The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold, Dawnstar, Oblivion — Elder Scrolls on your phone!


I feel like playing an Elder Scrolls game. Nah, too advanced. Still too advanced. That’s more like it! Welcome to Obscuros Ludos; I play obscure
games. These games are completely silent, so, royalty-free
tunes, rescue me! That’s better. In the mid-2000s, phones were getting smarter—not
smart, but smarter—and, in particular, games on phones were booming, particularly in poorer
countries where phones were common, but single-purpose game systems rare. Nokia released a gaming optimized phone, the
N-Gage, which was powerful for its time, with a small array of 3D games, but the N-Gage
is clunky and badly designed, so it was a bit of a flash in the pan. Other phones, what we would now call feature
phones, were nowhere near as powerful, but were far more plentiful, so games on them
spread like wildfire. Not wanting to miss out, Bethesda’s parent
company, ZeniMax Media, pushed one of their other acquisitions, Vir2L Studios, to make
Elder Scrolls games for the platform. Those games became The Elder Scrolls Travels
series, of which there are four: Stormhold, Dawnstar, Shadowkey, and Oblivion Mobile. Well, technically, Oblivion Mobile wasn’t
marketed as an Elder Scrolls Travels game, but it’s usually lumped in, because it was
a mobile game. Shadowkey is the black sheep here, as it was
for the powerful N-Gage, and is far, far more advanced than the others, in spite of being
released before Oblivion Mobile. It could have a whole episode of its own,
so I’m not going to talk about it here. As these were phone games, only Shadowkey
was ever actually sold in a box. To get the others, you would visit their website,
here archived, unfortunately incompletely, by the wonderful archive.org Wayback Machine,
and get instructions for your particular handset and your particular carrier. Nowadays there are emulators, but they tend
to be a bit finicky. I had to fix KEmulator to make Stormhold and
Dawnstar work correctly at all. Because of the complication of actually getting
mobile games at the time, they were never advertised well, and maintained popularity
mostly through the carriers pushing them themselves. But anyway, eventually you figure out how
to throw $5 into the void and buy a game, and what do you get? A masterful reimagining of The Elder Scrolls
in a resource-limited environment? Well, no. We’ll start with Stormhold and Dawnstar. They use the same engine and are quite similar
games, so I’ll explain them both at once. In The Elder Scrolls Travels: [Stormhold/Dawnstar],
you find yourself in [Stormhold prison/Dawnstar city center], which is little more than a
square of tunnels with some characters to talk to. The game is of the style of 1980s RPGs, with
orthogonal movement along tiles which form a maze, using simple pseudo-3D rendering to
present an ineffective illusion of 3D space. In each of the four cardinal directions from
this main hub is a dungeon maze full of enemies. You use a pretty standard array of fantasy
weapons and Elder-Scrolls-ish spells to battle them, but after clearing out one or two dungeons,
are likely to find yourself so over-leveled that simply spamming whatever weapon or spell
you’re most comfortable with will easily kill anything. That’s a good thing, since the spell system
involves cycling, one-by-one, through every spell you know, while the enemy murders you,
making single attacks spamming the only ergonomic thing to do. There are very few sprites, so a lot of enemies
look the same as each other, and the battle system has a lot of randomness to it, so the
distinction between the enemies essentially doesn’t matter anyway. Impressively for a phone game, enemies are
persistent and don’t respawn. But, this does mean that there’s a limit on
the total amount of experience and items available in the entire game. From enemies or in chests you can find [crystals/items]
which let you recover health, magicka or stamina. Stamina is completely pointless since you
recover stamina much more quickly that you could possibly lose it, however, all these
restorative items are eclipsed by the most important [crystal/item] in the game: the
warp [crystal/rune]. The warp mechanic allows you to go back and
forth between the dungeons and a central hub, using either a warp [crystal/rune] or a permanent
warp point found within the dungeon. The warp mechanic is critical for a number
of reasons. First and foremost, because you have a limited
inventory, thus you’ll be spending most of the game filling up your inventory with worthless
spoils, warping back to the hub, selling it all, then warping back to the dungeon again. Also, warp [crystals/runes] cost the same
restorative items, and you can always recover your health or magic in town, so warping subsumes
restorative items entirely. Even without warp, you can camp anywhere,
and while your camp can be interrupted by monsters, that’s fairly rare. And even when it happens, it’s trivial to
either run away or simply defeat the enemies with partial rest. Between warping and camping, the only purpose
to restorative items is that they’re slightly faster than the alternative. You can also save anywhere, appropriately
for a mobile game, but you only get one save slot, so should be careful not to save while
you’re backed into a corner. In each dungeon you find one gift item, such
as a blanket or leg weights, and finding gift items, as well as progress through the dungeons,
unlocks… further dungeons. In each cardinal direction from the hub there
are nine dungeons which unlock in three sets of three. The gift items aren’t just used to unlock
dungeons, though. They’re also used as, well, gifts. There are four trainers who will train you
in the various game skills, one skill for each type of weapon or magic, as a favor in
exchange for these gifts. Many of the gifts are only wanted by certain
trainers, so you have to read their dialogue carefully to know who wants what. That being said, the training mechanic is
