Ever since their massive success with The Walking Dead: Season One and Season Two, Telltale Games has become widely known for games that focus on story and the player’s freedom to mold it. More than a complex control scheme, Telltale’s games depend on the choices you make and the alliances you form with other characters. Pouring through the details of the game’s dialogue trees and exploring the world with a keen eye can mean the difference between life and death for a friend, success or failure in pursuit of your goals. The HBO series, Game of Thrones, finds itself quite at home in such a frame.
A brief warning: there are minor spoilers ahead for those who have not watched the HBO series up until episode 309, “The Rains of Castamere.” The game assumes its player is aware of the events that transpire there.
Episode one, Iron From Ice, takes on perspectives from multiple characters, but begins with Gared Tuttle, squire to Gregor Forrester, Lord of Ironrath and bannerman of House Glover, loyal to the Starks. If you think that’s a little complicated, then welcome back to Westeros; it doesn’t get any more forgiving. Gared finds himself stationed outside of The Twins with the rest of Rob Stark’s army, minutes before the unforgettable conclusion to Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey’s wedding. And if you remember how things transpire for Rob’s men-at-arms, then you can imagine how things start out rather red. After the shocking and brutal introduction, the show’s familiar theme song rolls, and the other playable characters are introduced.
While the overall plot proves to be intriguing with some clever writing, only a couple of scenes stick out as really engrossing, difficult moral interactions. Where the episode has a solid start, offering action and a fair amount of the maturity fans have come to expect, it does sag towards the middle when the minutia of the plot has to be explained. When Mira Forrester (oldest daughter of the Forresters and playable character) said my mother told me to do it for the fifth time (without my permission), I had to roll my eyes. Parts of the story border on tedious: an element loyal to the source material, strength or not.
The game also takes little time to begin testing the player with minor decisions (i.e. who to trust/what to say) without much explanation. Those unfamiliar with Telltale’s style may resent a lack of handholding at the start, but veterans will feel right at home. But what’s important sticks out as you will regularly receive notifications on how characters perceive actions, and how those perceptions might affect the story in the future.
After my first interaction with Cersei Lannister, I found myself flustered by the unending interrogation just as I actually would feel in that situation. The realism of that event, and others like it, is what brought me back for consecutive playthroughs, in an attempt to handle the situation more diplomatically (although I fear there’s really no way to win a battle with Cersei; that’s just who she is).
The game’s voice acting was on par with other Telltale experiences, meaning it’s good enough. Sometimes my dialogue choices would feel a little forced or out of place in the situation, and I’d wonder if the other characters were looking at me funny, thinking the same thing. But by the end of the episode I’d mostly gotten used to it, instead focusing on the strengths of the dialogue.
Fortunately, key Game of Thrones characters were voiced by the actors who play them in the show. Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), among others, reprised their roles for the game, and to effect. It was nice to feel like I was interacting with the actual character rather than a dodgy imitator.
What did feel like a dodgy imitation was the animation for said characters. I had little issue with the newest arrivals to the series, but when Margaery’s extraterrestrial design makes you question the series’ genre, then maybe it’s time to consider another direction.
Telltale has always used an art style that makes its games feel like they were lifted from the pages of a comic, and for The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, that’s worked. For Game of Thrones, they decided to use a style that’s more akin to lifting from a painting. Often it makes for a very different aesthetic, garnering the background into something more interesting than a forest, making that forest look like a piece of art. Yet, Telltale’s character animations have remained mostly the same. What we’re left with is an odd combination of oil landscapes behind clay busts. Sometimes it looks like the background is bleeding into a character’s limbs, and the whole image gets a little muddled.
Still, I enjoyed exploring every environment, speaking with each character, and interacting with multiple objects in hopes of furthering my goals even though they felt hopeless. In fact, I kept at it because of that hopelessness. Despite the questionable art style and occasionally plodding story, episode one succeeded in one major area: capturing the tone of Game of Thrones. I didn’t play as any Starks, but the plights of my characters echoe theirs, helping me to feel invested in every conflict’s outcome. The newest characters and events felt like a puzzle piece we never knew was missing from the main story of the television series. With the help of some familiar ones, the game fits nicely so far within the whole of this saga.
The Verdict: 7.9 out of 10
In the last few scenes, Telltale decided to elevate the suspense and drama, directing the episode to a shocking conclusion. After a slew of characters –the old and the new– were introduced and with the details of the plot established, the ending found a way to pull back my waning interest in true Game of Thrones style. If this season can find a way to not treat every Game of Thrones character to an equal level of pixel portraiture, then it will surely lend itself well to the series. With a necessary introduction behind it, I look forward to how this season will surprise, twist, and make its own mark.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Jordan Loeffler is an Associate Writer for MONG who drives a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with Minnesota license plates even though he lives in Portland, OR. She’s seafoam green, and she drives like a wave. You can follow him on IGN.