Game of Thrones is a series that should by all rights lend itself well to the world of videogames, but until now the only proper respect the series has gotten has been in mods made for Crusader Kings 2. The appeal of the series isn’t so much the blood, violence and sex, but rather than political machinations that drive those actions, the grim despair, the moments of passion and heat that lead characters to brash action. The game opens outside the Red Wedding, an event that had such a huge impact on viewers and readers alike because of the underlying humanity and unfairness of it all. It’s an event that didn’t so much change the game as remind everyone that the fantasy world of Westeros wasn’t as concerned with good triumphing over evil as most fantasies are.
Iron From Ice introduces the Forresters, a family who are, I’m told, spoken of very briefly in the fifth book in the series. The game assumes knowledge of the TV show, bringing in several of the actors and visually replicating every familiar character, to such an extent that you would be utterly lost if you were unfamiliar with the world. While Telltale made plenty of concessions for non-fans of The Walking Dead, Fables and Borderlands, this is a game that caters solely to existing fans…which, to be fair, there are a great many of out there. There’s very little effort made to catch people up on the various families and alliances.
This may be disappointing to Telltale fans who don’t want to go and find out who Roose and Ramsay Bolton are before delving into another series, but if you’re familiar with the world being dropped right into it is exciting, and depressing in all the right ways. Knowing how Westeros works means that your choices – and this is, like all of Telltale’s recent efforts, very much a game about making choices – are being made on a different moral compass to the choices you would usually make in a game like this.
I agonised over which choices to make here more than I have in the opening episode of any other Telltale game. Whether or not the implications of your actions ultimately add up to a game-changing event down the track doesn’t matter so much – the key here is to think things through in the moment, to know what it’s like to be in the shit with everyone else in this world. The game jumps you between three different playable characters, allowing you to craft out distinct personalities and struggles for each of them.
Gared, a Forrester squire who is present at the Red Wedding, gets a pretty raw deal throughout the episode, and it’s up to you how well he takes it. Mira, handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, gets some interesting interactions with a slightly waxen Natalie Dormer facsimile and gets to meet Cersei and Tyrion, although the exchange there is oddly wooden. Most interesting in this episode is Ethan Forrester, the newly appointed teenaged head of the Forrester clan. The choices you make here seem to have the widest implications going forward, and being thrust into the shoes of a child ruler with good intentions makes for an incredibly sympathetic position.
On one level, this is Telltale at their best. On another though, they’re trying to match up with one of the best shows on television, and that’s difficult. The painterly art style they’ve employed often looks good, but sometimes faces don’t look right, and background details blur in weird, distracting ways, meaning that visually the game is all over the place. Areas in the game always feel severely underpopulated compared to the extras-heavy show, and references to events and places important to the show, while mostly well integrated, sometimes feel just a little shoehorned.
But when it comes to what Telltale does best – forcing you to make difficult choices – A Game of Thrones is already excelling. The ending of the episode is a real knockout, but also a reminder that the real value of your choices is what you feel in the moment you make them. This is Game of Thrones, and bad things are going to happen regardless. The world is captured well, and the grime and muck you’re going to be asked to crawl through over the next five episodes is laid bare. The best thing about this game’s first episode is how true to the series it feels – if it maintains this level of quality, this will be a must-play for fans.
James “Jickle” O’Connor is a freelance games critic, journalist and occasional editor, based in South Australia. His favourite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and he is absurdly, comically rubbish at most fighting games (except for Killer Instinct on the SNES, which was, incidentally, the first game he ever owned). He has huge soft spots for point and click adventure games, third-person shooters, and Deus Ex.
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