largely useless, since you also train each skill by using the skill. Training can, however, bring you from skill
level zero, at which you can’t use a skill at all, to skill level one at which you can
train it yourself, like any other skill. The plot is tied to your progress through
the dungeons, although the only in-game explanation for how the two are related is the natural
passage of time. After fully exploring about thirty dungeons,
you unlock the final challenge, and upon winning are rewarded with a paragraph of plain text. Okay, while Stormhold and Dawnstar are similar,
they’re not identical. In Stormhold, you’re in, well, Stormhold. The Elder Scrolls I: Arena established Stormhold
as a city in Black Marsh, home of the reptilian Argonians, though Vir2L couldn’t be bothered
to actually draw any Argonians for this game. You play as a prisoner in Stormhold prison,
but the game never explains why you’re in prison in the first place. The enemies you find are prisoners, guards,
and overseers, all of which you kill with no remorse, so I assume you’re in for… mass…
murder. Wait, am I the bad guy? Wait, is this supposed to be an Argonian?! Is there supposed to be an Argonian?! It looks like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, if
The Fly had instead been The Lamprey. Oh yes, this handsome fellow is Varus, the
warden of Stormhold prison, who maintains the whole establishment as a labor camp, mining
for crystals. The mining is the excuse this game uses for
dungeons appearing over time. The crystals are warp items, and restorative
items, as well as a sort of unit of barter, as there’s no currency in the prison. There’s a guy who trades items, including
crystals, for crystals, so he’s a useful source of warp crystals, and there’s Helga, our warp
point in the core. After working our way through enough colorfully
named dungeons—Charred Walls, Madknife Halls, Dignity’s Tomb, Priest Hole—we find Varus
and fight him. Two seconds later, after killing him, we recover
the Stormhold Crystal, which has unspecified but important plot powers. Or is it the Storm Crystal? Game can’t make up its mind. With Varus dead, we liberate the prison, and… Wait. I mean, they were still prisoners, surely
they committed… crimes… Why did I liberate them? Again, am I the bad guy? Dawnstar is set in, well, Dawnstar, which
has been established to be in the frozen white north of Skyrim. Stormhold was set in mines, so the tunnelly
look almost makes sense, but Dawnstar just begs for open fields and sky. The governor of Dawnstar has asked us to root
out a traitor from among four heroes. Each hero is found in one of the dungeons,
and, bizarrely, serves as a warp point that we can always warp back to, so they may as
well have just been in town, maybe in jail or something. They also serve as trainers, which were in
the core in Stormhold, but the gift items are far better traded for information, not
training. To figure out who the traitor is, we have
to gather rumors from Eustacia, Dawnstar’s Helga, and then ask each hero a question. Each question tells us about one hero’s interaction
with one rumor, according to another hero, who will be lying if they’re the traitor. In short, what they’ve added to Stormhold
is blue… and Clue. The board game Clue that is, Cluedo in most
of the world. Anyway, once you’ve gotten two rumors, if
you’re clever about what questions you ask, you should always be able to form a series
of logical inferences which are satisfiable with only one answer, and thus can identify
the traitor, which you do from the main menu. If you misidentify the traitor you instantly
lose. If you identify correctly, you have to protect
the city from their troops. That battle is annoying, since they win seemingly
if they kill any townsperson, but you can’t actually see the whole town. So, you have to run around, hoping to catch
them, before they catch anyone else. The final boss is the dreaded Gehenoth! The Gehenoth was also added as a random encounter
when you camp, presumably to nerf the overpowered camping mechanic, but you spend most of the
game so overleveled, even he’s no real threat, whether as camp boss or final boss. When you win, bizarrely, the game tells you
that the governor gave you 3,000 gold, which is nothing compared to the 7,000 I already
collected in the game, and isn’t much used now anyway, since the game is over. Then, that’s that. Game over. Oblivion Mobile is a whole different story. As you might expect, it’s a downport of Oblivion. In fact, it was advertised on a flyer in the
box with a retail copy of Oblivion. On the phone it just calls itself Elder Scrolls—that’s
not confusing—but it is Oblivion. By the way, I played Oblivion Mobile on a
real phone, not an emulator, which is why it looks a bit softer. Oblivion takes a top-down isometric approach,
which has the annoying consequence of Crooked Joystick Syndrome: up on the d-pad is up and
right in the game, etc etc. Also, it has this timing bug that makes movement
get stuck on every emulator and real phone I’ve tested it on. But, that’s the nature of phone games, they
tend to be a bit finicky. I don’t know if this is a real bug or just
a bug that manifests on emulators and modern phones. Anyway, I fixed that bug to give it a fair
chance, and I’ll provide a link to the fixed version in the description below. The biggest problem with the perspective is
just the screen size and how it scrolls though: off-screen enemies can attack you, but the
screen only scrolls when you reach the very edge of the screen. So, it’s often necessary to fight across the
Great Divide of the edge of the screen. Like Stormhold and Dawnstar, beyond that it
mostly involves clicking attack a lot until you win. It does follow the plot of Oblivion, or, more
precisely, it follows a very specific set of plot elements with little to tie them together
but being jerked from location to location. The protagonist doesn’t even get the benefit
