When Telltale Games announced that they would be creating an episodic adventure game based on HBO’s unerring powerhouse, Game of Thrones, I (like many) rejoiced. The first episode in that adventure was to be entitled ‘Game of Thrones Iron From Ice’ and follows on from the events of season 3 of the TV series. Who better to undertake such a project? Who could take the helm of such a prestigious show and do the game justice?
Telltale Games, the masterminds of the Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, certainly have had a proven track record but in the past they have created games, and found alternative story arcs, in worlds which were relatively unknown to the public at large. The Walking Dead TV series was still in its infancy and this allowed Telltale to find the space necessary to create such a compelling story that differed (but still existed within) from the TV series. Could they repeat the hit formula with a TV show that is already several seasons along, that has such an established set of much-loved characters?
For those unaware, Telltale Games have a distinct gaming style. Their game’s revolve around moral choices and dilemmas that players must decided upon quickly. Four choices will appear on-screen and one of the action buttons associated with a particular choice, must be pressed before the allotted timer runs out. These choices often have an adverse affect on events that may not be apparent at the time. On top of this, action sequences, such as fight scenes, are often played out in a series of quick time events were players must press the appropriate button, with only moments to think, to avoid certain danger.
Many games in recent years such as The Order 1886 and Beyond Two Souls have come under criticism for their use of quick time events, as the action (to some) feels dated, too simple or that gamers aren’t completely in control of their character. However, this criticism hasn’t ever fallen upon any Telltale game. In some respects it should. The Order, and especially Beyond Two Souls, have much more urgent, polished and inventive way of enacting the quick time system. In Game of Thrones: Iron From Ice, the event can often feel sluggish and the animation can be inconsistent. There are sometimes long pauses after you have pressed the appropriate button, dispelling any real sense of tension. However, in Telltale’s defence they could not incorporate a combat system that was more in keeping with the likes of Shadow of Mordor as it would deter away from the charm all Telltale games manage to achieve.
My biggest concern for gamers is whether this will actually appeal to anyone who isn’t a fan of the show. The gameplay itself in many places can be slow and sometimes tedious, as this is just an interactive point and click adventure, and the point and click adventure genre is continually having to adapt to modern audiences (check out my review of White Night to get an idea of what I mean). So unless you are into decision based games or have an interest in politics, albeit cut throat politics, this game may lack the substance you need, especially if you are after high-octane action.
Though Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice isn’t really about fantastic game mechanics. Telltale games are about fantastic story telling, characterisation, difficult choices and evoking an emotional response from the player to establish a kinship with the chief characters. So does episode one deliver?
Well in terms of story-arching the stage is set up very early on. Episode one consists of seven chapters, all of which focus on establishing a wide range of playable characters that the player will randomly switch between. This is very much in keeping with the TV series, as the show itself has a wide range of characters and plot lines, which it constantly flips between to keep the audience enthralled. For this the game is to be admired, as many previous Telltale games consist of one character making all the decisions based on those around them. This time the decisions of one character can have a devastating effect on that of another, leaving gamers very unsure of the consequences that lay ahead. I replayed all of episode one making completely difference choices and yet the initial outcomes don’t appear to greatly differ. It seems that your choices may have an impact that is not forthcoming at this point. This could ensure the game itself will have no two, three or four play throughs that are quite the same.
Sadly, (and only so far as this is an episodic adventure) some of our new playable characters that feature in the game, but not in the TV series, are a little wooden or hollow. The difficult, and sometimes impossible, situations these characters face don’t necessarily instil the appropriate dramatic response. This is in part due to some box standard facial animation, poor scripting and over the top voice acting. In contrast, recognisable characters from the series add a much-needed weight to this game, although the issue with that is, if you have watched the show, your responses may be in relation to what you already know about the characters. In part you kind of already know who you can and can’t trust, which could pre-influence your decision-making.
Having said that the story itself is full of drama and one aspect the game does incredibly well, is its scripted bad guys. Yes the villains of this piece, much like the show, hit a nerve that elicit a strong emotional response. Those who know the show well, know the perils of revealing your true feelings or intentions to the wrong person and the game itself is just as unforgiving. Bad responses or incorrect actions can in fact see the demise of any main character, making Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice just as unpredictable as the TV series. So if someone gets under your skin, sometimes caution is best advised.
But this is what makes the game great. You can either decide to act upon your own personal beliefs or put yourself in the shoes of that character or go completely crazy and make decisions you would never make in real life. This is essentially your fantasy you are crafting.
Despite Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice’s shortcomings, the game does set up its stall very well. All characters are clearly established and you are thrown into a world in keeping with the show. Many of the games’ glitches and average game mechanics will be overlooked by fantastic story telling and a hunger to see how your decisions pan out. Whilst Game of Thrones Episode One isn’t the best Telltale game on offer, they have done just enough to hold my interest in the hopes that this could escalate into one of gaming’s most compelling adventures.