First of all, I should make clear that this is a game for fans. There’s almost no effort made to introduce the world and its characters, and the main selling point is the opportunity to interact with several characters from the show (as voice acted by the shows actors, to a consistently high standard). If you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones, and specifically the TV show, this unapologetically isn’t for you. If you do like the show, though, read on. It’s pretty great.
(The game is, I mean. The review, as always, is little more than the prattling of a living warning against the rum and pizza diet)
It kicks off with the season three finale. The big Robb Stark/Walder Frey wedding that famously got a little rough. Playing as a squire to the lord of House Forrester (famed by precisely one mention by Asha Greyjoy) who in turn is a bannerman to a bannerman to the Starks which, you might remember, is exactly the wrong side of that particular pissup. It’s when that party turns to shit that the plot begins. As an intro it works, giving the player a nice sense of impending doom but not quite letting them actually do anything with the foreknowledge. As an intro, it works well enough.
Because, of course, this isn’t the whole package yet. This is part one of a six episode “series”, released (if all goes well) monthly. A weird thing to share with the show it’s based off, but this is Telltale’s way, and since they don’t have too many competitors for “decent GoT game”, they get away with it.
Thankfully, it’s not the only thing it shares with the show.
It’s fun, in that particular way trying to find polite ways to beg for your life is fun, and easy to recommend to fans of the show. If you’ve ever wanted to hang out with Margaery or have the opportunity to call Cersei a bitch you’ll have it here. (I say “have the opportunity” because you won’t actually do it. Like a lot of people, I wussed out at flat out treason because I like the way my neck works, all intact and such.)
In terms of actual gameplay, it’s actually pretty interesting, split up as it is between quick time events and conversations. (And I know that sounds like the worst possible idea, but bear with it.) The quick time evens don’t feel like fully fledged gameplay, rather they seem to be an easy shortcut to keeping the player’s attention, making sure they don’t go make a sandwich during one of the more apparently directionless moments. It’s perhaps a little more predictable than the GRR martin’s usual excellence, but the pace manages to do away with that. Sitting down to think about what’s likely to happen when two characters meet might well let you predict the plot, but thanks to the quick thinking most of the conversations require means you’ll be too busy guessing what the murderous lunatic du jour wants to hear that you won’t have the time to actually do that amount of detective work.
In many ways, that’s its greatest strength. There’s always a lot of hurrah about Telltale games when they come out about whether or not they’re games. Honestly, it’s not something that troubled me, but I’m the kind of lunatic that found something to enjoy about “Mountain”, which was basically a simulated topiary Everest. Even so, there’s very little doubt in my mind that they deserve the title, even if the gameplay itself is novel. It’s a choice simulator, a kind of “navigating absurd social situations” trainer, with requiring a quick wit and a decent awareness of who you’re talking to and what you want out of them to stay ahead. The criticism that they don’t offer a huge amount of choice is perhaps a fair one, but it’s never really bothered me. The average game might ask you to choose between sword and bow, plate and leather, but at the end your enemies are just as dead. Interestingly, I think that’s what makes these games, or whatever you want to call them, so powerful. While in Dragon Age Making a dumb decision might mean you have to fight your way through some extra guys, you can overcome basically anything the game throws at you with enough skill at arms. Here, especially during the portion where you play a 12 year old kid, that’s not an option. And by taking away that option, it makes the choices left to you all the more meaningful.
With only the first episode released it may well turn out that it doesn’t matter. That the problem a lot of these things inevitably face. There’s a lot of balls in the air, a lot of terrible shit that might happen, and a lot of choices made that don’t mean shit just yet. Now, Telltale might tie it all together. Stranger things have happened, and this is their one goddamn focus, so the odds are looking good, but until we’ve seen where this is going we can’t know.
And part one has done enough to make sure I’ll be playing part two, at least.
GAME OF THRONES
Developer: Telltale Games
Released: December 2nd 2014
Score: 6/9 Hammers