of a name, he’s just called Champion. We start as a prisoner—like in Stormhold,
actually… coincidence—when the emperor, escaping cultists, tries to escape through
a secret passage through the sewers, senselessly located in the only occupied prison cell. But, he’s killed on the way. We, the prisoner, are the only survivor, so
he gives us the Amulet of Kings to convince others of what’s happened. And we escape through the passage, after stealing
his clothes to disguise the fact that we’re a prisoner. We have an array of spells and weapons at
our disposal, but one is critical: cure poison. I have never seen a game with more devastating
poison than this one. If you’re poisoned and don’t have the ability
to cure it, you will die, and there are poisoning enemies in the very first area of the game. So, in short: choose a class that comes with
the cure poison spell, or die. Anyway, as we escape out the secret passage,
a civilian tells us about a nest of goblins, introducing the side quest mechanic. This game has four whole side quests! I know it’s exactly that many because the
in-game help says so. And they’re dull and not worth it. To complete this one we have to kill three
goblins and… curse isometric movement down this hallway. Yeehaw. We escape the sewers into town, where we’re
immediately accosted by Jauffre, who’s… also in cosplay as the Emperor?! “Why do you wear the robes of the Emperor?” Why do you wear the robes of the Emperor,
Jauffre?! Why do you wear the robes of the Emperor?! Explain that! Anyway, we convince him that we’re not evil,
he tells us that the only surviving heir is the Emperor’s illegitimate son Martin, who’s
gone galavanting to Hell—erm, Oblivion—so, we follow him to Hell, tell him what’s what,
help him kill some baddies, collect some… Daedric scrota, I guess… and close the Hell
Gate. Then we return to town and condemn the cultists,
while all suspiciously dressed in the same robes, but just ignore that. The overall plot is a hollow version of Oblivion’s:
Mr. Bad wants to eat the world, he’s got a cult to open the gates to Hell, the emperor’s
bloodline has magic inbred power to stop it along with the Amulet of Kings, so let’s work
together and stop Mr. Bad. Why we want to do that as a prisoner isn’t
clear, but, whatever, let’s stop Mr. Bad. This game completely railroads you: you can
never go backwards, you can never revisit an area, and there are only a couple optional
areas in the entire game. When you start a new quest, it gives you an
opportunity to buy supplies, and your only opportunity to save, before continuing on,
but it’s just a menu which you can’t return to voluntarily. So, not only, like in Stormhold and Dawnstar,
are there a limited number of enemies, thus a limited amount of experience, and a limited
number of items, thus a limited economy, but there’s also a limited number of opportunities
to shop and save the game! Along with the disjointed plot, that really
helps to cement the feeling of just being dragged through a story against your will. Oh yeah, the story! Our first stop is the cultists’ hideaway in
the sewers, because the top cultist has stolen the Amulet of Kings. Thanks Jauffre, good job losing it, hero. He immediately peaces out, so we kill his
henchmen and grab his book. It turns out to be instructions on teleporting
oneself to a paradise realm, so with Martin’s help to decode it, we go on three fetch quests. One, some random crystal with no further relevance
than being a fetch quest, the Azura’s Star, guarded by a troupe of dancing trolls. Two, the blood of a god, which turns out to
actually be the blood of a king who ascended to godhood, but let’s not argue Christology
and the hypostatic union here. Three, the Grand Welkynd Stone, which, like
the Azura’s Star, is just a magic doodad with no explanation for why it’s important. We have to solve some extremely simple puzzles:
flip levers from east to west, return the sun totem before the moon totem, but in each
case the game actually railroads you into the right solution! Only the correct item is interactable, so
it’s impossible to screw up the puzzles! Great job on the puzzle design, guys! Anyway, we bring back all this crap, we confront
the top cultist in his paradise realm and retrieve the Amulet of Kings, we discover
that he’s already released Mr. Bad, so we have to use the power of Martin’s inbreeding
and the Amulet of Kings to stop him. That is to say, we have to make it to a door
before a bunch of enemies kill us. When we get there, we’re rewarded with a paragraph
of text and the final credits. Oblivion Mobile is the shortest of these games,
but only because it drags you through the plot at lightning pace. At least, unlike Stormhold and Dawnstar, it
does have a plot. Oblivion Mobile might be worth playing just
to see how they massacred the source material, but neither it nor Stormhold or Dawnstar advances
the overall plot of The Elder Scrolls in any interesting way, and none of them are actually
fun to play at all. And, to make a comparative point, there actually
are good games for feature phones: the phone downport of BioShock is incredible, and some
of the Tomb Raider games for phones are perfectly passable Prince of Persia knockoffs. Plus, of course, there are plenty of decent
original games on the platform. The platform isn’t the problem here: the Elder
Scrolls games for feature phones just aren’t good games. But, they are games, and I don’t regret playing
them, I’ve played them so you don’t have to. I hope you enjoyed this look at some obscure
games. If you did, do leave a like below, and if
you want to see more obscure games, subscribe. If you’d like to see my full playthrough of
these games with commentary, there are links in the description below, as well as links
to some of the other obscure games I’ve played. If you have a suggestion for an obscure game
you’d like to see me play or review, or just want to say hi, leave a comment. Thank you for watching, Obscura Manete.

