BY SAMUEL GUGLIELMO
“Game of Thrones” (GoT) has been one of those franchises that gamers have been hoping Telltale would get their hands on for a long time. Announced at the same time as “Tales From the Borderlands,” GoT is the game that many people hoped would be Telltale’s finest hour. Instead, it’s one of their biggest disappointments.
GoT follows the story of five different members of House Forrester. After having the bad luck of showing up to the Red Wedding, the lord of House Forrester is killed and the house is thrown into turmoil. Worse, the nearby House Whitehill is stepping up aggression on House Forrester in an effort to take their land and their ironwood trees. Alliances are made, people are stabbed, politics and trade happen, and a war begins.
While there are five playable characters, they all don’t really get a fair shake. By far the most interesting of the bunch is Asher Forrester: the exiled second-born son. Having become a sell-sword in Essos, Asher is called home and is asked to bring a group of sell-swords with him to assist. Watching him attempt to act serious when he knows his family needs him but still clashing with his old life style is an interesting dynamic. On the other end of the spectrum is Gared Tuttle, the squire to Lord Forrester. Gared is sent to The Wall after killing a man, where he is asked to find the mysterious North Grove that Lord Forrester spoke of before he died. He then promptly spends five episodes wandering around doing nothing before finding the poorly explained North Grove that seems to serve no purpose. Gared’s entire arc can basically be removed from the game with no consequences.
The other three characters are hit and miss. Ethan and Rodrick Forrester basically do the same thing: keep House Forrester running during the war. During the first three episodes this means a bunch of scenes that are very similar and involve either defying or playing nice with House Whitehill. The latter three episodes sees things becoming far more interesting, as they must actually make difficult decisions on who to trust, who to side with, and what to do with House Whitehill. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mira Forrester, who resides in King’s Landing to earn political favors. The first three episodes sees her making tough choices on who to bribe and blackmail, while the latter three episodes put her in a similar situation to Gared: not doing anything plot relevant and stuck wandering around somewhere not interesting anymore.
Thrones’ plot has some other major issues as well. It feels like it takes forever to get anywhere, with many scenes and even entire episodes feeling like they’re just filler. Characters from the TV show have a few appearances, all voiced by their actors even, but it’s strange how they’re handled. Some of them may as well not be in the game, Jon Snow is only there to remind you this is GoT and doesn’t really have a point in the plot. Ramsay Snow plays such an important part in the first episode and yet anyone who watches the show knows nothing is going to happen to him.
GoT also suffers from being an ugly game, graphically, artistically, and technically. The game suffers from a weird blur effect. The idea is that it makes the backgrounds look like an oil painting, yet in practice it makes the whole game look like it’s underwater. Characters get blurry and wavy for no real reason, and anytime the camera moves it gets really distracting. Artistically, the game has Telltale’s signature art-style where everyone has big eyes and slightly over-exaggerated expressions, which doesn’t quite fit . Worse, though, is the characters taken from the TV show who have realistic faces and expressions. They look like they’ve been lifted from an entirely different game, especially when they’re near one of the original characters.
There’s also various technical issues, mostly related to the audio. The worst was when music or sound effects would just not play: a late game encounter with a polar bear felt significantly less dramatic when it played a roaring animation that wasn’t accompanied by any roars. Horseback chases and sword fights never carried the dramatic oomph they should have when there was no sound to accompany them. Characters would randomly have their sentences cut off, or music would skip or stop. It’s a shame that all of this drags the game down.
There’s nothing different here that you wouldn’t see in any other Telltale game. Gameplay mostly consists of making dialogue choices and responding to quick time events so you don’t get killed. Sometimes a puzzle or two gets thrown in, though never anything more difficult than matching up some basic symbols to a map. Sometimes I got to walk around and explore a little bit, which is good for world building but never really meant much else.
Quicktime events are common in GoT, considering how often fighting breaks out. It’s the same usual Telltale stuff: sometimes you need to hit a button, sometimes you need to push an analogue stick in a certain direction, and sometimes you need to highlight something and hit a trigger. In both the first and last episode I had problems with the game failing to register button presses, yet in the end all that happens when I failed the QTE was that my character died, I got a game over, and then I restarted right where I died. Makes me wonder what the point even is.
“Game of Thrones” fails in many aspects, and that’s a shame. It’s one of those IP’s that you just know Telltale could make something great from, but instead we get a game that feels like Telltale did the bare minimum to get it out the door. A few interesting storylines can’t save a plot that dawdles, can’t excuse the mess of technical issues, and can’t make up for the reused gameplay formula.