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In brief: Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls: Blades is finally here, arriving late last night on iOS and Android in early access. We've got some first screenshots and some early impressions on the game.
Initially unveiled at E3 2018, the game was first slated for a fall launch. However, the title got pushed back to Spring 2019. Even with the extra time the game is only in early access with an official launch still unannounced.
It may be possible to sign in and play without receiving an invitation. I didn't get one. I had the game on pre-order through Apple’s App Store and started playing last night. So if you have it pre-ordered, check the store to see if it is downloadable for you.
I have only played for a short time so far, but I do have some initial impressions.
The game can be played in portrait or landscape mode. I prefer landscape myself, but you can switch between either just by reorienting your phone, and the transition is pretty smooth.
Graphically the environments are stunningly detailed. However, the character models lack the same near photorealistic quality making them look somewhat plastic.
The music is what you would expect from a TES game, and the sound effects are decent, but there is no voice acting. So be prepared to do a lot of reading. The dialog is carried out old-school-RPG style.
Leveling up seems kind of limited compared with other TES games. There is a Stamina and a Magicka tree, and they look very basic. However, I’m only level three and only have one skill so far, so it might be a bit early to be passing judgment on that.
Combat using screen gestures is somewhat clunky and takes some getting used to. I feel like I might have to get an MFi controller for this one. There are virtual control sticks, but they are hard to get to come up. However, once I got the feel for it combat was pretty satisfying. Blindly hacking away will probably suffice against easier opponents, but I have a feeling that blocking will be important against tougher enemies.
Moving by tapping a spot on the ground feels very old school, while at the same time making it seem like your character is on rails. The lack of a better way to control the camera while moving makes strafing virtually impossible. To me, the ability to strafe has always been a staple to my TES gameplay style. In fact, I tend to favor it over blocking, but it is just not possible with the touch controls. Overall, a controller would suit this game better.
Fortunately, Bethesda has plans to release TES: Blades on consoles, PCs, and VR at some point. The control issues I had would be remedied on those platforms.
It's still too early for me to give the game a fair score. On the one hand, I feel like it has the potential to be a very good TES game for mobile devices. On the other hand, the micro transactions, which so far have not been pushed, and the town-building aspect make me feel like it's going to be a game I will eventually put down without completing. We'll have to wait and see.
If you do plan to play on a mobile device, be sure you have a compatible model. Blades is only compatible with iPhone 6s or newer. It also works on a limited selection of iPads, and a much wider variety of Android devices. Check out the list of compatible models on Bethesda’s FAQs.
I played Blades a little more after work last night and while I have not quit it yet. I can feel myself losing interest. The game has a lot of flaws. Aside from the crappy control scheme, there a couple of glaring weaknesses that are going to be hard to ignore. And loot boxes aren't one of them.
My first problem is combat. Now that I've got more than just one quest under my belt, I've found that combat is very repetitive and boring. Here is combat in a nutshell: Walk up to a creature, stand in place, whack it until it's dead, rinse, repeat.
I thought maybe using abilities or spells would spice things up, but no. Abilities are just pre-programmed attacks — another way to continue your bashing. They cost stamina and have a cool down timer, so one use is about all you get out of them in the early parts of the game. Strategic use of them on harder foes could come into play later, but for me this does not rescue the bland combat system.
Also, if you enter an area with multiple enemies, you fight them one at a time, even if they are standing right next to each other. In a way, this is a good thing because the combat system is so limited that there is no practical way to fight two opponents at once. Unfortunately, it completely ruins immersion. It is somewhat funny seeing the other monster standing in the queue to whack you, but it’s not supposed to be funny.
The other major problem with the game is there is no exploration. The town acts as your hub. When you take a quest from an NPC or the job board, you magically get teleported to the questing area.
Once there, you go through the very linear dungeon or forest path until you finish the quest goal. Once the mission requirements are met, it asks if you want to complete the quest (magically teleport back to town) or explore.
If you choose to explore, you get to run around the area, most of which you fully explored. There might be some nooks and crannies beyond the last enemy you fought that have some resources or a chest maybe, but that’s it. There is no freedom to wander around and discover things or hunt random monsters.
Now I was not expecting a whole lot from a mobile game. I was ready to cut Bethesda a lot of slack on this title — I was not hoping for the next Skyrim. However, I was expecting something fun that could keep me entertained in short bursts for weeks. What I feel like I got was Skyrim on rails. I don’t see myself playing this game for weeks. A few more days at most just to check out the magic system and then I’ll probably delete it. These flaws are too fundamental for Bethesda to be able to fix them.