E3 isn’t always the place that the big game developers and publishers use to show off new mobile games, but Bethesda has something of a track record in that regard. As evidence, we’ll point to a little game you may have heard of called Fallout Shelter. There was a little bit of consternation in some corners that Fallout 76 was going to end up getting revealed to be a mobile game this year, but after that turned out to be exactly what console fans wanted, Bethesda surprised everyone again by unveiling The Elder Scrolls: Blades.
Like Fallout Shelter, it falls neatly into the “games you wanted but didn’t realize" category, but that’s where the similarities end. Blades is a bona fide RPG set in arguably the most famous fantasy video game setting of the 21st century. Undoubtedly, it will connect to that world’s lore in ways that will make its longtime fans smile, and it reportedly has a city-building element as well.
None of those things were evident in the build that waited somewhat unassumingly in the Bethesda booth at E3, set up on phones set up where journalists leaving their time with Rage 2 could play it at their leisure. All it offered was two different levels that showed off the core game mechanics, one in a forest and the other in a castle.
Fortunately, those brief tastes of the action were enough to get a feel for what The Elder Scrolls: Blades is all about. Played from a first-person perspective, the game uses a very simple system where you tap to move and hold and drag to look around. Your adventurer, who obviously has yet to take an arrow to the knee, can roam as they please, though there are paths to take that kind of steer you in the right directions. There are times in the E3 build where you’d accidentally move somewhere you weren’t expecting, but that seems like something the devs will iron out a bit before release.
The combat system is much tighter, not to mention pretty creative. When an encounter begins, you end up very close and personal with the enemy you’re fighting. To attack, you hold down on one side of the screen until a circle fills up with green, doing more damage if you time your lift for right when it’s full. Blocking and spell-casting is done with small dedicated buttons. The real fun, though, is when you discover that holding for attacks on different sides of the screen can give you a rhythm that feels like you are actually wielding a sword or weapon, and once you get that down, the fighting has a flow that feels really good as you try to outwit kobolds, goblins and other things one finds in a fantasy setting.
The other nifty feature that Blades boasts is that it can be played in either landscape or portrait mode. Ask yourself whether an Elder Scrolls game with fantastic graphics that can be played with just one hand is something that would pique your interest, and it’s pretty likely the answer is going to be “yes."
There are plenty of other questions about Blades that aren’t likely to be answered until later, such as has its free-to-play monetization will work — particularly since Bethesda has plans on getting it to consoles and even VR (which does seem like a good fit) later down the road. Yet we’re almost certainly going to be playing a whole lot of it on mobile later this year before any of that happens, so all of its unanswered questions will come to light before too long. As pleasant E3 surprises go, this was another good one.