The sprawling vistas and the go-anywhere, do-anything ethos of the latter-day Elder Scrolls games make it a seemingly-questionable candidate for a mobile game. However, when developer Bethesda released “The Elder Scrolls: Blades” on phones in late March, while the reviews were less-than-stellar, the game managed to attract a significant number of players, with more than one million downloads in a week. Now that the free-to-play dungeon crawler is coming to the Nintendo Switch, project lead Craig Lafferty and art director Matt Carofano both say that they’re happy to see the fruit of their labor come to a console that suits it, even from the design stage.
“Honestly, when we were coming up with the early prototypes, we had the Switch in mind from the very beginning,” says Lafferty. “You might say that it’s almost the ideal version of the mobile platform.”
“Blades” dials back on the open-world vagabonding of “Skyrim” and “Oblivion” and focuses in on what Lafferty calls “a reimagining of the classic dungeon crawl.” The game represents Bethesda Game Studio’s second major foray into the world of mobile games, after the surprise release and stunning success of “Fallout Shelter” back in 2015 first revealed the demand for mobile versions of the much-heralded developer’s big-name franchises. But while Blades took four years to materialize, Lafferty says that at a conceptual level, it was designed right there with Fallout Shelter. “Todd [Howard] said that he had two major ideas for mobile games, and it was ‘Blades’ right there on the board,” he says. “We knew it was a good idea almost immediately.”
Like a lot of mobile games, “Blades” hooks players with simple, bite-sized gameplay in the form of mostly-straightforward dungeons and quests, and then dangles the carrot of microtransactions that accelerate the many timers that can impede the players progress, or unlock valuable chests to shower them with loot. While its constant sword-swinging and corridor-crunching can come off as rather linear, Carofano says that the franchise’s choice component comes in with how players choose to build their characters, the secret sauce of many a hit RPG.
“Blades” remains in Early Access for the time being following a number of tweaks that came due to a flood of player feedback in the game’s closed beta period. According to Lafferty, Bethesda plans to unveil a major update in autumn, which will include new content across the board, along with a glut of much-requested social features, including player vs. player combat. “People keep asking us for a way to battle their friends, for a way to compare their loot,” he says. We’re working really hard to make that happen.”
While Lafferty says it’s not at all clear when “Blades” will emerge from the mists of “Early Access,” he says that he knows one thing for sure: Bethesda will continue to support the game for years to come. “I think it’s pretty clear now that the mobile market is one that we would do well to compete in,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity there, and the Switch is a big part of it, too. You can definitely expect to see us invest more in it, that’s for sure. ‘Blades’ is a great example of that, and I’m proud of it.”