The Elder Scrolls: Blades gives off a terrible first impression

Posted by Campbell Bird on March 28th, 2019
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Imagine this: You’re Bethesda Game Studios, one of the biggest names in video games today. You’re renowned for bringing whole worlds to life through entries in the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series, two of the most popular and beloved franchises ever made. Your track record is far from perfect, but that’s mostly because your output is known for being richly detailed and highly complex. People applaud even when you stumble, because the ambition of your projects is so staggering that no one else even dares imitate you.

Then, you decide you want to make a mobile game. What kind of game would it be? Given your huge audience, what statement would you want to make about the possibilities of gaming on the go, knowing that a ton of non-mobile-game-playing eyes will be watching your every move with rapt attention? Certainly not this, right?

The Elder Scrolls: Blades dropped last night, and almost everything about it so far is emblematic of all the worst problems with mobile games today. It’s an always online game. It requires a Bethesda account to use. It’s in “early access” (whatever that means) and it’s invite only, meaning you can only play more than what’s shown in the video above if Bethesda sends you an email giving you permission to do so.

Beyond that, what is shown of the game itself pre-invite is hardly impressive. There’s some technical prowess on display regarding the detail of the character model you fight, I guess, but otherwise the actual fighting you do is hardly explained and definitely not fulfilling. You kinda just tap around until the guy rag dolls and then you hit a login screen that tells you you can’t play anymore unless you’re gilded by Bethesda. The only thing that is genuinely remarkable is how well Blades can shift from portrait to landscape display during play. Otherwise it’s completely underwhelming.

Of course, it is very early in the life cycle of this game to say whether or not it’s worth investing any real time in Blades, but this first impression of the game is supremely ill-conceived. I don’t see how anyone could open Blades right now, experience the lame tutorial thing it presents, and walk away from it thinking “wow, I can’t wait to see what more is in store here.”

The app description of Blades also doesn’t communicate anything particularly promising. Players can expect to quest? And there’s city building? AND an arena mode? Congrats, you’ve described 90% of every social rpg already on the App Store. Even on the marketing end of things, Bethesda seems to be phoning it in.

Given Bethesda’s size, talent, and creativity, there’s so many things they could have done to try and make a game that looks and feels appropriate for the mobile platform. Instead, they appear to be making a somewhat technically proficient variation on a genre that has been done before, but with weirdly murky tap controls. Don’t just take my word for it though. There are folks who have already been granted access to the game posting their impressions online, and almost none of them are positive.

There aren’t many reasons to be a happy mobile gamer these days. Many premium developers have abandoned the marketplace, leaving mostly a bunch exploitative free-to-play offerings in their stead. Bethesda certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors by adding their own mess to the pile, especially since Blades is such a high profile title that will likely drive many prospective mobile gamers away from platform entirely, perhaps before it even actually releases.

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