It was a couple years before I hopped onto the Game of Thrones bandwagon. My girlfriend insisted that I watch it, so I went through the entire backlog of seasons one through four over the fall and winter. So when I saw that there was a game available on Steam, I bought it for her. Unfortunately, she doesn't have the patience for this game's style of narrative gameplay, and she got bored with it and gave up within an hour. I had hoped that the excitement of new Game of Thrones content would offset the lack of interaction, but I was wrong. So I figured I'd play it in order to get my money's worth, since I'm more tolerant of "interactive movie" games, and I liked Telltale's previous Back to the Future game just fine.
Only the first two episodes (Iron From Ice and The Lost Lords) are currently available, and the remaining four episodes are expected to be released every couple months through the rest of the year.
Telltale is always absolutely dedicated to making their games look and sound like the source material,
right down to the show's stylish (and surprisingly informative) intro sequence for each episode.
As an "interactive movie", Telltale's Game of Thrones title is definitely worthwhile, as it's basically like watching episodes of the series. It adds to the narrative of the TV show by telling the tale of the Forrester house, who (following the events of the show's infamous "Red Wedding") find themselves suddenly under the dominion of the hated rival family, the Boltons. The game requires you to play as a small handful of family members (spread out between Forrester's own Ironrath keep, King's Landing, and the Black Fort) as they seek political alliances in order to protect the Forrester house from the Boltons' tyranny.
Or at least, that's the set-up. In true Game of Thrones nature, it doesn't take long for shit to hit the fan, and for all your expectations to fall apart.
A Game of Quicktime events
The game has very little "action", as most of the focus is on conversation and plotting between characters. So if you're expecting a hack-n-slash game in the style of Skyrim, then you'll have to look elsewhere. Maybe that hack-n-slash game from Focus Interactive is what I should have bought for my girlfriend. Or maybe not...
Even the more intense action segments of the game (such as battles or brawls) require very little interaction or decision-making from the player. Most of the time, it's just an elaborate quick-time event, requiring you to complete the scene by just following on-screen prompts.
Once you get comfortable with the commands, action sequences require virtually no thought or skill from the player.
The action sequences were quite challenging at first, because they required the use of mouse commands and the arrow keys and other keyboard commands. And I only have two hands. Alternating between the mouse and arrow keys on the keyboard was a challenge, until I realized that the W,A,S, and D keys can be substituted for the arrow keys. Then the action sequences became trivially easy.
These sequences were extremely disappointing because of the lack of active participation from the player. The open exploration and puzzle-solving from Back to the Future is almost completely gone, so most of the game's challenges are just trial-and-error tests of keyboard and mouse dexterity, rather than an actual game.
Open exploration and puzzle-solving is almost completely absent, making the game very passive - and boring.
There are a few places where you do get more control over the character and can move around the environment and interact with characters and objects. But these always take place in very small spaces, and all of the interactions are just "look at this thing" events that you don't actually do anything with.
A Game of Talking
But then again, Game of Thrones isn't really about action, is it? It's about political intrigue and interactions between characters. So for Telltale to focus on political intrigue is much more faithful and accurate to the show. So most of the game is about dialogue between characters.
The primary challenge of the game seems to be for the player to try to use build up alliances with other major players in order to protect the Forrester house. You do this through conversation with other characters, including some of the show's major players (such as Tyrion Lannister, Margaery, and John Snow). Conversations use pretty standard dialogue trees, in which you chose one of three or four responses to another character's dialogue. Depending on your choices, other characters may like your character more, or become angry with you.
True to its source material, the game is about playing characters against each other and seeking alliances.
Dialogue options come with a timer that puts pressure on the player to respond quickly. Failing to make a selection in time results in the player character remaining stoic, which could upset the person that you're talking to. You don't have the liberty of delaying indefinitely while thinking about the consequences of what you say. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from just pausing the game to think about your answer.
Subtitles move around the screen when choices are presented, which is confusing and distracting.
The subtitles are pretty annoying during the dialogue segments, since they move around on the screen when player choices show up. Having text randomly moving around the screen can be confusing and distracting. You'll eventually get used to it, but the distraction might result in you making early choices that you don't actually want to make.
The end goal, it would seem, is to create alliances with other characters so that they will help you when you need them. Unfortunately, most of your choices in the early episodes feel very futile, and there is a growing sense over this time that your decisions don't really have any meaning.
Characters that are supposed to die will still die no matter what choices you make, and most (if not all) plot points will happen regardless of your choices. Perhaps, everything will come together later in the end, and your choices will finally pay-off in the last couple episodes. But for the first two episodes (all that was available at the time of this writing), the story is very rigid, and player actions just cause the story to meander slightly in between pre-set major plot points.
Despite these limitations, the inter-character drama is fairly compelling, and it's fun to interact with the characters from the show. Virtually spitting in the face of Ramsey Snow or earning the praise of Tyrion Lannister can bring about a nerdy giddiness for fans. The actors all do a fine job of adapting their characters from the show to the game (some more than others). These moments with the show's characters are relatively few and far between, but they are satisfying.
The game is also well integrated into the narrative of the show. It expands upon background events that the show doesn't go into detail about, and develops families and characters that we have heard about, but never seen on the show. There are plenty of references to events in the show that help to put the game in context, and it does really feel like it could be part of the show. I'm not sure if any of the events of the game are adaptations of events from the book, and if so, whether they are accurate. It would be interesting if future episodes of the show ever make reference to the events of the game(s), as this would be a nice little easter egg for those of us who made the investment.
There is also a handy Codex that provides bios for the Forrester characters so that you can keep everybody straight in your mind. It's annoying to navigate, but it's there. And the opening title sequence provides a good sense of where the game is happening in relation to the relevant locations from the show.
Telltale has no reservations about violence and gore [LEFT],
but they seem to be shying away from the sexual content that the show is so well-known for
(look all you want, but her clothes aren't coming off [RIGHT]).
The game does feel strangely reserved for something based on Game of Thrones though. Sure, there's plenty of violence and some gore, but the developers have chosen to keep the game (at least the first two episodes) very PG-13. I didn't notice any outstanding vulgarity in the language, and there has so far been no sex or nudity. But these are mostly superficial differences, since the series really sells itself on its writing and characters rather than the novelty of its frequent soft-core pornography.
What's more disappointing is that the game's writing and dialogue just isn't as sharp or clever as the show's. I'm not sure if Telltale is trying to dumb it down for what it perceives to be a less intelligent gaming audience, but characters seem to be much more willing to spell things out.
Despite the dull gameplay and seeming futility of player choices, that actual narrative is still decent. The deceit, dysfunction, and death that makes the show so popular is all present in the game. It makes for a decent episode of the show that is still worth seeing for fans.
So if you're a fan of the show (and who isn't?), and are jonesing for new episodes, then that might be enough to justify giving this game a run-through. But it might be a good idea to wait until all six episodes are released before making the investment, since it might get better as the episodes progress.