Let me preface this by saying I am an elder scrolls fan (in particular Oblivion). But I am in no way a mobile gamer. I think I’ve played two mobile games in my life, one of which was snake on the Nokia 3270 (for those old enough to even know what that is!). You can take this for what it is, a fan of the franchises view on the first mobile entry in the Elder scrolls series.
Recently released on iOS and Android, Elder Scroll Blades is currently in early access and is free to play… Sort of (we’ll get into that a bit more shortly). As I already mentioned, I’m not a mobile gamer and I was on the fence about Blades since it’s reveal at E3 2018. However as dumb luck would have it this past weekend saw me bed ridden with what can only be described as the worst case of man flu ever recorded, and as such gave me the opportunity to hide under the sheets from friends and family and fire up the old Samsung S8 for some hack n slash action.
I’ll start off by setting the scene a little: Elder Scrolls Blades is set just after the events of Oblivion (already sounding good!) and sees you, the last surviving member of the Blades, returning to your home town to find it ransacked and set ablaze. Your job is to set out to find the culprit, but an end to the reign of terror and rebuild your home town to its original glory. To be clear, this is definitely not an open world free roam game, and to be fair I really can’t see how that would work well as a mobile game. Instead you’ll source missions and quests from townsfolk which will fast travel you to a given dungeon or area to hack, slash and cast your way through throngs of skeevers, bandits, spriggans, skeletons and all other manner of nasties.
As the title suggests there are things to love and hate about blades, so lets start by taking a look at it’s positives!
The Love is Real!
The game looks incredible! It’s basically Oblivion on steroids… On your phone! The environments, lighting and special effects are far better than I thought possible on a mobile platform! If you have any experience in an Elder Scrolls title, you’ll feel instantly at home here with some very familiar sound effects, music and environments.
The skill trees are relatively fleshed out with a cross section of passive (perks), combat and spell abilities to select from. With each character level progression, you receive a skill point to pump into one of the skill trees and can elect to increase magika or stamina which keeps things simple yet rewarding.
Core gameplay revolves around levelling and kitting out your character and upgrading your home town which requires materials obtained from completing main quests, side quests and challenges. Each quest has a difficulty level and is based on your characters progression, armour and weapons. Similar to fully fledged Elder Scrolls games, you can select a character race which provides buffs depending on the race, and even has some modest character customisation.
For a first-person mobile hack and slash game, I was very concerned with the gameplay mechanics, however after the first 30 minutes, the controls become second nature and are actually very smooth and effective. Make sure you play around with this though, I started off tapping the screen for navigating the environment (think similar to how some VR titles work), however once I realised there was a virtual left thumb stick that allowed smooth constant traversal (including easy strafing) it improved the gameplay significantly! Combat sees you locked in on the target and almost becomes a game of cat and mouse where timing your blocks and counterattacks are crucial. Nailing your combos and spell casts can be so rewarding when you land them, and just as frustrating when you don’t.
Another really cool feature is the ability to play in landscape or portrait mode, the latter enabling you to play with one hand. Something again that’s implemented surprisingly well and with the exception of a limited viewing angle has not major impediments to having complete control in combat, menus or crafting!
The Hate Consumes Me!
All rainbows and butterfly’s right? Well lets address the giant, filthy stinking elephant in the room… Microtransactions. It’s a given since we’re talking about a free to play mobile game. I went into this knowing full well that there would be microtransactions, I’d just hoped that it wouldn’t be in your face at every corner, preventing progress and making me grind for days (not hours)……oh how I was wrong!!
Lets look at just how Bethesda have decided to monetise. As I mentioned before, core gameplay revolves around getting gear and rebuilding your home town. To get gear, you run quests which net you chests. Each chest has a timer that forces you to wait anywhere from 5 seconds, to 6 hours (wooden chests are 5 seconds, silver chests are 3hrs and Gold chests are 6hrs). I know what you’re thinking, and yes, if you want anything decent at all you need silver chests, and for the good stuff you gotta go for the gold chests. On top of this, each time you rebuild a portion of your town (blacksmiths, crafting stations etc)…you guessed it, wait times. Everything that’s worth doing or getting has a timer.
The first few hours had me optimistic where currency (gold, and gems) seemed relatively free flowing allowing me to make a choice more often than not on should I hand over my gems and bypass a timer or suck it up and wait. And to be fair, it worked surprisingly well. Unfortunately, that didn’t last, and here’s why.
Every time you run a quest, you’ll get one or two wooden chests, and a silver. As you progress, you’ll start to get more silver chests and gold chests start to crop up. I’d say by the 3-4hr mark I was swimming in chests. The down side, you can only unlock one chest at a time, and you can’t stack them to unlock one after the other Forcing you to keep track of your timers out of game to go back in to unlock chests and kick off the next one. The next issue you’ll face is you can only have 10 chests by default which means, once you are at your max capacity, there’s no point running quests until you’ve unlocked your backlog of chests. But hey, you can increase your chest capacity…..if you pay for it. You can unlock chests immediately….if you pay for it. You can build up your town….if you pay for it.
It’s also important to note here that you can even buy weapons and gear outright… In my first day playing I was spammed with advertisements for an epic sword which heals on hit and deals stupid amounts of damage.
I am now at the point where I can’t play further quests because the difficulty has ramped up, but my gear is now so poor because I’m waiting literally days to unlock chests to get better gear. I’ve upgraded my weapons and armour quality as far as I can, but I now need to upgrade the smithy to unlock the next tier. Which relies on my town level, which relies on materials, which are now so few and far between and completely random I need to run the better quests… But I can’t unlock any of the bloody chests!! You can see where I’m going, the pay wall is real folks.
My hope for now is that Bethesda decide to address the timers or adjust the gem and material drops to at least moderately compensate for the currently horrific grind and wait times. Seriously, right now I have 8 silver chests and 2 gold chests waiting to be unlocked…..that’s a total of 36hrs wait time for me to gear up and start this horrific process all over again. The most frustrating thing, I actually want to play the game… The combat system is solid, the controls are more than feasible and the environment feels lovingly devoted to the lands of Cyrodil we know and love from Oblivion. Damn you Bethesda for ruining what could have been my gateway to mobile gaming and a foray back into the glorious world of Elder Scrolls.