The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey- The Franchise Black Eye
The open world portable adventure Bethesda doesn't want you to see.
Most long-standing video game franchises have a mistake (or three) that publishers care to ignore. For ZeniMax Media and Bethesda's popular Elder Scrolls series, that is without question The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey, the poorly received 3D adventure for Nokia's ill-fated N-Gage.
Coincidentally released on November 11, 2004 (Betheda's upcoming The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, also debuts November 11), Shadowkey is essentially a pint-sized Elder Scrolls that fits in your pocket.
In fact, it has most of the trimmings that make for a quality open world adventure. The game lets you create a character using multiple races, including mainstays like the Dark Elf and Khajiit, paired with classes such as Barbarian, Sorcerer and Thief.
In addition, you're free to go wherever you wish, traversing such areas as Dragonstar, Snowline and Azra's Crossing, interacting with a variety of characters along the way and going on quests to find treasure and slaughter different monsters.
Suffice to say, the fact sheet must have given members of the press reason to hope.
Such hopes were dashed, of course, the moment they laid their eyes on the final product, a mess of a game that had no business on the N-Gage, without question the worst handheld (at the time) to host an Elder Scrolls video game.
First, Shadowkey looks horrendous. N-Gage could barely handle 3D, and it showed with pixilated environments and textures straight out of the 90s. The fact that it was displayed on the system's narrow screen (a vertical rectangle) only made matters worse.
Second, you could only see roughly ten feet in front of you, and the game suffered from pop-up, where objects suddenly appeared from nowhere. That, combined with the lack of an in-game map system made completing quests a bit difficult, as in borderline impossible.
As for the combat, you should already guess how much fun it was, as in it wasn't. Using the N-Gage's terrible d-pad and number keys to fight paled in comparison to a good old-fashioned mouse and keyboard (or two analog sticks). Lining up enemies was an exercise in frustration, while direct hits sometimes failed to register, making it difficult to know if that monster was close to death or tapped out on health.
Shadowkey's lone bright spot was its music, which carried the familiar Elder Scrolls theme that you'll hear in Skyrim. Aside from that, this was an insult to video games and a boneheaded decision by ZeniMax Media, especially since PSP and DS, both of which smoked the N-Gage in terms of power, were on the horizon.
Unlike most old school games, though, this one won't (and should never) receive a reboot.