Making a video game based on a highly successful series of fantasy books would be challenge enough for any developer, but Cyanide must have felt a tremendous amount of pressure when that series became a major hit for HBO. Suddenly, they weren’t just making a game for a small group of devoted book fans, but were making a game which had to appeal to a large audience of TV show watchers. This is apparent in the game which, bar a few voice actors and the main theme, reflects a world dissimilar to the TV show.
The game’s narrative is split between our two main characters: the estranged Red Priest Alester Sarwyck, returning home from Bravoos to attend his Father’s funeral in Riverspring, and Mors Westford, a Night’s Watchman able to shift his consciousness into his unnaturally ugly dog. This clever narrative technique not only has the effect of mirroring the style of the books, but it also helps to keep the story interesting. This is particularly useful for the opening two hours, in which the story takes a back-seat to introducing the setting and game-play mechanics. After this initial hump, the story becomes oddly compelling, as our characters’ stories inevitably intertwine. It is no easy feat to write a story running parallel to a highly successful novel (in this instance, the story runs parallel to A Game of Thrones), which by its nature is not allowed to have any major impact on the overall universe. It is by far the game’s biggest strength, that it does a satisfying job of pulling off this feat.
Video games are not novels, and that simple fact does not help the Game of Thrones RPG. A story cannot be separated from its execution, and here we find that execution somewhat lacking. Much of the dialogue is simplistic, and the delivery of the voice actors is often basic and lifeless. Our two main characters show too little variation in tone throughout the game, and this seriously hurts its potential. Occasionally, we hear voices from a few mainstays of the television series, but with the exception of Conleth Hill (who voices Lord Varys in the HBO show), these performances add little weight to the overall formula. This is a shame as the dialogue system itself is quite an intelligent one: the game features a dialogue wheel system which allows you to choose response options, based on the thoughts of your character. It’s a shame to see it stunted by occasionally weak dialogue, and more than occasionally weak delivery.
The ASOIAF universe is a morally ambiguous one, and as a result it is pleasing to see that the developers have not attempted to shoe-horn an overt morality system into the game. Instead, as your learn quickly from quashing a riot in Riverspring on your return, there are really no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ options in the game, just a recognition that when you are placed in a position of responsibility, you have no choice but to make a choice. The game possibly takes this too far by embracing a bit too much of the grim darkness of the books, without counter-balance, but it is nevertheless a valid attempt at recreating the moral tone of the original work.
Combat takes major cues from Bioware titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, with your parties’ actions being queued from a radial menu. The developers add a few interesting touches to this formula, which help to hide its age. The most immediately apparent is that actions have a combinational effect, so for instance, you might use an action with one character that causes a character to bleed, and an action with another character that does more damage while a character is bleeding. This adds some variety to the gameplay, but is limited by how easy it is to find a pattern that works and sticking to it. Bringing up the radial menu of actions slows down time, rather than pauses it entirely, which helps to bring a level of intensity to the combat which stops it from becoming too mundane an exercise. Even the best combat system would struggle to seem compelling against countless similar enemies.
The world is well designed so as to be situated firmly in the ASOIAF universe. From the off-set you are made aware that you are not in a generic fantasy setting, but are instead at Castle Black in the shadow of the suitably impressive wall. This continues throughout the game, as your characters make their way through a world that is clearly Westeros. It is a testament to the passion of the developers that the world feels like it belongs to the books. Unfortunately, that world is heavily marred by dated graphics, with stretched textures and sub-par animations, rendering the game on par with titles early in the current console generation. The resulting world is one that will feel familiar to fans of the books or television, but feels rushed and fails to live up to its potential.
There is something at the heart of this game which fans of the series will be able to enjoy, but only if they are able to look past some glaring issues. A compelling story is marred by poor dialogue and voice acting, an interesting combat system is hampered by repetitive enemies and a well realised world is stunted by dated graphics, lifeless areas and occasional technical hiccups. The result is a product hard to recommend to anyone beyond hardcore fans desperate for any piece of story set in the ASOIAF universe.
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