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The Elder Scrolls: Blades – epic fantasy series goes freemium

Price: Free
Version: 1.0.1
Size: 148 MB
Developer: Bethesda
Platform: iPhone & iPad

Elder Scrolls: Blades

The Elder Scrolls, a series that has sold billions on PCs and games consoles over the past 25 years, has made its way to mobile for the first time with a new entry in the series. Blades is a feast for the eyes, an epic fantasy roleplaying game that combines dungeon crawling quests with city-building side quests.

Do you think his son’s called Eldius the Junior?

The good news is that the gameplay is silky smooth and graphics are excellent. The character models are a little dated, but the environments look as good as ever in glorious full 3D. Tap-to-move works reasonably well for those who like to game one-handed, but switch to landscape and you’ll find surprisingly effective virtual joysticks hidden in the corners of the screen.

Playing this way really does feel – on a surface level at least – like loading up a fully-fledged Elder Scrolls experience on the go. It’s a magical feeling for fans of the series, and a technical achievement worth applauding.

Even in ruins, this is a good looking city

After designing a custom character – anything from a Nordic-looking Breton, to a magic-wielding high elf, to a lizard-like Argonian – Blades dumps you into the smoldering wreckage of a once-beautiful city. Your job is to slowly return the place to its former glory while completing quests given by the locals (or a notice board that updates daily with new jobs).

If you’ve ever wanted to be a sword-wielding dragon man, now’s your chance

Rebuilding the city has cosmetic benefits and mechanical ones too, as many of the buildings you help erect become home to your classic fantasy tradespeople – blacksmiths to improve your weaponry, alchemists to sell you healing potions, and so on. It’s a satisfying gameplay loop: flush out the local goblin hordes, find treasure along the way, use your riches to fix up another building. Rinse and repeat.

The quests themselves are pretty linear, usually involving the exploration of an old ruin to rescue townsfolk and fight off generic baddies. Combat is a simplistic affair that strangely chooses to represent sword fighting with a rudimentary tap-and-hold system rather than the swipe gestures that are more naturally suited to swashbuckling duels.

In fairness, the combat does open up a bit once you start unlocking various magic spells and physical abilities, from swift counterattacks to swirling fireballs. It boils down the strategy and timing of battle to a system that works with ought but the tap of a thumb, and though lacking in depth it’s a fairly satisfying system once you get the hang of it.

Fight the undead with a prod of the finger

So far, so good. But it’s not an entirely smooth transition to mobile, as a series of classic freemium tricks rear their heads to interrupt the gameplay and line the developers’ pockets.

We were hopeful that Fortnite’s billion-dollar success with nothing but cosmetic micro-transactions would encourage other big developers to follow suit, but sadly this is another premium-looking game padded with frustrating wait timers and virtual gems. It’s pay-to-win, or at least pay-to-win-quicker.

The wait timers are particularly egregious, artificially elongating the gameplay experience and adding unnecessary cruft. The only purpose of these mechanics is to encourage spending, and while it’s technically possible to progress through the entirety of Blades without parting with a dime, the process eventually shudders to a snail’s pace that could span months of tedious grinding.

Wait an hour for loot, or skip the timer with gems that cost real money?

But even these annoyances can’t quite take away the charm of being able to play an Elder Scrolls game on an iPhone. Rebuilding an old town is satisfying, and though there’s little variety to the gameplay, it provides a charming world to explore and can be surprisingly addictive.

If you need a hit of Elder Scrolls magic on the go, this will hit the spot – but considering the far superior Skyrim has already been ported to nearly every platform under the sun, there are better ways to get your fantasy fix.