E3 2018: The Elder Scrolls Blades First Impressions

Is the Blade Sharp or Dull?

With the announcement of The Elder Scrolls Blades at the Bethesda E3 Showcase, the company continues to show interest in platforms outside of PC and console. Following the popular Fallout Shelter, Blades promises a new experience for your mobile device. Bethesda’s Todd Howard calls it “a massive first person RPG with console quality graphics, but with a uniquely mobile experience.” So the question is will Blades be able to deliver on bringing a truly great gaming experience to the mobile platform, one rivaling its PC counterparts? I was able to demo the game at E3, so here’s the breakdown of the game:

First Person Real Time Combat

In the gameplay demo at E3, the combat has been adapted to mobile with specific timing and controls, using swipes and taps instead of a classic controller. There are set and procedurally generated dungeons, different combat styles such as melee and spellcasting, RPG character building, and a loot and gear system. This has all of the normal trappings of an RPG, which is a great start, but sadly the actual combat doesn’t quite translate perfectly. The controls are “touch joysticks” for movement and looking, which isn’t typically ideal for a fast paced game like Skyrim. Those who are used to these controls from other similar mobile games will probably feel right at home, but gamers looking for the Skyrim experience on mobile will find the adaptation frustrating.

The fights themselves are also not particularly exciting. Once you get close enough to an enemy, you’ll get locked into combat with it alone, even if there are other enemies present. You can hold and swipe to attack with your melee weapon, block with a shield, and use spells, which have lengthy cooldowns. The combat itself was fairly boring as you can’t even move while stuck in a fight. The shield button was also small and unresponsive, which I’d have appreciated being bigger as I got hit a few times when I was trying to block. All in all, the combat loses much of the depth of the Elder Scrolls games and turns it into simply tapping or pressing with timing, like most mobile games.

Visuals and World Building

Visually, the game is pretty impressive. It really does look like vanilla Skyrim for your phone. The demo and showcase showed a wide range of environments from caves and dungeons to forests and encampments. The enemies shown ranged from classic skeletons and trolls to goblins and liches. Your character is a member of the Blades, an organization that has a long history in the Elder Scrolls lore. The game builds upon that lore, allowing you to rebuild your town and assumably bring honor back to the Blades. There isn’t a whole lot of information beyond that, but Elder Scrolls has always been very lore and story focused, so I wouldn’t doubt that this will be explored deeply.

Modes of Gameplay

It looks like there will be 3 gameplay modes at launch: Abyss, Arena, and Town. Abyss looks to be your standard dungeon crawler where you’ll battle enemies until you die. The Arena is a 1v1 PVP dueling mode. Lastly the Town is where you design and build your town. The showcase promised full customization of individual elements, and from the gameplay footage it looks like it will be a fully immersive environment. There are blacksmith shops, NPCs, personal homes, and a whole slew of other buildings. People will be able to spend hours designing and showing off their towns on the go, so this will likely be a very addictive and fun mode.

Mobile Gaming Limitations

One of the most interesting features was that the game will be also released for PC, consoles, and VR, and there was a promise of complete cross compatibility. The presentation boasted that you could visit other players’ towns and battle between a phone and a VR headset. Anything that can bring gamers together across multiple platforms is an attractive idea on paper, but the important question will be: “Does this sacrifice the ambitions of the game?” Thankfully technology has improved so much that major concessions are unlikely, but it’s an area of concern nonetheless. Another big question that wasn’t answered was, “how is this game going to make money?” The game is slated to be free upon release, so assumably that means microtransactions. If this is true, it could be the downfall of Blades, if done as horribly as some of the other games out there.

The Verdict

Despite the impressive visuals and forward thinking, Blades’ ambition seems too large for what they actually are accomplishing. The most fun will be walking through environments and building your town, but the actual combat will likely be more of a simple diversion rather than a full blown sit down for a few hours game.

You can sign up for The Elder Scrolls Blades’ early access at PlayBlades.com. The release window is fall 2018 for mobile.

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