This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on April 28th 2015.
Much like their acclaimed spin-off of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games’ adaptation of HBO’s Game of Thrones is an episodic action-adventure game, that emphasizes player-directed narrative. You take control of five members of the Forrester house, a family of minor nobility and bannermen to the north (mentioned just once, in passing in George R. R. Martin’s novels). The story concerns a typical Westeros power struggle, complete with shocking character deaths, intricate politics, complex family trees and arranged marriages. An extra little bonus however, is that the events of the narrative overlap with key moments from the show. Sitting on the sidelines of pivotal affairs like a Ye Olde Forrest Gump, the player will witness (but not partake in) incidents ranging from the Red Wedding to other Spoiler-Territory occurrences. With this also come guest appearances from familiar characters, with Lena Headey, Natalie Dormer, Peter Dinklage, Iwan Rheon, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke all reprising their roles from the series.
In terms of gameplay, things remain much the same as in The Walking Dead. Combat essentially takes the form of glorified quick-time-events and players will get to explore areas to collect items and discover secrets etc. But the main focus remains on choice. The result is less a game, and more like one of those “choose your own adventure” books.
What sets Game of Thrones apart though, is that these decisions don’t boil down to the usual ultimatum of “be an evil dick or be an altruistic saint”. The player is never faced with decisions as black and white as “donate all your money to the orphanage, or burn it down with the kids still inside”. Players are instead confronted with complex decisions that can be really thought-provoking at times and there are several instances in each episode, where you may find yourself truly conflicted about which course of action to take.
The same generally extends to the dialogue trees, which cover a wide range of responses, including the always valid, and often awkward “say nothing” option. What’s vital here is that, instead of being able to predict the result of each choice, you’ll actually panic about saying the right thing. With simplistic binary oppositions ditched in favour of choices that are much more nuanced, you just might end up being genuinely immersed. This is perhaps best epitomized during a courtship scene which relies on more deliberation than just ‘pick the flirty option’, like in Mass Effect or Dragon Age (the latter of which went as far as to provide a patronizing heart icon next to the corresponding choice, should human interaction prove too confusing for you).
As in The Walking Dead, distressing time-limits are imposed on decisions, necessitating quick thinking in order for you to make your choices. This gives conversations an exciting edge and before long you’ll find yourself negotiating tricky exchanges at an increasingly quickfire pace, a prospect that’s just as tense as anything in Call of Duty. It’s a clever gameplay mechanic, and works to add a sense of urgency to proceedings, however these deadlines are oddly inconsistent. Seemingly major decisions are sometimes required to be made before you even have chance to recognize what you’re responding to, whilst at other times you’re given a leisurely period merely so that you can make the distinction between saying “Hi, hey and ‘sup”.
Regrettably the little niggles don’t stop there, as there’s a strangely distinctive amount of audio glitches. Entire scenes passed where I wasn’t too sure if I had accidentally sat on the mute button, with either the dialogue, FX, music, or all of the above conspicuously absent. The effect is curiously surreal, lending a comical atmosphere to what otherwise would have been thrilling sequences. One particularly memorable encounter towards the beginning of Episode 3, involved a dragon imposingly revealing itself, towering over everything on screen, only for it to not make a single sound. So nonplussed was my character, that he too forged exerting his vocal chords and opted instead to simply escape via an unintentionally hilarious, silent run off camera. Generally the whole package lacks a proper kind of polish, as evidenced by ugly texture pop-up, frequently unrendered environments and frame rate issues.
However as a story-oriented experience, Game of Thrones more than lives up to its ambition. It’s a relief to find that the characters and narrative strands are as engaging as those on the show and the entire thing successfully captures the essence of its source fantastically. Be it in the faithful reconstruction of settings, or just the odd moment of fan service, like the recreation of the iconic title sequence (complete with Ramin Djawadi’s epic theme), this feels just right. Joining the likes of the recent South Park: The Stick of Truth, Alien Isolation and Shadow of Mordor, Game of Thrones is a respectful adaptation that does justice to its namesake.
RATING: 8/10- Annoying technical issues aside, this is a must-play for fans of narrative driven games and indeed the show upon which it is based.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series (Episodes 1-3) are available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, and PlayStation 3