At first glance Game of Thrones is just another Telltale Games title using the same formula that worked for titles like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. That is true, in that Teltale’s take on the click-and-point adventure genre is very narrative heavy, but it is also perhaps the best fit to date in blending the developer’s unique brand of storytelling and use of source material.
Game of Thrones has become a very popular property, but it has also proven challenging to do justice to in video game format. The books and television series are a slow burning, politically driven narrative with some fantasy themes and moments of action, but most of the truly important moments have less to do with swords than wit. This… doesn’t play well with the expectations that most people have of video games. Telltale Games is essentially crafting a side story with its own take on the franchise that offers some nice fanservicey nods to specific people, places and events from the core story (in terms ot timeline, Iron from Ice kicks off the night of the Red Wedding).
One of my favourite design choices with this new game franchise is that unlike The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, the story is not following one person. Here, just as in the show and books, Game of Thrones is providing us different perspectives from different people. It is an interesting design choice that feels right in-line with the source material, but provides a new wrinkle in how Telltale Games presents the story. When I was in control of Lee or Bigby in The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, I cared about the other characters but at the end of the day it was primarily about the character I was controlling. With this game though Telltale has set itself the task of making us care about many, many more characters and their plights.
The first episode is primarily focused on one house – the minor house Forrester. They have come on hard times, having been staunch supporters of House Stark in the past, which, without trying to offer too many spoilers, turns out to be a bad idea. By then showing events through the eyes of different characters who all essentially have the same thing in mind – protecting House Forrester – we get to follow through a narrative where they approach the problems in different ways with varying limited resources. One is a handmaiden in King’s Landing, one is a very young newly minted lord of House Forrester and another is a squire who has been sent to The Wall in order to protect him, as only can happen in a world so brutal as in the Game of Thrones.
Political intrigue, acts of violence and the desire to protect one’s kin and house at all costs are themes that permeate the show and books and those themes run strong throughout the first episode of this game. Much like The Walking Dead and the Game of Thrones source material, it has become very clear to me that getting attached to particular characters could prove dangerous as death is certainly a consequence of life. I will not get into spoiler territory here, but suffice to say blood flows and this is probably the most grizzly Telltale Games entry to date in terms of violence.
However, it must be noted that there have been clear concessions made to the franchise in other areas. I do of course refer to the sex that is such a part of the Game of Thrones narrative. Because this is a game and so much as an exposed breast would have the censors crying foul, Telltale has taken the commercial decision to sanitise their work. The result is a game that is perhaps the most family friendly of all versions of Game of Thrones to date, at the expense of some of its narrative depth. Certainly some characters that used sex as a kind of political weapon come across as far weaker in terms of their characterisation this time around. It’s also hard to pull of a dark, gritty, and dirty fantasy aesthetic when there aren’t people acting like animals in heat, frankly.
I have made several references to the novels and HBO show, and with very good reason. This is a game made for fans of the source material, and there is some need for a background understanding of the show in order to properly appreciate the game. There is a handy codex from the menu that helps to lend context to people and places from the series, but I have a hard time picturing a newcomer to Game of Thrones fully understanding everything that is going on. That is not to say they cannot pick it up and learn, but whereas I was able to jump right in and appreciate many of the nods to the source material and knew who was a part of which house and what motivations might spur the actions of an existing character, newcomers might find it all a good deal more dense and even confusing.
This creates a few niggling issues of its own, however. The character design is nice, but hardly of a blockbuster quality, and so the character models based on real life actors don’t tend to fare so well. Aesthetically the game is still impressive thanks to a watercolour painting approach to backgrounds, but it may have been better for Telltale to come up with its own visual interpretation of the characters, rather than rely on existing models. Peter Dinklage is still awesome though.
The first episode, as is typical for Telltale, is nothing more than a foundation for the tale to come. It helps to establish new characters and the overall arc of the story. It’s actually a slow start, but ends of such an incredibly cliffhanger that I really can’t see anyone playing this and then not immediately investing in the season pass for the rest of the thing.
– Nick H.