The only thing that prevented fans from revolting when Bethesda announced Elder Scrolls: Blades for mobile was the fact that there was a vague teaser trailer for Elder Scrolls 6 beforehand. Even with that firewall, the question remained: Can a proper Elder Scrolls experience be translated to mobile? Today during the Bethesda Game Days, I finally had a chance to play Elder Scrolls: Blades and the answer is, "Somewhat."
The demo, which I played on an iPhone, offers part of the dungeon-diving experience you'd expect from the franchise. It threw me into the Abyss, an endless dungeon that players can plunder for loot—every floor you clear gives you a bit of experience and gold for completion. You keep going until you die, at which point you can revive right then and there with a scroll, which you can buy with real-money microtransactions. Alternatively, you can head back to the surface with your spoils.
Elder Scrolls: Blades does look the part. Visually, it has all the hallmarks of a modern Elder Scrolls game. There's the soft glow of dungeon candles, the luminous cave plants, and the ancient weathered stone of a ruin. Bethesda knows how to dress a game to evoke the feeling of Skyrim.
But then you try to plunder the shelves or tables of a dungeon, and the truth is laid bare. Elder Scrolls: Blades doesn't let you hoard items like a kleptomaniac. You can't take everything not nailed down and sell it to a local vendor to fund your ongoing quest. To me, Elder Scrolls games are about filling your bags with the loot of the fallen, and the forgotten bits of whatever organization has long left a region. You can't pick up anything in Elder Scrolls: Blades outside of the bags of gold and chests that occasionally drop. It turns Elder Scrolls into a primarily combat-based game, and that's never been the series' strong suit.
In combat, you hard lock to any enemy you encounter. To attack, you have to tap and hold on your touchscreen. It's an unwieldy system compared to simply tapping to attack, and using some abilities isn't much better; you have to tap onscreen icons and wait for the move to activate. It honestly doesn't feel like you have total fine control over your character, even though Elder Scrolls has never aimed for finesse in any entry.
The worst facet is the mechanic clearly aimed at drawing more microtransactions. When you get a chest in Elder Scrolls: Blades it has a timer on it. When you open a chest, that timer begins to count down, and the timer is seemingly higher depending on its rarity. I had one chest that opened in seconds, but another that took 3 hours. That might be better in live conditions, but I doubt it. Regardless, it didn't feel great in the demo. You can spend gems to open a chest immediately, but gems cost real money. Hell, it looks like you can buy chests directly with gems if you want.
It doesn't paint the best picture for Elder Scrolls: Blades, which likely had an existing perception as a grab for cash. I can see it being enjoyable for the hardest of hardcore Elder Scrolls fans, as it definitely sells the look of the series, but what I played on the demo wasn't the most compelling mobile experience in terms of play.
And that's before we get to where it feels a bit deficient compared to a proper Elder Scrolls game. Bethesda is promising a lot, with full quests and an entire city players can build, but none of that was apparent in my demo. I can play Skyrim on my Nintendo Switch portably right now, and I'd prefer a mobile experience that was closer to that. Sadly, Elder Scrolls: Blades doesn't look like it.
Elder Scrolls: Blades is currently in early access on Android and iOS. To stay up to date on the game, keep an eye on our Elder Scrolls: Blades Guide page.