Telltale Games, the creators of The Walking Dead series, turn their attention to the cultural phenomenon that is Game of Thrones. With Episode 1 of 6 potentially providing the perfect setup for a video game adaptation, how does it stack up to not only their previous outings, but also the potential scrutiny of fans of the show and the books?
Game: Game of Thrones: Iron From Ice (Episode 1)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Whether it’s the books or the TV show that you’ve become engrossed in, the Game of Thrones universe is one that’s full of backstories worth diving into. With multiple houses spread across the land of Westeros, there will forever be tales of smaller factions that will simply never get told, particularly in the TV show where there simply isn’t enough time to fill out every part of the rich lore that George R R Martin has provided.
It was with a slight amount of trepidation, then, that I launched into “Iron From Ice”, the first episode of this series. Immediately, I was struck by how typically Telltale the game is. That’s by no means a bad thing, as I’ve really enjoyed most of their previous output (The exception being the criminal mistreatment of the Jurassic Park franchise). Whilst previous series have been defined by a single character (Clementine, for example), Game of Thrones puts you in the shoes of multiple protagonists. Starting off as Gared, a squire to the lord of house Forrester, you are quickly thrown into the unbelievable events of the end of Season 3 (The “Red Wedding” episode), and have to deal with the immediate consequences faced outside the walls of the infamous ceremony. Throughout the rest of the episode, you take control of Margaery Tyrell’s handmaiden, as well as the young and impressionable Lord Ethan. It’s a system that works well, with each story intertwining with the rest, and providing a sense that this really is much bigger than the individuals concerned.
As the story progresses, Gared is forced to make a series of difficult decisions, which in turn affects the others in the story, before ultimately spiraling to a point of almost no return. It is quintessential Game of Thrones, and it will leave you with some ultimately shocking moments that will have you wondering if you could have done something different earlier on to avoid the fate that’s been brought in front of you. The fate of House Forrester is at stake throughout this episode, and despite a slight sense of futility as you begin engage in discussions, your hopes can be raised shortly afterward. Whether they come crashing back down to earth again is up to you. To a point. Telltale have mastered the art of creating the illusion of choice with The Walking Dead, and it is played to great effect with Iron From Ice. You’re never quite sure which decisions you’ve made have had a genuine impact or whether you’re just helping the story along with a unique twist, and it’s this guesswork that’s truly intriguing to me with the game.
Graphically, the game takes the cartoonish style of The Walking Dead and enhances it slightly to flesh out Westeros in a much more appropriate way. Whilst the game does look very nice, there is a persistent “Oil Painting” filter over the background items, which definitely adds to the atmosphere, but occasionally bleeds over into the foreground, which is certainly a strange thing to contend with. There are a few frame rate hitches at times as well, but overall the game runs really smoothly with few of the graphical glitches that have popped up frequently with the studio’s previous output.
In terms of Gameplay, if you’ve even so much as dabbled with any of the licensed content Telltale have released, you’ll feel at home with Game of Thrones. The majority of the gameplay is akin to a “Choose your own adventure” novel, with the controller’s face buttons mapping to dialogue choices, enabling you to craft your take on the story. If there is something to complain about with the gameplay, it’s that it feels more predetermined than ever, with very little interaction outside of the dialogue. However, with the source material being as story heavy as it is, it’s a completely understandable sacrifice to make. Having said that, I think this is the best combat that Telltale have crafted thus far.
The main thing I was worried about was having the actors from the show involved with the game. Whilst this is no doubt a major coup for Telltale to be working hand in hand with HBO, the feeling was that if you ended up playing as one of the main characters, you would somehow have to try and shape events that appear in the show. Fortunately, they have handled this well, merely running into characters in ways that feel natural. However, there is something to be said about the quality of the voice acting that the cast produce. Whilst not bad, it’s not a patch on their performances in the show. It’s easy to rip on Peter Dinklage after the Destiny debacle, but it’s not quite up to the standard expected of Tyrion Lannister. Cercei also makes an appearance, as does Margaery Tyrell, but all have something that’s “not quite right” about their performances and it’s hard to put your finger on what it is. As I say though, it’s by no means bad, just slightly lacking. One performance that does shine though, is that of Iwan Rheon’s sadistic Ramsay Snow. A truly chilling villain, his performance in this episode is fantastic, with lines that will make your blood run cold at points.
All in all, Game of Thrones’ season opener is, much like the show’s early going, a scene-setter. Incredibly dialogue heavy, you truly need to pay attention to what’s going on around you or you’ll easily get lost. It sets the pace and tone extremely well for what’s to come, and definitely has its hooks in me for the next episode. I can only hope that they can push them out a bit quicker than previous efforts!