The Elder Scrolls’ least memorable spin-off, Blades, could – and should – have been so much more than it was


It turns out that what – at the time – felt like novel fun, was in fact one of the more forgettable gaming experiences of my life. That’s The Elder Scrolls: Blades in a nutshell for you, really. A mobile game that feels impressive during your first dungeon, and even your second, but the novelty of it all wears off quicker than you’d ever imagine. Especially if you’re already familiar with the likes of Oblivion and Skyrim.

During my first year of university, my HP laptop couldn’t handle much more than The Sims or Amnesia. I didn’t own an Xbox or PC at the time, given that I was staunchly committed to trying to enjoy the stereotypical university lifestyle more than anything else. At that time, when I wasn’t pushing my dear laptop to the absolute limits, we all primarily just played Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo Wii time and time again.

So, when summer rolled around and all of my flatmates went home while I stayed to work, I had to find something to fill my time with that wasn’t annoying to everyone around me. My long time friend, who happened to live downstairs, had also stayed. We’d often hang out after work, share dinner, and then spend our time seeing what Steam or the App Store had to offer that could entertain us for the evening.

One long weekend, we found The Elder Scrolls: Blades.

As two people who were big fans of Skyrim once upon a time, we were excited to have stumbled upon the recently-released game, which we could play from the comfort of wherever, whenever. Days ensued where minimal words were spoken. We watched crappy evening TV and played nothing but Blades. It was a very peaceful time, but sure enough, once that long weekend was over, our time with Blades was, too.

Image credit: Bethesda

Blades was definitely fun at first, and given that it’s a free game which runs smoothly on mobile, I didn’t have many complaints to begin with. Even when the option to buy chests and new gear was constantly thrown in my face, I still had fun making my way through those first dungeons, venturing into the Abyss, and so forth. But once you’ve done these things a few times, and the realisation hits that – actually – this is all the game really consists of, there’s nothing to really keep you, the player, going.

Blades has a story, but it’s one that’s near-impossible to follow, drip-fed to you by dull and disinterested NPCs who appear as though they’d rather be anywhere other than talking to you. There’s no epic adventure here, and nothing to really work towards, other than improving your loadout, increasing the prestige of your town, and taking on tougher quests, which primarily consist of defeating mobs and retrieving loot.

The concept isn’t a bad one, and the execution isn’t wholly bad either, but Blades – even five years later – remains underdeveloped, unengaging, and boring. It doesn’t come remotely close to the adventures we’ve previously been on in The Elder Scrolls series, which I wouldn’t necessarily expect from a mobile game, but Bethesda is clearly capable of doing better. And it hasn’t. Questing remains repetitive, with barriers to your progress regularly cropping up after a period of time -yep, you need to wait or pay up if you want to continue playing at times. The town-building that could’ve been fleshed out still remains mediocre at best, and combat – which is arguably one of Blades’ better elements – is unexciting and dull. You’re very much locked into your loadout with little autonomy over fights, and there are definitely no wonderfully OP Stealth Archer builds to be seen in Blades. In fact, there’s no archery whatsoever.

The inventory in The Elder Scrolls: Blades is shown

Image credit: Bethesda

I’d completely forgotten about Blades up until recently, when I was scrolling through my notes app and found some words I’d put together on it from a few years ago. I figured I’d revisit it to see how the game had changed over time, and well, it hasn’t. It’s still what you’d expect from a FTP mobile game: a real grind, with aggressive in-game monetisation putting a sour taste in my mouth, and there’s nothing exceptional enough about the experience to make that the slightest bit redeemable. It’s also worth noting that Blades launched on Nintendo Switch in 2020, just over a year after its mobile release, and it’s safe to say that if I came across this game on my Switch rather than my mobile, I’d be even less impressed by the waiting game it makes its players endure.

That said, though, if you’re hoping for a mobile dungeon-crawler with The Elder Scrolls aesthetic – something where you only put in enough time to do a couple of quests a day while commuting or waiting for your dinner to cook – you might find some joy in watching your character level up and your town slowly develop. But if, like me, you went into The Elder Scrolls: Blades hoping for an adventure that would entertain you for more than a long weekend at the very least, you’re probably best off just rebuying Skyrim for the umpteenth time instead. You know, while you wait for The Elder Scrolls 6 to arrive sometime around 2094, when we’ll all probably have forgotten what playing a non-ancient TES game feels like.

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