Game of Thrones Review

By Scott Nichols - Posted May 15, 2012

Despite small attempts at accessibility to series newcomers, Game of Thrones will ultimately only appeal to those already steeped in Westeros lore. Those fans will find a rich side-story that is well worth exploring despite some technical failings.

The Pros
  • Rich story and characters
  • Unique use of decisions to influence character traits
  • Sneak attacks with Mors's dog
The Cons
  • Often droning dialog
  • Frequent technical shortcomings
  • Easy to get lost with awful minimap

Game of Thrones Review:

A Song of Fire and Ice has been around for quite some time through countless books, but has gained the attention of a whole new audience recently through the HBO series. However, before the HBO deal was even signed, Cyanide Studios was working on its own videogame adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s books. The timing of its release couldn’t be worse, competing with fellow RPGs The Witcher II: Enhanced Edition and Diablo III. And yet, with its engaging story and characters, Game of Thrones is still well worth your role-playing attention.



Not Quite A Clash of Kings

Though the Game of Thrones video game runs parallel to the first book and first season of the series, it is very much its own tale. Rather than rehashing the story of the Starks, Lannisters, or other familiar and powerful families, Cyanide Studios has opted to instead focus on two original characters. Both heroes of a great rebellion fifteen years prior, they found themselves in self-imposed exile due to the horrors witnessed during that war. Grizzled veteran Mors Westford found himself enlisting in the Night’s Watch at the frigid Northern Wall, while would-be lord Alester Sarwyck fled the continent where he joined the fire-god worshiping order of the Red Priests.

That isn’t to say Game of Thrones ignores the familiar conflict between the Lannisters and Starks, but it becomes a background set piece for the game’s story. Alester and Mors will cross paths with many familiar characters, from Jeor Mormont and Varys to Queen Cersei herself, each voiced and bearing the likeness of their television counterparts. Sadly Tyrion is absent from the game, though with the stiff vocal performances given by others from the show, perhaps it is for the best. It is clear that much of the game’s story was planned prior to the show’s conception, as these characters predominantly make their cameo appearances early on, allowing the story to truly weave its own narrative after the initial hours.

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Fans might fear that focusing on characters who have never appeared in the series would make for a weak story. After all, their absence in the books clearly demonstrates that they are not key players in the series’ major political dealings. Thankfully this is quite far from the case. The characters and their personal plots are well fleshed out, with a strong sense of narrative weight even when the stakes don’t concern the entire kingdom. There is no all-encompassing evil or world in need of saving, allowing Mors and Alester’s personal struggles and demons to drive their story forward with satisfying and often surprising results.

Game of Thrones

A Storm of Swords

True to the series, the game is split up into chapters which alternate perspectives between Mors and Alester. Mors fulfills the tank role while Alester leans more toward a typical rogue. However, they each command unique abilities to help break free of their RPG archetypes. Mors is accompanied by a dog companion with its own tree of skills to aid in combat. The dog becomes especially useful as Mors can temporarily take control of it in a first-person perspective to sniff out hidden loot or stealthily pounce on enemies caught by surprise. Meanwhile Alester, as a Red Priest, has a host of fire spells at his disposal to either offer status buffs, heal, or simply set enemies ablaze.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of building Alester and Mors as RPG characters is Game of Thrones’ trait system. As is typical of any RPG these days, choices and moral dilemmas will commonly crop up throughout Game of Thrones. And while these choices have obvious plot implications, they can also have unexpected repercussions for each character’s abilities. Using wit to extend one conversation earned a boost to deflection while cutting another conversation short earned a critical hit bonus. There is never an indication of which choices, conversations, and actions will grant new traits, which could easily frustrate min-max players. However, I found it make character building more organic, as even incidental actions could grant unexpected yet strangely appropriate traits.

Game of Thrones

Combat is reminiscent of a simplified Dragon Age, playing out in real-time with characters automatically attacking their targeted enemy. Pulling up the ability wheel slows combat and allows you to queue up to three special abilities. Some depth is added by making certain weapons more effective against armor types, ensuring players become familiar with their entire armory. The system works well enough, though it is hardly unique and may come across as shallow to more experience RPG veterans.

Game of Thrones

Ice and Darkness

It is refreshing to play a game where the story puts so much weight in its characters, a rare advantage Game of Thrones is afforded as a licensed game. With a world well established through both television and the written word, more attention could be paid to fleshing out the characters that inhabit that world. Thankfully, George R. R. Martin was brought on to help keep the game’s story and characters faithful to the established series canon.

Game of Thrones

Less fortunately, it seems Martin’s editor wasn’t available. There is a lot of dialog in Game of Thrones, much of it droning on far longer than it rightfully should. Often it is a matter of self-referential jargon, such as the actual phrase “Game of Thrones” spoken more times in the game than in the entirety of the series. However, most often the dialog pushes patience as an attempt to ease newcomers into the series, delving into blatant exposition of who the Lannisters are or why the Night’s Watch exists. These lines feel out of place in an otherwise strong narrative, such as the latter example spoken between two veteran members of the Night’s Watch as if for the first time. However, despite the exposition’s best efforts, those unfamiliar with A Song of Fire and Ice will still be lost, while loyal fans are subjected to conversations that border on one act plays.

On the technical front, Game of Thrones can be as harsh and unforgiving as The Wall in the North. While not exactly an ugly game, Game of Thrones certainly isn’t pushing the boundaries of current hardware. Character animations are stiff while textures are often blurry, usually appearing several seconds after a scene begins assuming they load properly at all. There also appears to be a delay for registering button inputs for most actions, as nearly every door refused to open until the second or third time I pressed the button, and initiating conversations is almost as finicky.

Game of Thrones

The worst offender though is the game’s minimap, which is easily the worst map I have had the misfortune of suffering through. Essentially a radar for doors, the on-screen display simply shows where doors are in relation to your character, without any context such as walls or pathways. This issue becomes even more apparent when attempting to navigate the labyrinthine Northern woods or tunnels beneath King’s Landing, where there are few doors to be found. Mercifully, a full area map can be accessed through the pause menu, but that shouldn’t be necessary to check every few seconds if the on-screen minimap did its job properly.

Game of Thrones

The Iron Price

Despite small attempts at accessibility to series newcomers, Game of Thrones will ultimately only appeal to those already steeped in Westeros lore. Those fans will find a rich side-story that is well worth exploring despite some technical failings. George R. R. Martin has hinted that the events of the game may come into play in future books, though how that could work is questionable with nearly half a dozen possible endings. Yet it would be a shame if this were the last we hear of the Sarwick house plight and its surrounding characters, for they make a worthy addition to the Song of Fire and Ice.