Elder Scrolls: Blades -- what you need to know about 'that iPhone game'

Apple showed off the new iPhone XS with a gorgeous new Elder Scrolls game -- here's what you need to know.

Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Expertise Smartphones | Photography | iOS | Android | Gaming | Outdoor pursuits Credentials
  • Shortlisted for British Photography Awards 2022, Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2022
Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Andrew Lanxon
Sean Hollister
5 min read

Every Apple iPhone keynote needs a gorgeous game to show just how far mobile graphics have come -- and the Elder Scrolls: Blades is that game for the just-announced iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR

Thing is, it's not just for iPhones, and this particular beauty comes from a franchise with a storied history. Ever heard of Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind or, hell, Fallout 4? This game is from those people, and it's the first proper foray the Elder Scrolls world has taken into mobile phones. 

First announced at E3 back in June, Elder Scrolls: Blades is -- like Skyrim and co. -- a first-person RPG that will see you adventuring around, hitting anything that moves with swords. It'll be free-to-play for iPhone, iPad and Android phones.

Watch this: Elder Scrolls: Blades hits the new iPhone

But what will the game be like and how will it compare to regular console games?

We've put together a regularly updated FAQ to help bring you everything you need to know. 

So, it's an Elder Scrolls mobile game?

Yup. It's a first-person RPG, similar to Skyrim. There's a story, although Bethesda hasn't told us everything about what to expect yet. Here's what Bethesda's website has to say so far:

"In The Elder Scrolls: Blades you are [a] member of the ancient order of the Blades. Forced into exile, you seek refuge in your remote hometown only to find it reduced to rubble. Now, it's up to you to restore your town back to its former glory."

At the Apple event, Bethesda clarified that the Blades are "the empire's elite warriors."

Is it basically Skyrim but on a phone?

No, but it's as close as we'll get for now. It's not a fully open-world experience like Skyrim, and you certainly shouldn't expect to explore all of Tamriel. Instead, it seems like you'll be following more linear paths around the game world. How big that game world really is remains to be seen, however, as the demos we played at E3 and Gamescom were very restricted in their play area.


What does it look like?

Gorgeous. Bethesda calls it "console quality" and we'd agree. Textures are great, there's tons of detail to be seen and the lighting -- particularly how the light interacts with particles in a particularly dusty inside bit we saw -- looks amazing.

Will it play on iOS and Android?

Our demo was on an iPhone X, but it'll be available on both Android and iOS. Those high-end graphics will, of course, be better suited to a powerful recent phone -- iPhone X, the new XS, XS Max and XR, Samsung Galaxy S9, LG G7 -- but how it looks on older, slower models remains to be seen.

The iPhone XS takes advantage of Apple's "stereo widening" feature to give you more immersive audio, according to Bethesda, and the game runs "40 percent faster" on the new iPhones.

What about other platforms?

Bethesda's Todd Howard has been talking about bringing it to PC, consoles, even VR platforms too, with cross-platform multiplayer between each of them. Though maybe not Playstation, if Bethesda and Sony continue the way they're headed.

How much is it?

Free. Bethesda hasn't yet confirmed what sort of micro transactions will be involved. Presumably, they'll want to make money on it somehow but what form any kind of transactions will take isn't clear.

What will you actually do in the game?

Adventure, and build. The setup of the game is that you return to your home town to find it all but destroyed. It's your task to rebuild and you can do that as you see fit. "Restoring your town will take more than tools and materials," says Bethesda's website. "It also needs your guidance! As you rebuild your surroundings, you will also be able to customize your city as you choose."

That makes it sound like a cross between Skyrim and Sim City, though we doubt it's like either, really. We're keen to see more of how the town-building mechanic works.

At the Apple event, Bethesda added that you'll "define your own character and how you want to engage in combat" too, suggesting that there'll be more RPG elements to come.


Will there be fighting, weapons and spells?

Of course, it is an Elder Scrolls game, after all! Swords, shields and the like will feature heavily and you'll want to be armed to the teeth when you go adventuring. In our demo we fought goblins, forest spiders, draugr -- all of which will be immediately familiar to anyone familiar with the franchise.

Bethesda says your weapons will be upgradeable, as will the spells, just like in the console games.

How do you fight?

Swiping with the sword involves tapping and holding on screen until a circle fills up. This takes about a second. Time your release perfectly when the circle fills and you'll get a damage bonus. It's pretty simple and doesn't allow for a lot of tactics, but that's probably good for a mobile game.

Had Bethesda made the battle system too complex, it would be simply too difficult to play on a phone, at least not comfortably. By using a more basic system, you can casually pick up and play wherever you are.


Is it single player?

There's a single-player story campaign to follow but there's also going to be an arena mode where you can compete against others. It seems like it'll just be battling that involves multiplayer action, although whether you'll ever be able to visit other players' rebuilt towns isn't known.

It's both landscape and portrait orientation, right?

That's right! While you can play in landscape mode for a more familiar RPG experience, you can turn your phone portrait and everything will shift around. In this way, it's designed to make playing with one hand more comfortable. You can simply tap with one thumb on the road ahead to keep walking forwards and swipe around to look about.

The battle system remains the same too. Press and hold to charge and release an attack, tap on the shield button to block. Simple!

It's a neat idea that will make it enjoyable for anyone who wants to keep on gaming when jammed onto a busy bus up against other people. It's also the reason that CNET editor Eric Franklin is most excited about the game -- being able to play one-handed while juggling his newborn baby.

Okay, I'm sold. When's it out?

Bethesda says it'll be out this fall for iPhone, but hasn't given a firm date yet for other platforms. You can sign up for beta access on its website though.

Originally published Aug. 24.

Update, Sept. 13: With more details from Apple's Sept. 12 event.

Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.

Culture: Your hub for everything from film and television to music, comics, toys and sports.