Comments 10

  • A very good video

  • Well this was certainly a thing.

  • I like the intensity your voice carries in this.

    Also, it's a bit bizarre that they went in that direction in the first place; it's not like mobile phone RPGs can't be good (I've heard a lot of good things about Doom RPG), but none of these games really have a concept they want to assert.

    Even Kingdom Hearts V-Cast tries to replicate the PS2 game to some degree, and there's some legitimately cool concepts in there like a battle against snake!Jafar.

  • These were… approximations of the elder scrolls games. I can say that the Oblivion Phone game did follow a lot of the main questline of the Elder Scrolls Oblivion. But they missed the battle for Bruma in which your character went into the great oblivion gate to get a great sigil stone to open the portal to paradise. However, considering the player needed to complete that quest in 15 minutes, that was… probably for the best. No way would a timed mission have worked in the phone game.

    Though they did manage to approximate the tedium of selecting and casting spells in the main games, at least the main games prior to oblivion. ……that's not a good thing though.

  • Эх! На современные мобилочки бы всё это.)))

  • 13:37
    Insert one Spiderman pointing at another Spiderman meme.

  • If you ever want to mess with youtube's algorithms, i was recently made aware of a cyberpunk 2020 feature phone game that takes place in the same universe as 2077

  • This was actually a really great video. How do you not have more subscribers?

  • Amazing video dude.

  • Dude this video is so perfect!!! You deserved thousands of subscribers!!!

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