Hello there and welcome to Garrett’s Games where I play games and my name is Garrett. This is my review of Game of Thrones, the latest title released just yesterday by Telltale Games.
First up, spoiler warning for the VIDEO. I will not be spoiling anything in my review but, of course, my gameplay footage is playing on the screen. So if you want the review without spoiling the story, just don’t look at the screen, minimize it, do whatever you want.
This game is of course based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. It was licensed by HBO and not Martin’s publisher. This means it looks and feels very much like the TV show. And I’m a big fan of that, because I think the show’s aesthetic is absolutely fantastic.
However, it’s not based on any storyline in the show. Nor is it really based on any storyline in the books. The game focuses on a minor house in Westeros, one never really focused on in the main story. This allows them the creative freedom to tell a completely new story within the world without worrying about messing up canon, although as you’ll see there are appearances by many of the series’ favorite characters, all of whom are voiced by the actors who play them in the show. And the characters in the game look just like the actors in the show as well, which is absolutely fantastic when Natalie Dormer shows up.
So what exactly is this game? Well, although you are playing a role in the story it’s hard to call it an RPG, since that genre is associated with many conventions that are not present in this game.
It’s best to think of it as a sort of serialized storytelling adventure in which you’re able to play a minor role, but a role nonetheless. Though you’re lead through the story by the nose, Telltale has done a great job of giving you just enough control to get emotionally invested in your character. This means that when inevitably bad things happen to them, because this is Game of Thrones, after all, you are devastated—which, of course, is exactly how any Game of Thrones game should make you feel.
Now you’ll note that I said “serialized” there. That is because this game, the one that has released and that I played, is only the first episode of five. Telltale has promised to release another episode every five to eight weeks, and you get them ALL for the up-front price of $29.99 at the time of this review. I’ve seen some people worried that this game only has about two hours of content per playthrough, and $29.99 is a damn high price for a two-hour game. But no, you’ll get about ten hours of content in the end, and that’s without ANY replay, and I can tell you, you’re going to be tempted to replay this game, although I’ll discuss later whether you actually SHOULD.
What are the game mechanics? Primarily, the game mechanics are dialogue selection. You get to choose what to say in response to the people who speak to you throughout the story.
There are other, minor mechanics, such as clicking on objects and mashing the WASD keys, with minor scenes where you can actually walk around, but to be honest, it’s all about choosing what you say. Your words have a BIG impact on how people react to you, although not necessarily how the story plays out, as we’ll see in a moment.
Now as far as mechanics go, this is not as extensive as my normal gaming fare, however it feels COMPLETELY appropriate to the Game of Thrones universe. A Song of Ice and Fire is a series where a lot of interesting characters sit around and talk a lot, and very occasionally stab each other violently in the face. Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing in this game. You are talking, and occasionally you’re violently stabbing someone in the face, or being stabbed yourself.
How about the graphics? Well, I can’t normally do thorough graphics reviews because my computer is NOT a great gaming rig. However, this game runs perfectly fine on my computer with the graphics and resolution turned all the way up, so if you don’t have a great computer, you’ll still probably be able to play it.
That being said, there are some minor graphical issues. Occasionally cloth will simply melt into someone’s body, and you might already have noticed there’s some slight aliasy-looking stuff around the edges of characters in the game. In the final analysis it’s not that big a deal, but it was occasionally distracting, and distraction sucks in a game that relies completely on its ability to immerse you in narrative.
Despite that, though, it’s hard not to call this a very pretty game. Telltale has previously created games that felt very much like a moving graphic novel, with their The Walking Dead game, which of course was based on a graphic novel, and with Tales from the Borderlands, a game based on a video game franchise that was designed to look like a graphic novel. Well, Game of Thrones bears a similar style to those, but it drifts more into the realm of an oil painting, so that you feel like you’re watching some ancient tapestry in motion. It’s a great aesthetic, and my hat’s off to them for it.
As far as its other technical aspects, the game had no bugs that I could see in two playthroughs, and the sound design was fantastic. In particular the voice acting was, in my opinion, simply superb. Based on the simplistic nature of the game’s graphics, bad voice acting could absolutely have ruined every interaction with every character in the game. Instead, with very, very strong voice acting, every interaction felt real, meaningful and important. Peter Dinklage in particular is in fine form, and it really did feel like I was chatting with Tyrion Lannister in King’s Landing which of course is just awesome.
So let’s talk about the story, because of course, this story is what the game is all about. I will make one statement right up front: if you are not already a fan of Game of Thrones, certain parts of this story will feel VERY confusing and you should probably avoid it. The story starts right up front with one of the most important events in the entire series, and if you’re watching the video you know exactly what I’m talking about. However, I can imagine that anyone coming to the game without ANY knowledge of the world will be incredibly confused. Similarly, when later in the game you meet Queen Cersei, there’s a tremendous amount of tension and gravity in the scene because you know Queen Cersei will kill you at the drop of a hat. However, you only know that if you’ve read the books or watched the show. So for the uninitiated, this game is probably a definite do not buy, because you will not fully get the story, and this game doesn’t have anything going for it besides the story.
