The Elder Scrolls Blades has finally launched on mobile devices and after a weekend of playing it, I give my first impressions on what is a fun but frustrating 'free' to play game.
I first heard about The Elder Scrolls: Blades at Apple's iPhone XS Max unveiling in September 2018. As a huge fan of Oblivion and Skyrim this was certainly something that interested me and although the game was initially scheduled for release towards the end of 2018, it finally launched (albeit in early access) at the end of March 2019.
The game can be played in Portrait or Landscape orientation which is very refreshing for a mobile game, although I tend to prefer landscape mode with the virtual analog sticks making movement slightly easier to control. In both orientations you can tap the ground and your character will walk to the location.
Combat in Elder Scrolls Blades is fairly straight forward. Approach an enemy and you'll be locked into a fixed hand-to-hand combat sequence where you can press and hold (or swipe) the screen to swing your weapon and attack. Attacking from alternate sides of the enemy one after the other allows you to build up a combo which does more damage. You can also use your shield to block enemy attacks and magic and agility to perform special moves with varying bonus effects, each of which can be unlocked with skill points as your character levels up.
Building Up Your Town
The main goal of the game is to build up your town by completing quests and picking up loot in a variety of cave, castle and forest settings. Throughout each location you'll encounter chests which contain useful items to upgrade your town and your character alongside food to refill your health and objects to smash which contain other collectables.
While the chests contain rare and sometimes powerful items you won't find anywhere else, unfortunately they are the biggest annoyance of this 'free' to play game. To unlock a chest you either have to wait a set number of hours (3 for a silver, 6 for a gold) or use gems to pay for an instant-unlock. Occasionally you'll find these gems by defeating enemies or as rewards for levelling up your character, but to earn anywhere near enough, the game essentially forces you down the route of buying them with real money. Purchasing a single legendary chest will cost 2,500 gems, which works out as £20 of real money!
Free to Play... Pay to Win?
As fun as the game is to play, with great graphics, intuitive controls and a fairly complex and addictive levelling system, I'm not going to pay real money for gems to open what is essentially a loot box with a random selection of virtual items. Like nearly all other free to play games, players will have to gamble their money for pixels without having a clue whether they'll get anything worthwhile.
I hate this part of the gaming industry and it's something I'll never partake in. I'd genuinely rather pay £5 a month for a subscription fee or £40 for a full game than need to spend money gambling on game loot. This is where the game falls down. If you're not going to buy gems, the only way to unlock chests is to wait hours. By doing more quests you pick up more chests and the only way to get rid of them is to wait for them to unlock. You only have a limited number of chest slots (which you can increase with gems of course) and you can only unlock one chest at a time, so once your chest slots are full, you're almost better off not playing the game at all while you wait for a chest to unlock or you'll have to reject any additional chest rewards for completing quests.
While it's true that you don't have to open chests to win at the game, in order to complete harder quests you're going to need stronger weapons and armour and the only way to get that is either by playing hours of repetitive job mini-quests to earn enough resources to craft your own, or to buy some gems.
I really hope that Bethesda tweak the chest system because although I'll continue to play the game, I won't be spending a penny on virtual goodies. Give me something permanent that I can purchase and I'll consider it, but no game will ever convince me to spend my hard earned cash on single-use items or completely random loot boxes.
The game is free to play and I do find it really fun, so there's no excuse not to give it a try, just bear in mind you'll probably have to spend a lot of time, or a fair bit of money to get anywhere. Hopefully this'll change in a future update but as frustrating as they are, in-app purchases are certainly not going away. Some people out there are willing to spend real money on virtual goodies and companies know they're essentially printing money through these randomly generated digital loot boxes. While people continue to pay, games will continue to go this way so we all need to either get used to it or stop wasting money to win at games!
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