Preface: Telltale’s Game of Thrones starts set approximately towards the end of Season 3 of Game of Thrones and finishes towards the end of Season 4. In order to talk about the game this review will possibly contain spoilers for both seasons and thus also contain spoilers for A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows.
You know what, instead of doing the exact same intro I did when reviewing Tales from the Borderlands, let me change the format a little here in order to instantly complain about something. Why the FUCK is it just called Telltale’s Game of Thrones? Now I have to fucking say the developer’s name every time I say the game JUST to distinguish it from the TV show (and that’s not even taking into account that most people these days associate “Game of Thrones” with the TV show rather than the actual fucking books). It’s even going to be divided up into the usual Telltale “seasons” so when I say, “I just finished Season 1 of Game of Thrones” people will look at me like I’ve just emerged from a cave after having spent the last 10 years living with the mole people.
I mean… Seriously… How hard is it to come up with a new title? “Iron from Ice: A Game of Thrones Game“. There. That wasn’t so fucking hard now, was it (aside from the colon in the middle, so one would have to replace that with a dry-heave)?
Initial irritation aside now I can return to the usual format and you can basically doze off until I say that the story, as always, makes the game entirely worth getting and playing. I mean, am I actually allowed to be annoyed that Telltale are so consistently good at writing their games that I literally can never say anything bad about them? I feel like I ought to be allowed to be annoyed…
In Telltale’s Game of Thrones (see how stupid that looks?) you play as one particular family: the Forresters. Telltale have drawn quite heavily on the style of the books and shows by letting you play several of the characters from the Forrester family, spread out as they are across the world. In exactly the same manner as the books, each character has their own little arcs and stories, only slightly interacting with each other and even then only in a very limited fashion (although that still means a great deal more than in the books).
The Forresters are bannermen of House Stark and as the very start of the game occurs during the Red Wedding, I think you can understand why the game pretty much immediately goes wrong big-time-stylee for the members of the house.
Let me start, however, by saying something totally different to what I said in my TftB review. I personally think that GoT might actually be the best-looking game Telltale have made yet. Admittedly, their game engine is now so old and dusty it wouldn’t look at all out of place on a shelf of books with names like “Necronomicon”, but the cartoon-y and comic-book aesthetic seems to have been slightly toned down for GoT (in direct contrast to TftB where it was clearly turned up) so it actually manages to draw a rather nice line between realistic and stylistic.
The reason for this is almost certainly because of Telltale’s wish to capitalise on the success of the TV shows and throw not only locations from the books and show into the game but also allow you to meet and interact with several well known characters, all played by their respective actors from the TV show. This particular aspect might actually be one of the game’s greatest strengths and weakness in one small package.
It is an obvious strength at times because interacting with certain characters is a real joy to do. The sequences in King’s Landing, where you play as Mira Forrester (the eldest daughter of House Forrester), are some of the best in the game. This is in part due to the fact that Mira is in a position where she is trying to help her beleaguered family through influencing major characters at court, and it actually succeeds in feeling tense and challenging as Mira is forced to dive into the intrigue and diplomacy of court to try and help her family. She is a handmaiden of Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and so may try to obtain the help of the new Queen-in-Waiting. She also has the chance to interact with both Tyrion and Cersei Lannister (Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey) and may try to get help from both of them as well.
So while part of what makes the segments in King’s Landing good is simply that the game succeeds in pulling off the courtly intrigue and political manoeuvring successfully, the other part is that actually interacting with these major characters feels both apt and like great fun. This is made all the better because all three of the actor/actresses put up a rather masterful performance, so interacting with them feels like a pleasure.
There are other major characters who you interact with as well. The Forresters in their ancient home of Ironrath have to deal with repeated visits from Ramsay Snow/Bolton (played by Iwan Rheon) who succeeds in being just as despicable and easy to hate in the game as he is in the show. One of the Forresters (Asher) had been previously banished and lives across the Narrow Sea in Essos and so he briefly interacts with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and a squire from the House is sent to the Wall where he interacts with Jon Snow (Kit Harington).
