I’ll insert a necessary spoiler warning here: If you haven’t read George R. R. Martin’s saga, watched HBO’s Game of Thrones (seasons 1-5) or actually played through the Telltale Games’ episodic adventure then why are you here? Go and immediately read, watch and play everything you possibly can to do with Game of Thrones – though, be careful watching season 4, episode 8: The Mountain and the Viper; *shudders* the ending of that still gives me nightmares. Other than that, this review may contain mild spoilers of the season one’s contents and blah, blah, blah.
So let’s start our Telltale adventure at the end of the (TV series’) epic season three finale – a move that makes all prior Game of Thrones fans squeal and relive the intense bloodshed and terror that’s taking place just out of sight. Yes, we begin our adventure in the Stark-sworn camping grounds of the Red Wedding and just like inside those tainted stone walls, blood is quickly shed as the Stark supporters become caught up in a violent massacre. This is where we meet those of House Forrester of Ironrath: a stubborn, brave family who meet a great deal of misfortune in their time. In this adventure we meet a cluster of new characters and villains, as well as revisiting some we’ve grown to love or hate over the course of the seasons, including Jon Snow, Margaery Tyrell, Cersei and Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, all of whom are voiced by the original cast.
As I’d expressed in my review of Tales from the Borderlands, I was surprised Telltale decided to fashion a game based of the ever-popular series purely because it was another pseudo-serious plot, and on top of having a large following, it’ll also have a lot of pressure to live up to current standards and be constantly compared to its counterparts. From a business point of view, Telltale Games did the right thing by hopping on the GOT bandwagon, however the risk was that it would always clash a tad with The Walking Dead franchise in performance and art style. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Telltale’s art style, though utterly gorgeous, is best used in the ways of The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands; bright colours twinned with dull colours, lights with dark, bold with mild, the art of contrast is their strength. With a series like this there will be times where the environment is gorgeous but other times where a lot of it will merge together in pallid greys and washed-out blues and yellows. Though, I won’t deny that Telltale Games has captured the essence of Westeros and the lands across the Narrow Sea beautifully, and I will certainly not ignore the amount of work that’s gone into making it look as similar aesthetically to the HBO series as possible.
With the ever-prominent pressure of expectation I think there’s one thing Telltale replicated for certain in their rendition and that was character building. It’s great, don’t get me wrong I’d rather have a three-dimensional character than a two-dimensional write-off, but I think they might have underestimated the amount of time needed to reach the desired conclusion. The first episodes were a bit like getting through a Stephen King novel: there’s so much description and detail that you become almost overwhelmed. I know that this game was supposed to be more about politics than action and violence but there’s a limit, as many gamers will know, and with an episodic adventure especially you need to progress the story fast enough that you don’t feel cheated or worse, bored, by the end of each episode. Unfortunately that’s how I felt after my saved games had been erased by some misfortune – I don’t know whether this was due to an update or just serious bad luck – I lost my play-through of the first four seasons and just couldn’t be bothered to play through them all again until I had to, despite how much I liked the characters.
What Telltale Games have started to show in their products is that their representation of cause-and-effect is growing with each game. Where The Walking Dead: Season One had very mild choices, to work their way up to where we are now is really showing improvement within the company, and I’ve been a Telltale fan for years. In most cases the choices still don’t affect the outcome massively but it makes me curious to see what the fates of each character will have in season two. Obviously when you read the title of the game you know there will be a lot of deaths so I needn’t warn you that, yes, people die in this game – a lot of people – what’s interesting to me is the fate of those who die in one instance but live in another play-through and what their role is in the next season.
Rather than a game where choices alter the course of the story, it’s more of an interactive comic and each choice opens up a slightly different path of dialogue. Ultimately the ending is the same, only small fragments are changed – this person dies or this person dies; this person lives or this person lives – some people die regardless and the conclusion is always the same. Old habits die hard, I guess, but with a game that has the promise of multiple seasons dependant on what happens in the first one I can understand why the decisions have to be somewhat reserved, otherwise the web of choices would be enormous.
Well done again to the writers in providing a well-written and true-to-form script and to the voice actors who brought the dialogue to life, both well-known and newbie. Apart from its slow character building Game of Thrones was an interesting story to explore. Ignoring its fantastical beasts and landscapes, it has a deep, human morality that needs to be addressed in game, where you have to decide whether to throw friends into the lion’s den to save your own skin or go down with teeth bared and fists swinging. It’s something I didn’t recognise at first, but the more I thought about the decisions the more I realised they were mostly a judge of one’s ethics. You’re suddenly in a world where your story probably won’t have a happy ending; where the bad guy doesn’t get his comeuppance; where the good guys die horrible, meaningless deaths – and that, in some ways, is utterly terrifying.
There’s so much more that could be said to compare it to the TV show and the book but as a video game it was risky. Telltale Games saw and opportunity and took it and for the most part I think it’s paid off. Unfortunately for my own experience I played Game of Thrones straight after I’d played Tales from the Borderlands which just turned into one of my favourite games of all time so it’s unfair in a way for me to play such a serious game after something so gloriously ridiculous. I do think some things would need to be addressed for a second season; pacing being a major issue; and by the end of my play-through in stark comparison (no pun intended) to my feelings after Tale from the Borderlands I really wasn’t jumping at the opportunity to replay Game of Thrones for different endings. I couldn’t really be bothered to sit through that entire story again, despite how well the characters worked together. That result, for me, was a little disappointing and fairly evident that something may have been wrong from a consumer point of view.
Despite its mild pacing issues and occasional technical glitches, Game of Thrones is a wonderful representation of the gruesome HBO series and captures the harsh, unforgiving nature of the show that continues to shock all of us. It’s reinstated the GOT mottos: ‘there is no such thing as a happy ending’, and, ‘don’t get too attached to characters…because they’ll probably die…horribly’.
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