I can’t describe how excited I was for this game. I love Telltale and I love A Song of Ice and Fire, so this seemed a match made in heaven. The reality hasn’t quite lived up expectations, with Game of Thrones having been overshadowed month after month by the vastly superior Tales from the Borderlands. There are some great moments, but fundamentally the Telltale Game of Thrones takes the flaws of the show and blows them up hugely, whilst doing the same with the Telltale games.
Game of Thrones takes place between Season 3 and 4 of the TV show and picks up in the midst of the Red Wedding. Lord Gregor Forrester is killed and survived by his squire Gared Tuttle. The Forresters are a minor Northern house of Stark Bannermen, important primarily for their large forest of Ironwood, a material very useful for the creation of weapons and armor. For years, the Forresters have feuded with the neighbouring Whitehills, but this conflict was kept in check by strong Stark leadership. With the Starks destroyed following the betrayal at the Twins, the Boltons have raised to ascendancy in the North and rule with none of the diplomacy and honour which defined Eddard Stark.
Game of Thrones follows several characters, as with the books and show. The first is Ethan Forrester, the new young lord of the house in their home of Ironrath who must contend with the increasing arrogance of the Whitehills as well as the unpredictable wiles of the newly legitimised Ramsay Bolton. Next is Mira, a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell who seeks to use her position in King’s Landing to support the fortunes of her house. Gared Tuttle was Lord Gregor’s ward, who follows his master’s dying words to ‘Protect the North Grove’, a mysterious location which sees Gared sent to the Wall and beyond. Finally there is Asher, who was banished across the Narrow Sea several years before and is now working as a mercenary. When he hears of the danger befalling his family, he seeks the help of Daenerys Targaryen, positioned outside Meereen, to sail back to Westeros to save his family.
There are some truly outstanding moments in Game of Thrones, particularly in the first few episodes. There are scenes which are as visceral, shocking and upsetting as the moments the show is known for, but some begin to feel contrived as we move on. One of the biggest problems with setting this game during the show’s timeline is that everything could feel irrelevant, like a sideshow to the main event. Cameos from the shows cast actually make this much worse; it’s difficult to accept that Tyrion and Cersei Lannister were chatting away to a minor Northern handmaiden in the days following the death of Joffrey, or that Jon Snow was gabbing away with a young squire before heading to Craster’s Keep. The only show character used well is Ramsay Bolton, due to him being such a wildcard that every moment he is on screen feeling like its about to descend into chaos. The Forresters are clearly meant as analogues for the Starks, particularly Mira as Sansa. This makes them fail to come alive as characters in their own right, with the notable exception being Asher, whose hot headed arrogance sets him apart from any of the other major Stark characters.
From a gameplay point of view its business as usual, although there are some thrilling combat encounters towards the beginning, which begin to shrink and get less interactive as the series trundled on. The glacial release pace didn’t help matters, with an unacceptable four month gap between the penultimate and final episodes. In that time Telltale somehow managed to get out two Minecraft: Story Mode episodes, which suggests to me that they got greedy. The biggest issue is the utter failure of the illusion of choice; the lack of meaningful choice in Telltale games has been known for a while, but it feels far more naked and exploitative here than it did in games like Tales from the Borderlands or The Wolf Among Us. The need to set up the announced second season means that this Game of Thrones lacks any sort of satisfying resolution. The only Telltale game with two seasons so far (I’m not counting Sam and Max) is The Walking Dead, but the ending of season one was a genuine conclusion, just with the door left open for a sequel. Tales from the Borderlands is in a similar position, but Game of Thrones leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Game of Thrones does look nice; the handpainted art style has been a bit controversial with some, but overall I like it. Take into account that every other Telltale adaptation has been from a graphic novel or stylised videogame and the art style of Game of Thrones seems like a reasonable compromise. The voice acting is good, although there aren’t necessarily any stand out performances. The music is a pleasant surprise, with a distinct theme for the Forresters being a recognisable musical motif which recurs throughout the story. Nothing can beat when the Game of Thrones TV theme kicks in though.
Telltale’s Game of Thrones isn’t a disaster and, based on what I’ve played so far, seems to be stronger than Minecraft: Story Mode, but it is the first time I’ve felt the Telltale fatigue kick in. Tales from the Borderlands was so good that it can’t help but reflect poorly upon Game of Thrones; hopefully the second season is an improvement, with some characters left in some interesting places, but my hopes aren’t particularly high.