Finally, after a long wait and unpredictable delays, we can download and play The Elder Scrolls: Blades on our mobile devices. At least, you can if you're one of the chosen few able to play the game in early access.
Yes, The Elder Scrolls: Blades is not quite ready yet, and as such we won't be reviewing it quite yet. And it's a good thing they've put the early access moniker on the game, because right now, it doesn't feel ready.
The Elder Scrolls: Blades has been touted by Bethesda as a proper console experience, but in reality, it's a mobile town building game. The truth hurts, and the truth is that thus far, this does not feel like a grand adventure at all.
That's not to say that the game doesn't look impressive. With the exception of the NPCs, the game looks really good, and maybe even up to the level of Skyrim on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It's a nice reminder of how far we've come.
Combat apes what we've seen on console and PC too, though honestly, it's rough. You play in first-person, and hold the screen to power up strikes to the enemy, while holding a small shield symbol to block. It works, most of the time.
Mo'bile, mo'problemsIt is very temperamental. Sometimes you can pull your shield up immediately after a strike, sometimes you can't. Sometimes the shield comes up immediately, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you hold the screen, see the icon primed for attack, and when you release nothing happens.
As you battle and level up you'll earn skill points, and can unlock skills for battle. Perks, Magicka, and Stamina-based skills are available, offering new skills for battle or passive buffs.
Sometimes when using a skill, animations won't play, but the skill will work. Sometimes tapping the skill icons doesn't feel responsive. All of these tiny issues add up to a frustrating battle system - frustratingly mostly because when it works, it's pretty decent.
For Jobs and Quests you end up being guided through procedurally generated hallways and chambers, all of them taking after one of a small selection of themes. The outside one, inside some dungeon, inside some cave, you get the idea. You go through and either collect items for your quest, talk to villagers, or just kill enemies.
Quests raise in difficulty very quickly, and will even require you upgrade your town before you can even access some of them. Jobs, meanwhile, are infinite, and will keep offering rewards, as long as you're willing to play the same mission type over and over.
Build 'em upAnd yes, this is a town building game, as I mentioned. You start with a ruined town - literally smoking from fire and littered with, well, ruins. You'll be collecting materials from your adventures and as quest rewards, and putting those materials and gold into building new structures.
New homes for people, a smithy, an alchemist, a workshop, and many other buildings can be put in place. You can even craft decorations to place in various pre-allocated spots around the town.
It's fun to watch your town grow, but unfortunately, it feels so slow. Materials aren't the most common, and you'll likely find yourself overburdened with one material, while always having barely any of another.
And this is where the game gets you. You'll need gems to replace missing materials - which is the easy, tempting, and costly way to do things.
Chests are another aspect of the game. You can put one chest at a time on an unlock countdown timer, with common chests taking five seconds, are rarer chests taking closer to six hours. You are discouraged from going on quests or jobs if you don't have room for more chests, which requires gems. You could open them faster, which requires gems.
Suddenly, you are being asked for gems almost constantly. The Elder Scrolls: Blades doesn't have much in the way of content, but all of the gameplay decisions that push you towards microtransactions are most certainly in place, and aimed squarely at anyone who dares make a few hours of progress.
You can, luckily, acquire gems rarely as drops from enemies, but it certainly offset how often you'll be asked for them.
Right now The Elder Scrolls: Blades is actually quite promising, but honestly, it needs a lot more content to justify such an aggressive microtransaction push while in early access.