When I started playing Telltale Games Game of Thrones I had intended to stagger my gameplay and review it episode by episode, but after playing episode one I couldn’t help but play episode two, and then episode three was right there waiting. And so this lack of self control continued and that’s the story of how I lost my Saturday. Though this doesn’t reveal anything particularly positive about how I organise my life, it does speak volumes about how well this game draws you in.
Game of Thrones fits well into Telltale’s choose-your-own-adventure style of game, coming as it does from a universe that’s filled with interesting characters making difficult decisions in the areas of politics and warfare. If you haven’t watched or read Game of Thrones before, I wouldn’t suggest that you make this game your entry point into the series. Although it takes players away from the main story of the books and the TV show with its own George RR Martin-approved cast of characters with their own story, the universe’s complex lore and wide cast of characters do still have quite significant involvement in the telling of the story as it’s set to coincide with the latter half of the third series of the TV show, up to the beginning of the fifth series.
When you already know most of what’s going on in the Game of Thrones world, being introduced to the Forrester family and the events surrounding them isn’t too overwhelming but I wouldn’t really fancy having to balance learning all of the different houses and their relations to one another without knowledge of the pre-existing houses and character alliances, because they do come into play.
At first it feels like the Forrester family are rather dully similar to the Stark family, and you can certainly draw parallels not only between their characters but also their story arcs and the threats they all face; there’s an honorable elder son, an elder daughter in Kings Landing, a mother who wants nothing more than to protect her family and younger siblings to protect. It is a little trying in episode one but as the tension builds and the shit hits the Flail it becomes clear this game’s story is a lot more than a boring copy and the various stories begin to branch out.
It’s probably quite important that fans of the series are able to draw parallels with the decisions their characters are making and the already existing characters have made because it really makes it hit home just how difficult and stressful playing the game of thrones is. The game’s story progresses as you have various members of the Forrester family make decisions, and they’re certainly not easy decisions to make. Often their life and the lives of other characters hang in the balance and the fact that you only get a limited amount of time to make these dialogue and action decisions only adds to the stress. People who think narrative heavy choose-your-own-adventure games aren’t exciting because of simplistic mechanics really need to reconsider; this is the most stressed I’ve felt playing a videogame in a long time and I attribute a good portion of that stress to the fact that I cared about the well-written characters.
As well as writing characters you can get behind, Telltale’s Game of Thrones also does almost as good a job as the books at creating characters you can utterly loathe. Every time I encountered a member of the villainous Whitehill family, the expletives were flying so quickly from my mouth I’m fairly certain I created new ones. They so effectively riled me that I frequently acted on impulse – something I’ve admonished characters in the series for doing because it’s the quickest way to meet a grizzly end and I thought I was above it. I am not. Really not. And I apparently relish revenge. The Game of Thrones series can really make you hate the awful things people are capable of, but the game will help you see you’re no different.
Aside from presenting you with new characters to love and loathe, something I particularly enjoyed about this game is how it affects your perception of characters you’re already familiar with from the series. It’s one thing to like Tyrion or Danaerys when you’re reading about them or watching them, but it’s interesting to note how your attitude to them changes when it’s your family and personal safety that their interests are jeopardising. It offers a new dimension to how you view George RR Martin’s characters and the addition of these characters feels perfectly organic rather than like cheap fan service.
Another reason it’s so easy to become invested in the game is the dialogue and voice acting. The dialogue is similar in style to that of the show and though some lines could be considered quite cringeworthy, the excellent delivery really makes up for it. Telltale even managed to bring in actors from the show to voice their roles for an extra element of authenticity.
Telltale’s Game of Thrones isn’t just similar to the show in terms of its characters and story arcs, it also shares its violence. Telltale’s Game of Thrones is just as brutal and grim as the show with just as much blood. Fortunately, Telltale manage to avoid making the violence feel overdone or exploitative with the majority of the violent acts coming from good people driven to doing terrible things, and less of it coming from sadistic caricature villains like Ramsay Snow. That said, that kind of violence is still in there and I’ll warn you it can be very difficult to watch, though actually more difficult to listen to. The sounds effects are pretty gruesome at times.
An element of the game that is less like the TV show is its visuals. Game of Thrones is one of the most visually stunning shows on television so obviously this is quite a lot to live up to, but even when you don’t hold Telltale’s version up to this standard it still falls short. The game seems torn between an impressionistic and realist style that can be quite distracting – it looks fantastic from a distance, but when the camera closes in on a character’s face it results in a blockiness that’s much less appealing. Something I found that happened in my game, too, was a jumpiness in action scenes which added to the stress of quick-time events, but not in a positive way. This didn’t happen too often, and I only really noticed it in the last two episodes, but it was irritating.
The mechanics of the game will be familiar to anyone who’s played a Telltale game before; you choose your dialogue, go through quick-time events, and explore very little (I would have really liked the opportunity to explore more of the world, actually). You also play more than one character, and this is a mechanic Game of Thrones does very well. It feels important that you play multiple characters in this game, rather than it just being a feature that’s there because it can be. The characters you play rarely interact and playing them takes you across the Game of Thrones world, from The Wall to Meereen, allowing you to experience the different ways the game of thrones is played, whether it’s in the war room or the drawing room, and to experience the world as different ranks and genders.
Overall Telltale’s Game of Thrones is an excellent addition to the world created by George RR Martin. It makes you look at existing characters differently, it gives you a chance to experience the grim brutality of the seven kingdoms on a more personal level and feel more a part of it. Though not quite as much an achievement visually as it is everywhere else, it doesn’t really matter, because Game of Thrones will undoubtedly suck you into its story. I wouldn’t recommend this game for those who aren’t familiar with the series, but if you are I’d absolutely give it a go. Even if only to keep you going between now and the next series in April.
Game of Thrones is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. Basically every platform but your microwave.