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Hey, Elder Scrolls: Blades Is Actually Pretty Boring

When Bethesda announced a free-to-play mobile Elder Scrolls game at E3 last year, my reaction was a resounding, "Eh, why not?"

F2P games are a guilty pleasure of mine. I like to dabble in different games, so being able to try something out without shelling out money can make for a good time. I don't even really mind wait timers that much, because these games usually aren't interesting enough that I care to play for more than a couple minutes once or twice a day. So the thought of a mobile dungeon crawler by Bethesda sounded like an okay idea to me. Nothing to get hyped over, but at least worth checking out when it launches.

Well, that time has finally come. This isn't a full review of The Elder Scrolls: Blades. Rather, this is a first impressions article, as well as a discussion about what it does (and doesn't) do right.

The Good

The basic premise for Blades is alright. This takes place in between Oblivion and Skyrim in the timeline, at a point where the Empire wasn't doing too hot. You play as one of the Blades—the emperor's elite guard who just recently lost the heads of a hundred members to the High Elves. Oh, and your town was also destroyed. Needless to say, things aren't going well for you.

The wrecked town becomes your hub to this world. As you loot through dungeons and save blacksmiths and other artisans, they come to your town to offer their services. You get to build up the town as you see fit, spending resources and time to construct residences and shops. 

Not a bad concept, all things considered. This was never going to be a grand epic, but I could see this working well on the mobile platform.

Unfortunately, the concept is pretty much the best part of it...

The Bad

Put simply, Elder Scrolls: Blades is boring. Dungeon crawling is... alright I guess, but neither the environments nor the combat is particularly interesting. Building up your base could be really cool, but it feels like I'm hit with paywalls before I can even figure out why I should care. The RPG elements are just kinda there—it's the standard inventory management, level up and gain a skill point type thing we've seen done better before. 

One example of needless walling off of features came from the "perk" system. Like Skyrim, every level up you get a point you can put towards some special ability or bonus. I wanted to play a fast, rogue-ish character, so the second special attack in one of the skill trees looked interested. It took two of these points, so no big deal—I just saved my point until I leveled up again... but then I still couldn't get it. Turns out I needed to be at least level 10 for that power. This seemed arbitrary for one of the second powers in a skill tree. I ended up just throwing those points wherever, since any of the options I wanted required higher levels. 

It doesn't help that the graphics appear to be low-resolution rips from Skyrim. For a mobile game, they aren't too bad—but taking directly from a better game only highlights how much weaker this one feels. I would have rather saw it play with its own art style, maybe something that lends itself better to a mobile game (Fallout Shelter is a good example of this). 

I think the most fun I've played so far is in the Abyss, which is an endless dungeon crawl that rewards you the further into it you go. This was fun because it was pure dungeon-diving, monster-slashing adventure, but even this got old quick. The endless map felt like I was looping around the same three rooms over and over, and the combat just isn't engaging enough to keep me playing for long. 

The Oh, So Ugly

Alright, time to talk about the elephant in the room; micro-transactions. Now this is a free-to-play game, so obviously there would be a generous heaping of micro-transactions. That really doesn't bother me; as I said before, I tend to enjoy fiddling with F2P games. Hell, I don't even mind spending money on them—to me, a good free-to-play model allows me to see if I enjoy a game before buying into it, and I think that's great. If I'm having fun with something, I'd feel fine dropping some money into it.

But the "fun" part is really critical here—and I think Bethesda missed that memo.

Elder Scrolls: Blades is kinda boring, and it's made worse by overly-aggressive monetization. Like I said earlier, it felt like it was shoving micro-transactions down my throat before I even got an idea of what the game was like. I built one building when the quest told me to, started one other because I figured I probably should, then went back to questing... except the quest required a higher level town. I started building something else to improve it, but have to wait hours on end. So I did some other dungeons, got chests... which I also have to wait hours to open. 

Again, timers are fine, but most games at least wait until you're having fun before hitting you with a paywall. Whereas games like Warframe or Elder Scrolls: Legends have often tempted me to spend money, with Blades I don't feel any reason to buy anything. The small amount of gameplay I tried wasn't all that fun. I'm not waiting on the edge of my seat to play more. I only keep playing because of a dying hope that the game gets better a little further in. 

Overall Impression

The Elder Scrolls: Blades isn't a bad game. There's nothing offensive about it, and it looks okay for a mobile game. But the whole time I was playing, I kept sneaking glances at my Switch sitting proud in its dock. Skyrim is on there. In handheld mode a Switch is only a little bigger than a phone, and with it I could be playing the game Blades is so blatantly pretending to be. 

Not everyone has a Switch, and not all Switch owners have Skyrim (and Todd Howard has your names, your addresses... and will have your souls for this crime). So if you want an idle, free game to play on your phone while you're out and about... there are better options than this. Heck, if you want to stay in the world of Tamriel than give Elder Scrolls: Legends a try! Also free, and I've dumped about a hundred hours on there. It has cross-play between your phone and computer, and is just plain fun (and I'll let you in on a secret—in those hundred hours of fun I've not spent a dime on it). 

I'll probably keep this game loaded for when I feel bored and masochistic, but otherwise I'm calling Blades a dud. Not offensively bad, but not really any fun either. 

Have you tried out Elder Scrolls: Blades yet? What do you think? Are there other free-to-play or mobile games you like better? Let me know!


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