'Elder Scrolls' on mobile isn't great

It's fine.

The universe of Elder Scrolls feels too big to fit on a phone, and it kind of is. Elder Scrolls Blades is Bethesda's attempt to give iOS and Android players a taste of its beloved high-fantasy franchise. It's a free game that includes streamlined character and city builders, and two different regions to explore (that's how many were in the demo on display at E3 this week, at least), the castle and the forest.

In the marketing material for Blades, Bethesda says the game also includes "cutting-edge combat," which is a bit of a stretch. The main mechanic involves pressing down on the screen and tapping when the attack circle turns gold, or pressing down on a diamond icon in order to pull up a shield. There are a few special attacks, each activated by tapping the icon when it's active. These maneuvers work against all manner of enemies, from undead soldiers to tiny goblins.

The baddies attack back, but rather half-heartedly, giving players plenty of time to load up their next moves without any real fear of dying. Once an enemy is vanquished, it disappears and leaves behind a bag of gold and/or a green gem; tap to collect and continue adventuring.

The game itself is animated in 3D and it looks like a pretty PSOne Classic -- it's fine for mobile or VR, but it would look out-of-date on current-gen consoles. This observation is only notable because Bethesda CEO Todd Howard wants to get the game on every platform imaginable.

"We are going to bring Blades to every device and system that we can," he said during Bethesda's E3 press conference. "Phones, PCs, consoles, also virtual reality, on mobile, all the way up to high-end VR on PCs. What's really cool is all of those connect to each other."

One of the mobile features Bethesda is proudest of, at least according to its E3 2018 media briefing, is the ability to play Blades in portrait mode, and this is where the game truly shines. It actually plays best in portrait mode, with the enemies and shield filling up the screen.

It's hard to knock a free game for not being robust enough in any sense, but there's no getting around it: Elder Scrolls fans won't miss much if they don't play Blades. There's always Elder Scrolls Online, and Bethesda just announced Elder Scrolls VI for real, though there isn't much information available about that title just yet.

Blades isn't bad, especially for a free, mobile-focused title. It plays off the formula Bethesda initiated with Fallout Shelter, a mobile game that made its way to Switch and PlayStation 4 just this week after a successful iOS and Android run. Both of these games feel like they're built to function as teasers for the main iterations, offering players a free taste of the full experience and enticing them to buy into a fully fledged title. They're perfectly fine, for what they are.

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