By Eric Chetkauskas / April 17th, 2015
|Title||Game of Thrones: Episode 1: Iron from Ice
Game of Thrones: Episode 2: The Lost Lords
Game of Thrones: Episode 3: The Sword in the Darkness
|Release Dates||Episode 1: December 2, 2014
Episode 2: February 3, 2015
Episode 3: March 24, 2015
|Platform||PC, Mac, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS, Android|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature|
With Telltale Games having relative success with their episodic video game adaptations of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, it makes perfect sense that they would try their hand at bringing their brand of storytelling to the widely popular and critically-acclaimed Game of Thrones series. Instead of retelling the story featured in the TV show and the book series off of which it’s based, the writers have created an original story with original characters that runs parallel to events of the main plot. I’m not too familiar with Telltale’s other games, so I’m not sure if this is normal behavior for them. However, I am very familiar with Game of Thrones and its universe. I would say that’s actually a good thing when it comes to playing this game.
In fact, while you don’t technically need any knowledge of the series prior to playing, it’s hard to imagine someone who knows nothing of either the show or the books being able to fully grasp what’s at stake and its relation to the grand scheme of things. This is driven home by the fact that characters from the TV series make cameos in the game. It’s hard to take pleasure in making subversive deals with Tyrion, or ticking off Cersei without truly knowing who those characters are. On top of that, the game starts off on the night of a rather fateful wedding that takes place at the end of the TV show’s third season and mentions other events that occur throughout Season Four, meaning that playing the game does spoil the show should a newbie want to go back and watch it.
You play as members of House Forrester, a minor House in the North that were loyal to the Starks in the War of Five Kings. While the Northern army is camped outside during the wedding, you control Gared Tuttle, squire to the Lord of House Forrester. When everything hits the fan, Lord Forrester is killed, but not before giving you an important mission. Styled after the TV show, the episodes of the game change perspective to focus on other characters in various locations. As the story progresses, you can take control of and make decisions for not only Gared, who spends a lot of the story at The Wall, but some of the Forrester children, as well: Ethan, who takes over as the new Lord of the House at their home in Ironrath; Mira, who is a handmaiden for Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing; Asher, who has been exiled to Essos; and one other surprise character I won’t spoil who begins to be relevant in Episode 2.
As Telltale adventure games go, the main gameplay in their Game of Thrones comes in the form of dialogue options and quick-time events. The transition between the two can be somewhat jarring as you can spend one scene analyzing your options and then quickly have to start pressing keys in the next. The required key presses are telegraphed on screen, and, while failure usually results in death and a Game Over, the game is constantly auto-saving, which minimizes the amount of backtracking. The dialogue sections can be tricky themselves. If you’re someone like me who has spent a lot of time playing RPGs and likes to carefully consider all the ramifications to your choices, you’ll find yourself running out of time and saying nothing. Often this is accompanied by a notification that the character “noticed my silence.”
The game also has a way of messing with my mindset. At times, it felt like I was doing things I normally wouldn’t — or, at least, that the character wouldn’t — but, because it’s a game, and playing games has taught me that doing these is necessary for success, I do them anyway. Every adventure game in the past says that you should pick up objects and place them into your inventory if they look useful. However, in this game, I have it in the back of my mind that it’s possible that’s considered theft and may actually damage your relationship with certain other characters, regardless of whether you use the item or not. I haven’t reached those consequences yet in the first three episodes, but it’s something I’m wary of and have been working to try preempt any fallout.
Discussing the story is problematic on two different fronts. First of all, the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of storytelling makes it so that the story can vary vastly based upon your choices. And, while I do have my doubts about how much effect the minor choices have beyond a couple lines of dialogue, there are some major scenes that would never have happened if I hadn’t made the decisions I did. Second, due to the episodic nature of the game, anything said of events taking place in Episode 2 and 3 has the potential to spoil previous plot twists. Episode 1 mainly focuses on setting things up by introducing the player to the Forrester family and important members of the House, their personal and economic struggles and their rival House. Episode 2 follows that by showing the fallout from events in Episode 1, as well as introducing new elements into the mix, even going so far as to give tug or two at the old heartstrings. In the third episode, you start to see some foreshadowing of some major showdowns to come. On top of that, events of the franchise’s main storyline start to interfere with some of the relationships you may have made. In general, I’ve been trying to play things as neutral as possible. Appeasing those who need to be appeased, but standing firm when appropriate while not specifically taking a side until I absolutely have to. And, eventually, you do have to. Episode 3 forces you to make a stand one way or another on a number of occasions and there will be more hard decisions to come.
As a fan of the series, I love the inclusion of established characters in the game. I think it goes a long way to make you feel like you’re actually a part of that world, and not just playing at it. However, I think there is an odd dissonance between the old characters and the new ones that presents itself in unexpected ways. One way is in the visual aesthetic of the game. When seeing a known character on the screen, you become aware of every single imprecision in that character’s design. This is not a critique of the art itself. The CGI artwork is really well done and, for the most part, makes you forget that you’re even playing a game. But throwing something into the mix that has a pre-established look throws things off balance. Then you have the voice acting. The actors hired to play the original characters all do a phenomenal job, but their performances pale in comparison to those who have been playing their character for years and are intimately familiar with them and their motivations.
On Steam — the version I played for this review — only the entire season is for sale and I can see some people put off by its $29.99 price tag, especially when only the first three episodes have been released so far. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, this game really only appeals to fans; I really can’t recommend it as an entry point into the franchise for newcomers. It’s just too heavy-handed with the established lore. For players like myself, however, that’s perfect, as I love games set in a world that have strong background, and there is no series that has a more defined lore than the A Song of Ice and Fire books that spawned this whole phenomenon. Each episode only took a couple of hours to play; I managed to get through all three in the course of one night. Of all the elements in a game like this, story trumps everything else in terms of importance; and Telltale Games has succeeded in creating an amazing story with great characters. I look forward to seeing the final three episodes of the season when they get released, and I hope you will look forward to reading my review of them.
Game of Thrones is available on Amazon:
Game of ThronesGame of Thrones: A Telltale Games SeriesTelltale Games