I haven’t played a game on my phone since iOS 5. Which makes me eminently qualified to review Elder Scrolls Blades, which launched in Early Access a month ago. Everyone else has reviewed it, why not me. Let’s get to it.
The Story Thus Far
The year is 4E 175 and the Thalmor suck. They didn’t tell me this before I walked home to my demolished home town, but I’m a Blades operative on the run. Who also fought for the Imperial Legion. And I’m level one. Yeah, I never got games who establish that I’m kinda experienced but also a total newb. But that’s OK, with hard work and dedication, I can level up and spend my hard earned money rebuilding the city. Of which, I still don’t have a place to live.
What’s the Deal?
This is a streamlined game. I start a job or quest, spawn up in the dungeon, explore and kill, picking up loot. It works one-handed even. Then I return to the city, pay to repair my equipment and decide which building project I can afford to start. Building or improving equipment takes real time so I might need to take a break from the game or plan to start things right before bed or work or a TV show. As I get more buildings or improve my shops, The town levels up and the level limit on shops raises, enabling me to make better stuff.
One guy wrote a review about how he piled up 150 hours worth of chests to unlock in one weekend. My wife and several others are at a level where the cost of repairing after a mission is more than they make. A losing treadmill. There’s a lot of spots to spend money to speed things up, kind of like the put those delays on purpose. Repetitive quest format gets old.
I haven’t paid a dime or gem in this game. I get Bethesda’s need to make money, so far they’ve made a $1.20 per download. Because of my day job in software development, I have a sense of what it might have cost to make this game. So the Pay To Win griping is off the mark. That’s not even what the term means. You do not need to pay, to win. It’s not like Magic the Gathering, where you better buy a shitton of cards and get lucky or spend cash on singles. You can’t beat Mr. Suitcase without spending more on the game.
That out of the way, what’s left? I don’t mind the timers right now, it’s a simulationist aspect of Elder Scrolls that building things take real time. But it’s obvious they’re tied to buttons to buypass (not a typo). I respect a need to make money, but it's so blatant that it bugs a lot of people. Notice how there were a lot of downloads, but not a lot of spending. Compare that to Pokemon’s opening profits.
There’s also the fun factor. They removed equipment damage in Skyrim (vs. Oblivion) because it wasn’t fun. The problem my wife is having is untenable. Maintaining multiple sets of equipment plus scrap is crazy without a place to store things. Plus, I hate the whole golf club approach to gaming. Unless you give me Bagger Vance to carry my gear, no thanks. That’s not heroic.
If I Had My Way
The first step is to dial back on the Pay buttons. It hurts the company’s reputation.
Reconsider Repair costs or even having them at all. Is it Fun? There’s so many other aspects in this game that force us to spend our gold, that it’s like an Adventure Tax. And would Lond, the guy we saved and paid to rebuild his shop REALLY charge us? No. He’d be doing free repairs for life.
More buildings: I’m fine with the number of house models (9), but there’s only 4 shops, they all occupy 2 spots and are a building and a yard. How about a temple that is 2 slots wide. A tavern? I’m not sure how much room to save for the future, but I’d hope for more to my town than 4 shops I’ve already built.
Build Timers tell the player to stop playing. Personally, I’m enjoying the puzzle to working with the timers in the real world. I could see having the game time match the real world (like Pokemon) so shops close after dark. But, mobile games tend to aim at accommodating casual play. If I have ten minutes available, and in the first minute, I needed to build something, you just told me I can’t play anymore. Not fun.
Is It Fun
Right now, I am having fun, despite what’s been complained about. I started a journal of my characters exploits. My town is level 4, and Ravn Kuhl is level 16. The game’s easy to play in short bursts when I get time. I’m not sure how far I am into the storyline, which means there’s much more left for me. I could use more variance in the missions. Give some weird stuff like normal Elder Scrolls. But I’ve gotten my money’s worth from it.