The Elder Scrolls: Blades E3 Impression

In a small gazebo surrounded by the likes of Fallout 76, Rage 2, Elder Scrolls Online, and Elder Scrolls Legends, Bethesda showed off its mobile take on their premiere RPG franchise. The Elder Scrolls: Blades is an upcoming iOS and Android title, but there are future plans to release it for PC and consoles. Blades strips down The Elder Scrolls‘ formula to its barest essentials to cram a large world into a small device with limited means of input. In what little time I had with the game it achieved that ideal, though there isn’t much to the game to speak of.

Smart phone in hand, the demo gave me a choice between two options: Forest or Castle. Given the cramped gazebo and dreams of fresh air, I picked Forest and was loaded onto a wooded path. Let’s be entirely clear: this is not an open world game. The environment was linear to the point where the walking could have just been automated. Instead of exploring, I clicked where I wanted to move and my character slowly shuffled toward that point. While pressing the screen, dragging my thumb across it turned the camera in that direction but constantly having to reposition my thumb made this a clumsy experience. Digital analog sticks were also available for a more traditional control scheme, but these felt equally uncomfortable and unnecessary. There is little reason to look around. The environments looked quite nice, but they were devoid of anything interesting to look at or use in my quest.

Although there wasn’t much to look at, there were plenty of enemies. Every turn of the path led to one or two spiders or goblins. Once they spotted me, the monsters would run over and engage, locking me into place. At that point, the game became an awkward, real-time battle where we traded hits in a manner resembling competitive whack-a-mole. By pushing the screen, a red ring formed around my thumb that would slowly fill up. Once filled, it turned yellow. Releasing at that point executed a hit. Hits could stun the monster but this was uncommon. After making my hit, I rushed to avoid the incoming hit by holding a dedicated shield icon. Wash, rinse, and repeat for every monster. There were a few skills, each given their own icon near the other UI elements, that served to speed up the repetitive fights, but since their inputs were even more basic than the basic attack they did little to shake things up. Skills operated on a cooldown and cost mana, but the limit seemed unnecessary since mana regenerated rapidly and no enemy survived more than two skill attacks.

Enemies dropped gold and loot, but many of the character customization elements were locked out of the demo. The equipment menu was available and showed a very Oblivion-looking style that appeared fully-fledged but I had no new equipment to test. I did notice that enemies granted experience and that a level indicator on the menu was counting up to the next XP threshold, so it looks like the game will have a traditional leveling method. In spite of these hints of what the future could hold, I spent most of the demo cutting down identical giant spiders and goblins until it abruptly ended. As a bite-sized Elder Scrolls experience, the demo failed to be engaging, but there is a distinct chance that the character advancement options in the full game will be more entertaining. Even if that turns out to be the case, the core gameplay doesn’t offer much distraction for very long. The Elder Scrolls: Blades arrives on iOS and Android later in 2018.

Oh, and the portrait mode plays exactly the same except with one hand instead of two.

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