Review by Nathan Miller on Xbox One Retail Release
Available on PC, Mac, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android
The Game of Thrones franchise has become a sensation that stretches past "the wall" itself. The fantasy genre has always been reserved to those who would rather LARP than watch football; however, Game of Thrones has touched based with a wider audience than most would have expected. George R. R. Martin created an immersive world that rivals J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth based stories (they even have the same R. R. going for them) and has been on top of the genre ever since. Telltale games has become a moniker for modern point and click adventure games and with titles like: The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and more, they have reached critical acclaim for storytelling in video games. It was no surprise that Martin enlisted Telltale to create a game worthy enough for the dragonborn. Telltale's Game Of Thrones season will consist of six episodes and five playable characters. Each character will have their own perspective and struggle as they interact with known personalities and places. But is it the "hand of the king" to its televised master? Did Telltale start their season of Game of Thrones successfully? Let's start with a very important aspect of the series: the story.
Somewhere between the end of the third season to the start of the fifth season, Telltale's Game of Thrones follows House Forrester as they try to maintain their coveted Ironwood from imposing forces. If you are not familiar with the television show, you are not completely in the dark. House Forrester is not part of the show as of yet, so everything written is new for fans and newcomers alike. You will play as five different characters from House Forrester throughout the season, but episode one has you play with only three of them: Gared Tuttle (squire to Lord Forrester), Ethan Forrester (the third-born son), and Mira Forrester (the eldest daughter). The game begins with Gared as he is serving under Lord Forrester and his troops at the Red Wedding (A massacre during the War of the Five Kings that killed King Stark). During the massacre, Lord Gregor Forrester and his heir Rodrik Forrester are killed but their squire Gared is able to escape. House Forrester ran under the banner of Stark, so the king's death puts them in vulnerable position as the ruthless King Joffrey takes control of that region.
Gared finds his way to his family farm where he confronts rival soldiers who just murdered his family. He kills all but one in retaliation (rule #1: leave no witnesses). As Gared makes his return to House Forrester, he is sent to the wall for protection from the Bolton family (who are seeking revenge for their lost soldiers). House Forrester appoints their third-born son Ethan as lord, and he must deal with the Boltons conquest of their valuable Ironwood reserves. Ironwood is a crucial resource to House Forrester due to its near impenetrable fortitude and flame resistant traits. House Bolton has tried time after time to take Ironwood from House Forrester and are using their vendetta with Gared as a decoy to take control of them. The eldest daughter Mira is asked by her mother to look for aid at the court in King's Landing. King's Landing is the capital of the seven kingdoms and is where the King Joffrey resides on the iron throne. Episode one consists of: Gared's journey to the wall, Mira's confrontation with Cersei Lannister, and Ethan's moral choices dealing with rebellious workers and the devilish Ramsay Snow (New Warden of the North).
Telltale's take on Game of Thrones is identical to their previous work. You control a character who is put into moral predicaments or bodily danger and must be quick on your decision on what to do. When you are between those decisive moments, you examine objects or talk to people around your character to gain more knowledge about the story or to progress to the next major moment. Telltale's selling point is that choices you make change the way people interact with you and even changes parts of the story. You can use a more aggressive tone against enemies or try to reason by bargaining with them. There are parts of the story that will not change regardless of your actions, but people can react differently within those moments depending on the type of person you were. A cool feature associated with Telltale games is the stats of the choices you made. Whenever a significant decision is made, the game will record that on a leaderboard and tell you how many other people made the same choice. Lastly, there are action-oriented scenes that are simple quick time events. You have to move your stick in a certain direction or hit a certain button when prompted on screen. If you fail to do so, your character can end up dying which will force you to restart from your recent checkpoint.
Telltale does a terrific job in establishing the story of House Forrester and making their struggles with the changing world realistic. Instead of relying on an established story, they created a new story on a family briefly mentioned and have captured the essence of the Game of Thrones series. The voice acting is well executed and in-game interactions are spot on. Episode one starts with a very shocking introduction and closes with one as well. Ethan's storyline where he is appointed to lord was terrific and stress inducing. The pressure of remaining true to his good nature in the wake of deserters was truly painstakingly hard, and I had a tough choice when presented the opportunity of dishing out a punishment against a thief. The moral dilemmas in this game are harsh but fitting in this fantasy drama: you are either a coward or a fool. House Forrester no longer has the weight behind its name, so you need to appease those who have ascended above you. This first episode sets the tone for a rocky and confrontational storyline that will result in bloodshed just like you would expect from the series. Telltale games have captured the essence of the Game of Thrones series and successfully made a game out of it.
Although the story is perfectly in-sync with the Game of Thrones universe, a newcomer would be missing out on a few aspects of the lore associated with it. The game sets up House Forrester perfectly, but everything else seems like something you should already know. So when you run into a character from the television series, it seems more like a fan service than anything else. I only enjoyed Ethan's storyline out of the three playable characters because his choices seemed to carry the most weight. Mira's and Gared's choices were questionable and linear when compared to Ethan's choices. Mira's conversation with Cersei was more or less a way to make you feel powerless over anything else while Gared's trip to the farm (which lead him to kill those soldiers) contradicted his own dedication to House Forrester. Why would someone who just witnessed his lord murdered, and is the sole survivor of that massacre, decide to head home first before warning his house? Especially when you have the House Forrester crest sword and secret message to deliver to them. The story overall is decent enough to play through, and it is setting up things to come which should be very shocking in nature (hopefully).
A big issue I had with game was graphical problems that seemed to plague the world around the characters. Sometimes when I am in a conversation with another character, the background would blur and objects would not render correctly. It looks like someone smeared a painting when it was still wet. It shows a lack of polish to the game, and it took me out of the moment during important story related decisions. I would divert my attention to the deformed scenery behind my character rather than focus on their facial reactions and responses. Some parts of the game were better than others but generally every background had some sort of deformity. Also, I had a few moments of the camera having a mind of its own which was annoying. I could not help but feel this game needed a few more weeks of polish before being released as I played through it.
Telltale has done better than any other developer could have possibly done with the franchise, but they needed to take more time with the game to rid of those unforgivable graphical issues. The Walking Dead did not suffer from those issues, so why should this game? They did do a terrific job in setting up what is to come, and I can only hope as the story progresses that other playable characters reach the same level as Ethan's story. There were enough shocking moments and interesting interactions to make me look forward to the next episode, but I am a little hesitant to recommend an entire season purchase at the moment. As the next episode rolls out, I will reavulate my stance about the season purchase and re-rate the series.
Final Pew Rating: 3 out of 5 Pews
Should I buy the season pass? No, there are technical issues that detract from the game and storylines that are not very compelling yet. I recommend waiting for now.
Is there any gameplay elements that are special for this Telltale game that were not in their other games? No, this is the same experience you have come to expect from a Telltale game (which honestly isn't a bad thing).
Should I legally change my name to have a R. R. in it as well? Only if you want to write fantasy drama books.