Unlike the three in King’s Landing, these three characters each have rather distinct problems and are more a hindrance than a help to the game. Ramsay Snow presents the simple problem in that each time he appears you know something bad will happen, but you also know you cannot actually stop him, because he remains alive and well in the show (which is currently well after the events of the game), and so that very-much influences your actions around him. Despite this, he at least seems to have a positive impact on the experience of the game, if not the experience of the characters…
The presence of Jon Snow at the Wall feels kind of tacked on in a obligatory fashion, like Telltale are saying “oh he went to the Wall, I guess he better spend time with Jon”. Daenerys also feels extremely tacked onto the game, for very much the same reason, with the added issue that Emilia Clarke’s performance as a voice actress is absolutely abysmal and is so wooden and emotionless that it broke the immersion absolutely every single time she was on screen.
As well as influencing your actions because you know what the future holds for these characters you interact with another downside for having the big-name characters in the game is that it is very clear that the animators and graphics designers tried very hard to capture their likenesses accurately. While not a problem on its own it becomes an issue when these characters are then placed side-by-side with random NPCs, making them look far more cartoon-y next to the realistic representations of real people. One example of this includes that every single member of the Kingsguard in King’s Landing is always seen to have their helmet on so that their faces can just be one generic “shadowy” face, and so they just seem completely out of place.
Another issue this time comes with the story. While it is, as always, well written, with interesting characters and exceptional dialogue, one cannot help but go through the whole thing while drawing comparisons to the actual Song of Ice and Fire. House Forrester is a noble and well-intentioned house whose head is killed unjustly and subsequently, despite all their best efforts they suffer more and more misfortune at the hands of the jealous and greedy house Whitehill. Replace “Forrester” with “Stark” and “Whitehill” with “Lannister” and really the whole plot seems to mirror that of the books. And so of course the Forresters are all good and noble and supported the Starks and of course the Whitehills are Lannisters to the bone.
Setting the game in Ironrath (a poor man’s Winterfell) also seems very much to just be copying the books, plus it seems that the characters always are making excuses to go to places from the shows (e.g. one of the good-guys being sent to the Wall near the very start and one of the characters beginning across the narrow sea in order to interact with Daenerys).
It just feels a little unimaginative, like the sort of thing a kid would say when playing in the playground. “Okay, and I’ll be Rodrick Forrester, one of Robb Stark’s BEST fighters! He’s exactly like Robb Stark too!” Meanwhile his friend says “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll be Asher Forrester and I’m such an awesome fighter that I’ll fight a dragon and a bunch of soldiers and even impress the Khaleesi!” Part of me just feels that they took an easy route to create enemies and settings, when it might have been more interesting if the game had been set for at least a part in somewhere like The Reach or Dorne, some of the locations which are less well defined than the others from the books and made you enemies with a family which was not so clearly linked with the Boltons and Lannisters.
Speaking of unimaginative, it also amuses me immensely that each episode of the game actually begins with the Game of Thrones theme and a Telltale-style animated version of the Game of Thrones intro. And you recall how I said that the game itself was one of the best looking ones? Well, seeing the difference between Telltale’s intro and the REAL intro (having watched Season 5 basically the week before I played all through the game) makes it seem laughable just how bad it is…
To end on a different note from normal, I have to admit that I am most interested to see how Telltale plan to continue this series. As is the standard with them they have left things completely open-ended so that they can launch another season at some point, but this time I have to say that the endings can vary rather dramatically. Or at least, there are three separate major decisions which vastly affect the endings of each of the game’s primary protagonists. What this makes me wonder is whether the next season will have to focus on other characters because of the rather large differences between these endings, because playing as some of the characters is definitely no longer an option given how variable their aims and location might be depending on what happened.
I also have to admit to being slightly curious about whether or not there will be any references to the events of the game in the actual TV series (as it is obvious that the games more closely follow the TV show than they do the book). I really doubt it, of course, but it would be pretty cool to see some kind of Easter Egg in the show, given that the writers for Telltale’s Game of Thrones consulted with the writers of the show.