The Magic of The Elder Scrolls: Blades

How Todd Howard and Bethesda built the next great role-playing game.

As a director overseeing the beloved role-playing franchises The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, Todd Howard has helped craft some of the most immersive game worlds ever conceived—places players can spend hundreds of hours exploring.

Building these enormous lands may be his team’s passion at Bethesda Game Studios, but Howard has a soft spot for playing on his phone. Thus the challenge he put forth: to create a mobile game with the same epic sensibility as the PC and console Elder Scrolls adventures.

If that dragon didn’t die of natural causes, this could be one terrifying quest.

In September, you’ll get to experience the result: The Elder Scrolls: Blades.

“We wanted Blades to feel like an authentic Elder Scrolls RPG—great-looking, deep, and first-person,” says Howard. Though not open-world, it had to include elements like town-building and one-on-one arena combat against other players—an awful lot to pack into your phone.

Nuts And (Lightening) Bolts

To get there, the team scrutinized Blades’ most basic game mechanics. Movement? Tap where you want to go. Combat? A combination of hold-and-release (to swing your sword) and tapping on-screen buttons (to cast spells and shield-bash foes).

Even 10-minute play sessions had to feel rewarding, says Howard. What he didn’t want was a cluttered interface: “It’s a personal pet peeve when virtual buttons are all over the screen, trying to mimic a complicated PC or console game.”

Blades’ interface gives you just enough info without being intrusive.

Another must: that the game be playable in both landscape and portrait modes (the former with an option for virtual thumbsticks). Though he appreciates each setup, Howard loves how portrait mode lets you “get your Elder Scrolls fix while holding a cup of coffee.”

The Lesson Of Success

The continued popularity of Bethesda’s first mobile game, Fallout Shelter, encouraged the team to stretch. Since its June 2015 launch, Fallout Shelter has had more than 120 million players—more than all of Bethesda’s previous games combined, according to Howard.

“That success told us we could still be ourselves and reach a wide audience, so we shouldn’t hold back—that with Blades, we should go for something much more ambitious.”

Mysterious ruins, sun-kissed forests—they all share that Elder Scrolls vibe.

The result is a game that feels forged from the same enchanted metal as its PC and console siblings.

“The key parts of defining your character, getting quests, exploring and fighting—they’re all there,” Howard says. “Different, but they scratch the same itch.”

    The Elder Scrolls: Blades

    Quest. Create. Conquer.