There perhaps isn’t a game series out there that I’ve sunk more hours into than The Elder Scrolls. The Sims, maybe? Between playing through the core series — sometimes multiple times — and the hundreds of hours I’ve spent in The Elder Scrolls Online, I’ve probably spent more time in Tamriel than I have, I don’t know, reading books or something equally wholesome. In any case, even with all that time spent, I don’t feel like any of it has been wasted.
Aside from the time that I spent playing The Elder Scrolls: Blades.
MAYBE I SHOULD GET A DOG
Blades is the story of a Blade. The Blades were a group that formerly protected the lineage of emperors, but after the great war with the Third Aldmeri Dominion, they were outlawed and hunted down. This sets the game sometime after The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion but before The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
This Blade arrives at their hometown to find it destroyed by a giant misunderstanding. It’s then their duty to rebuild the town and help the villagers with their problems, among them being a long dead Ayleid King. It’s a very localized Elder Scrolls, since rather than taking place across an entire province of Tamriel, you exist entirely in a single town in an unspecified location and warp to the dungeons that surround it.
You’re essentially the town handyman. It’s up to you to handle reconstruction, deal with pests, and decorate. There’s a job board of random tasks for you to handle, as well as quests given to you from the town’s various inhabitants.
The game itself is, to put it charitably, a distilled version of your typical Elder Scrolls gameplay, if you consider the core of the Elder Scrolls experience to be just dungeon crawling. Which I don’t.
In any case, you go out into the dungeons, defeat enemies, collect loot, beat the boss, gain experience, and level up. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is, after all, a mobile game at heart. It’s free-to-play.
GAZE UPON THE ELDER SCROLLS
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much time I’ve sunk into this game. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. Maybe it’s the pick-up-and-play nature of it. I get up in the morning, feed and walk the dog, make myself a cup of tea, and then sit down to play a few quests before getting some writing done or diving into a better game. Over time, it has accumulated.
Another part of it is my love of The Elder Scrolls. After all, it got me through Daggerfall and convinced me to play an MMO. There’s not really much Elder Scrolls here, however. Part of that is the smaller scope. There’s not really much room for themes of race relations or political maneuvering by men, mer, and gods. You’re stuck within these walls. It’s very much against the nature of the series.
The Elder Scrolls has long been a very lore heavy series, so it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s presented in mobile format without talk of the Aedra and Daedra and spiky cat penises. It kind of feels vapid in that way. I’m not going to get much payoff here for all my time spent learning the lore. I guess that’s fine for some people, but it leaves me wanting.
MISSING SWEET ROLL
The real meat and potatoes of the game, however, are the dungeons, and they… sure are there.
Most of them are randomly crafted, which is hardly something new for the series. However, there aren’t that many variations. Cave, forest, castle, ayleid ruins. There aren’t many variations of enemies either. It leads to things feeling repetitive, but when you’re the village handyman, it’s just another day on the job.
It’s just a long way from thwarting Daedra schemes and discovering the secrets of lost civilizations.
The story missions fare a bit better. They at least include variations and the odd hook to mix things up. It’s not a lot, but it’s a pinch of pepper to an otherwise bland dish. That’s when you’re actually able to do the story missions.
A SEPTIM’S WORTH
Which is where we reach the prickly business of the game’s progress. If you’re wary of free-to-play games, you’re probably wondering if I hit a pay wall. The answer is both yes and no.
I have, so far, not had to spend any money, but that’s not because I haven’t brushed up against the game’s restrictions. After a while, the difficulty on the story missions becomes too high to proceed until you can upgrade your gear. This forces you to essentially grind for crafting items and better equipment.
“Ah,” you might be saying, “This is where paying for things gets you past all the waiting.”
“Maybe if the game was actually competent at taking your money,” is my sarcastic response.
You see, there is, of course, a store in the game where you can trade real money for supplies. Well, that’s maybe inaccurate. You often trade it for gems, which are then traded for loot boxes that may contain supplies or maybe they won’t. Or sometimes there’s a daily deal that allows you to buy a more specific set of crafting equipment and loot, but there’s no guarantee that what you need is going to be available on a given day.
So there are your options: loot crates or waiting for something you need to show up in the store. All in an effort to get over the hump. I’ll stick to just grinding away.
I’ve spent a long time with games that I don’t really like, but The Elder Scrolls: Blades may now hold the record for the longest. The sad thing is that I’m probably still going to play more of it before I’m done? And why? I guess it’s the mobile skinner box.
If you’re a fan of The Elder Scrolls, you’re not going to find a lot here to remind you of the better games in the series. If you’re just a fan of video games, you’re in for a shallow, repetitive experience with no salve to soothe. It’s just an inescapable pit of samey dungeons and vapid town-building. It’s not worth the quest to play.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a digital version of the game. It’s available for free.