Episode 1 of Telltale’s Game of Thrones has arrived and it’s not only the best game based on the series yet, but a worthy addition to the franchise and one of Telltale’s best games.
For anyone that doesn’t know, Game of Thrones is a popular HBO TV show, based on a series of fantasy novels called A Song of Ice and Fire. Praised for its complex narrative, epic scope and mocked for its overuse of nudity. Westeros is my most loved fantasy setting and Telltale are my favourite developer when it comes to storytelling and characters. I’ve wanted this game to happen for many years. Now that it’s here, I couldn’t be happier to tell you what I thought of it.
You play as House Forrester, a noble family loyal to House Stark. A family mentioned once in the books and not at all in the show. By choosing an unknown, but still canon noble family, Telltale were free to tell the story they wanted to tell. It was an excellent choice, as Iron From Ice does an excellent job of introducing a whole bunch of new, interesting and compelling characters that I’m excited to know more about. As a noble family and Bannermen to house Glover, the Forresters are well connected with the powerhouse families of the show. Ironrath is their home, an imposing fifteen hundred year old stronghold surrounded by towering Ironwood trees. It’s a great looking fortress and fits perfectly with the existing locations.
Telltale promised “bloody warfare, revenge, intrigue and horror” and they definitely delivered.
“Iron From Ice” comes from the Forrester’s house motto and represents their conviction to overcoming adversity. Very apt words, considering the brutal, unforgiving nature of life in Westeros. Telltale do a great job of capturing the spirit of the show, with the Ramsay Snow quote ” If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” being a great way of explaining the constant misery, death and destruction that takes place over the two hour episode. The Forrester’s words symbolise their goal to have these struggles only make them stronger. It’s a respectable ideal, but if things continue as they are, I can’t see many survivors by the end.
House Forrester may seem like a stand-in for the Starks at first glance, but these are a tougher, less privileged people that are used to hardship. At first I was sceptical of their similarity to the house from the show, but by the end the family won me over as excellent additions to the Game of Thrones universe. The game was as its best when the relationships between the characters were given a chance to develop. I look forward to spending more time getting to know these people.
Telltale have gone for a “painterly” look for Game of Thrones and I have to say, it’s quite underwheling. Last week’s Tales from the Borderlands was slick and looked great, whereas here the textures are muddy and seem less detailed. It’s an unusual and disappointing issue, but fortunately it’s not all bad. The aesthetic fits the series quite well and it certainly has the living oil painting look Telltale advertised it with. It’s unlikely that this will change at all in further episodes, but I hope Telltale do something to make things look a bit less ugly. I wish I could be kinder, but it really isn’t a nice looking game, especially when compared to Borderlands.
The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us were far more focused and told less fragmented stories, but the epic scope of Game of Thrones demands more ambition. The standard Telltale gameplay has you making choices in real-time, with your every action changing the story and other characters’ perception of you. Although this time around, there isn’t really a “you”, as you play as multiple members of House Forrester. Expect to be performing a few mundane tasks, such as cleaning a sword while talking to others, but the excellent writing and story never make this a chore. You’ll also be dealing with stressful action sequences, in which you are expected to make important choices and take control of very fast-paced situations. Telltale’s award winning formula is the perfect fit for the complex political intrigue that Game of Thrones excels at.
Most would’ve been content with the occasional name dropping of important locations or characters from the show, but Telltale have the likenesses and voice actors of major characters and the locations from the show are perfectly rendered in their world. Telltale do an amazing job of making the new locations and characters fit with the existing ones and are the first developer to make an authentic addition to the series.
Multiple protagonists makes choices a lot more difficult, as I wanted each character to have a consistent and unique personality. Getting each one straight in my head was more difficult than in the show or books, as I had to understand them well enough to make choices for them. For most people this won’t be a problem, but for someone like me, that tries to become a character and make choices that fit for them, it was quite the challenge. I loved every minute of it. A codex with short descriptions of the major characters can be accessed at any time. I checked this frequently throughout my playthrough to both find out more about them and to help remember their names.
Telltale are masters of storytelling and drama, so Game of Thrones is the ideal setting. In minutes I was invested in the characters and enjoying the complex narrative. As I mentioned, the multiple characters means the story jumps around a lot, but each section sets the scene for later episodes and are all excellent in their own right. You go from being a squire during the Red Wedding, to a young Lord trying to handle his new responsibilities, to a handmaiden in King’s Landing. It’s surprisingly slow paced and doesn’t overwhelm you. Character transitions are done incredibly well, with the story of one character always leading to the other. Each character has their own troubles and your choices will help or hinder them in their plight. How you respond to others will change their opinion of you and while most individual choices don’t lead to significantly different results, by the end you feel like what you did mattered.
While the focus is on new characters and locations, everything is tied to major events from the show. As expected, the Red Wedding has a huge impact on everyone in Westeros and the Forresters are no exception.The physical and emotional pain these characters go through is almost overwhelmingly harrowing. It’s harsher than the show in a lot of ways, with death and slaughter being an almost constant occurrence. Brilliant writing ensures it never becomes stale, but I hope things get a little better for them at some point, before they inevitably get even worse.
An understated original soundtrack and the Game of Thrones theme, used during a recreation of the shows intro sequence, are used sparingly and do a great job of immersing you in the world. Voice acting from new and old cast members alike is stellar and raises the bar for Telltale games. Occasionally a few lines were unconvincing or awkward, but the vast majority was excellent. The actors from the show really help immerse you in the familiar world. Even Peter Dinklage, who treated us to an incredibly bland performance in Destiny, manages to portray Tyrion almost as well as he does in the show. Unfortunately the writing and acting are let down by the awkward facial animations. It’s particularly noticeable for familiar cast members and took me out of the experience. A minor issue, as the game does so much right, but it was disappointing to never really feel like I was with the characters, but instead an awkward, unlifelike caricature of them. One character in particular had me laughing during an otherwise serious moment, as their face was a very poor rendering of the character.
A few graphical issues aren’t nearly enough to tarnish my opinion of an otherwise amazing episode though. Telltale‘s first episode of Game of Thrones is one of their best yet. It’s a stunningly authentic, action packed, drama filled adventure. I definitely recommend watching at least the first three seasons of Game of Thrones first, but even so, the game is worth playing for everyone. This is just the start, there’s five more episodes to go and considering how impressive the first was, I’m eagerly anticipating more. Expect reviews of all future episodes right here at The Game Fanatics.