The Elder Scrolls: Blades Delivers on a Skyrim Mobile Experience [E3 2018 Preview]

We recently had the chance to sit down with Bethesda and check out The Elder Scrolls: Blades at E3 2018. Spoiler alert: it isn’t yet another Skyrim port, but instead, a Skyrim-like experience tailored specifically for mobile devices. In fact, it is more akin to a different game in the series; the original Arena.

The initial announcement of Blades left some players with a ton of questions. Does it provide a sprawling open world to explore? Can you level up? Is there a story? Many games have promised a “console quality” mobile experience, but few if any have ever delivered. However, The Elder Scrolls: Blades is shaping up to be a game that will attract the “casual” mobile fans and diehard RPG fans alike.

The Elder Scrolls Blades Preview: Dungeon Crawler Sim 2018

The Elder Scrolls Blades E3 2018 Preview

The demo that I played consisted of two different levels, Castle and Forest. It eschews a massive open world that games like Morrowind and Skyrim were famous for in favor of more linear dungeons. Blades basically plays as though you were wandering through bite-sized versions of the dungeons in Skyrim. The Castle level had me explore a detailed indoor dungeon filled with pesky skeevers and skeletons. Everything in the dungeon is played from a first-person perspective. In this particular demo, I was armed with a sword in one hand, a shield in the other, and several skills at my disposal.

Traversing through Blades can be done in a couple of ways. The first is your traditional mobile control scheme, with you moving your character with a finger on the left side of the screen while using the right side for the camera. The second is by tapping on the floor ahead of you to walk there. That method is best used for the portrait mode that Bethesda made note of in the announcement.

You can even tap on breakable pots — of which there are many — from far away to automatically move towards it and destroy it for that precious, precious loot. Though it doesn’t have the ability to loot and pick up almost everything you see, there is plenty of gold and items that you can find through exploration and combat.

The combat for Blades is what you’ll be doing most of the time in order to level up and get better. Both levels I played were filled with nearly a dozen enemies each, despite only taking a few minutes to complete. Fights are strictly one-on-one affairs, acting as a sort of blend between turn-based and real-time action.

You aren’t able to dodge or move your character around during the fight, so it’s a game of taking turns blocking and attacking. Timing is everything, as reading your opponent is the key to victory. Each enemy from nasty rodents to goblins have their own animation for preparing to attack so learning to read them for the right moment to counter is essential.

Of course, blocking with a shield and swinging your sword aren’t the only tools at your disposal. You also have various skills and spells that you can utilize, consuming stamina and magicka in the process. The set of skills I had in the demo were surprisingly vast in purpose. The lightning bolt deals massive damage, while the shield bash helps with armored enemies. I even had a shield spell to protect myself with in case of sticky situations. The variety kept things interesting and fun the entire time.

The Elder Scrolls Blades Preview: A True Console Experience on Mobile

The Elder Scrolls Blades E3 2018 Preview

The one issue I had with the combat was your basic attack. While many saw the announcement and immediately thought of the mobile game Infinity Blade, they aren’t too similar in execution. Blades‘ normal attack actually has you hold your finger down anywhere on the screen for a circle to appear. You must lift your finger off of the circle when it is in the gold area in order to successfully land a hit.

It’s not as tricky as it sounds and it didn’t take long for me to become accustomed to it. However, I found that it would pull up the circle for a normal attack nearly half of the time that I would try to press on a skill icon. I don’t exactly have the biggest fingers in the world so that could even be frustrating for other people.

Regardless, it didn’t deteriorate much from the experience. The levels I played were mostly linear, going from room to room looting and taking out enemies before meeting a boss at the end. The boss fights were lengthier versions of normal fights with little deviance otherwise so more variation in those would be welcome.

The Forest level, in particular, looked stunning even though it was being displayed on a phone screen. The outdoor setting was lush and colorful, showcasing some of the strongest mobile graphics I’ve ever seen. You could have shown me footage of Blades and told me it was a console game and I would have definitely believed you.

I played through the two gorgeous levels multiple times using both the landscape and portrait modes, and I’m happy to say that both work perfectly well. The limited amount of area to view in portrait is a downside, but certainly sufficient for when you want to pretend like you’re reading an email during a boring meeting at work. No matter which way you want to play it, Blades is shaping up to be The Elder Scrolls mobile experience I didn’t know I wanted.