However, if you are a fan of the books and/or show, the story is simply great. One decision I’m very happy with is Telltale’s choice to focus on a minor northern family. After Book Three, or Season Three of the show, the appearance of the northern families in the story drops drastically, shall we say. The focus on the Forrester family, who are the bannermen of House Stark, gives us more of that side of the Westeros life, and I personally think that’s a good thing.
As for Telltale’s treatment of the subject matter…well, it’s EXTREMELY hard to get into specifics without massive story spoilers. Instead let me simply say that Telltale does not pull any punches. This game is about as Game of Thrones as Game of Thrones gets, and at one point you will want to fling your computer through the window.
So all in all, a very good experience, a very excellent showing by Telltale. But now I have to tell you what I didn’t like about this game. Actually I didn’t just dislike it, I felt profoundly disappointed. And that is the level of choice and influence you can actually have in the game. Throughout the story you are given many, many choices in dialogue. The choices are made out to be very important. In fact, the game CONTINUALLY reminds you how important they are by adding little tags at the top of the screen that say, “So-and-so will remember that.” These reminders are very cute when you’re cheering up your little brother, and frankly terrifying when you’ve accidentally slighted Cersei in the throne room and the game says, “Queen Cersei will remember that.” Those are not ever words you want to hear.
However, I’ve now played this game through twice. The first time I played a very sort of Lawful Good character, following the rules and trying to be the best person I could be. Of course this is extremely bad politics in Westeros, and I got exactly what any Lawful Good character should get in Game of Thrones—everyone thought I was a pathetic milksop they could walk all over.
So I immediately said, “Fine, I’m going to play this through again, and this time I’m going to Game of Thrones the shit out of it.” So I played a much more Chaotic character, with shows of strength, decisive, definite action and a focus on taking care of my family and House above all else.
And you know what changed? Not an awful lot.
Sure, characters reacted to me differently, and sometimes those reactions were great to see. But in the end, all the major broad-strokes plot points happened the exact same way. I couldn’t change anything. I couldn’t make any real, significant difference with my choices, which is kind of the whole point of choices, isn’t it?
Here’s a perfect example. You may have seen early on in the video that within the first five minutes of gameplay, I was given the choice to leave a certain character to die, or to try and save him. The first time I played, I left him to die and tried to save everyone else. On my second playthrough, I tried to save him. I rescued him from the immediate threat, only to have him be killed a few minutes later in the game.
At that moment, the replay lost its luster for me. If I couldn’t make any significant changes, then what was the point of replaying the game and making new decisions? Especially since Telltale won’t let you skip through dialogue scenes. You have to watch them, and hear everything everyone has to say all over again. If you could skip through dialogue you’ve already heard before, that would be one thing, but you can’t.
There’s one other thing about the dialogue, which is that sometimes your dialogue choice isn’t exactly how it’s portrayed. This is the same problem we have with communicating via text: the same words can mean completely different things depending on HOW they’re said.
Here’s an example: At one point a man gives you a sword right before he dies and asks you to return it to his home. Later, you’re asked to tell his grieving wife what her husband’s last words were, and you have the options “Give her the sword” or “He said he loved you.” Well, the second one is a lie, so you might be inclined to choose the first one. However, when your character gives her the sword, he phrases his answer in such a way that he avoids the question, and the woman notices and gets pissed off at you for avoiding the question. I was like, “But that’s it! He told me to bring the sword back, dammit!” This doesn’t happen very often, but it’s just often enough to be slightly annoying.
So, final analysis: What’s bad about this game? Well, at this moment in time, you’re only getting two hours of content for about thirty bucks. You’ll get more in a few weeks, but if you’re selective with your spending, it might be better to WAIT those few weeks and get more bang for your buck, or wait for the inevitable Steam sales and get the game at a discount.
And then of course there’s the lack of any ability to make real, significant changes within the world, and that’s a major downer on a game that builds so much false sense of power into the choices it gives you throughout the story. Though it’s possible more power of choice will be built into later episodes of the series, right now it’s quite disappointing.
But what’s good about this game? Well, the aesthetic is very pleasing, at least to me, the acting is simply fantastic, and the story immersion is some of the best I’ve ever seen—at least on the first playthrough. You really do feel like you’re in the Game of Thrones universe, with all the crushing despair and sense of helplessness that can entail. So often in the game, it feels like there simply is no right choice to be made, and no matter what you do, you’re going to fail. Does this make the game insanely fun? No. Does it make it incredibly compelling? Absolutely, one of the most compelling games I’ve played this year.
Who should avoid this game? Anyone who has never read the books or watched the show. This game simply is not inclusive enough for you, and relies heavily on your knowledge of the source material. Also anyone who wants more true power of choice in the world, like in a sprawling sandbox game or something. You can have very little influence on the actual progression of story in this title.
Who should pick up this game RIGHT NOW? Diehard fans of the series who simply can’t wait for the show to come back on the air, or for George R. R. Martin to write the next book. It DOES feel very much like watching a very long episode of the show or reading a few excellent chapters in the book—although just like with the show and the book, waiting a few weeks for the next episode is already maddening.
Who should pick this game up WHEN THE FULL SEASON IS DONE? Anyone who likes the books and the films. At $29.99, the full series will almost certainly be worth at least one playthrough, and maybe more, if they open up your options as the series progresses. We’ll also be seeing a lot more of Westeros, with certain characters entering in the game later in locations like the Wall and Braavos and Meereen.