eventually came around on the experience, I soon lost interest. If the classic charm of the Elder Scrolls series or satisfying gameplay hook doesn’t grab your attention, then I wouldn’t wait around too long for a change of heart, because the game lacks much else.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.