SOLID AS ICE
The first three episodes of Telltale Games‘ six-episode season of Game of Thrones have taken us to Essos, King’s Landing, to the Wall, and even north of it. These episodes sufficiently introduced the point-of-view characters as well as some decent peripheral characters, demonstrating that making friends in Westeros can often be no easy task. Although this season’s harkening to the HBO series can sometimes feel a little shameless, it doesn’t detract from the dynamic storytelling Telltale is known for. With Episode Four: Sons of Winter, the plot has finally fully broken into its own stride without relying on familiar faces and familiar themes. Rather, the entire episode seems to be sprinting towards a climactic conclusion to the Forrester tale, while also making sure no detail is lost before the end.
For the first time this season, we have an episode that doesn’t just feel like a replica of elements from the HBO series. Characters are finding their own way through their trials and no longer appear recycled from those we are all too familiar with (Mira feels less like Sansa, Rodrick less like Rob, etc.).
It may just be that it has taken three episodes to really get a feel for each character, or maybe they just needed time to fully develop, but this time I found it a lot easier to fall into each character’s role, to understand what they might be thinking and how to appropriately act. Plus, there were a healthy number of what I’d like to call “Go Fck Yourself” lines spread throughout this episode, and they often felt quite warranted. Don’t like someone or the way they’re acting? Tell them to “go fck themself.” It’s really quite liberating, and it brings out some humorous expressions from side and main characters alike.
As I alluded to before, a lot happens in this episode. For the first time, the plot progresses in some meaningful ways. At no point is there a truly jaw-dropping moment like the end of Episode One: Iron From Ice but that doesn’t mean each turn of events isn’t satisfying. Even though your decisions aren’t making for significant differences in each playthrough, the game does a good job of disguising it, for the most part. At one crucial point in Rodrick’s plotline, I had the opportunity to signal for soldiers to enter. A quicktime event would trigger the assault, but I decided to wait just a little longer. I refused to press the corresponding button. The effect was Rodrick signaling the soldiers anyway, and the game continued as if my decision to stall never even happened. It was a little disappointing to get even that brief glimpse behind the curtain.
In Essos, Asher’s plotline continues to amble along as the weakest out of the point-of-view characters as he tries to raise an army to “save” his family in Westeros. It continues to feel like an excuse to introduce Danaerys to the game along with her coveted dragons. With the way things are playing out in Westeros, I’m still unsure how Asher will play a significant role. Beskha is still the best part of these scenes (especially with this episode’s highlight on her character development). The two of them not only fight well together, but often have witty and provocative banter. They’re good characters, to be sure, but part of me wishes they’d just stay the hell away from Westeros and have a good time on their own.
If Asher’s lack of an effect on the overall plot is discouraging, then fear not. Mira makes the impact you’re looking for. It may be a little vague, but I think we can rest assured that her game of thrones in King’s Landing will certainly make waves for her family whether they be for better or worse. Also, remember the “Go F*ck Yourself” lines? Be sure to savor those in her scenes. I’ll say no more on the matter.
Did I mention there’s a good deal of action in this episode too? Asher and Gared take the fight to two very different parts of the world. Both instances of violence are well-directed but are able to do a little more than get your heart racing. Reading the expressions on a companion’s face during a fight creates a window into how they’re feeling about the most recent interaction with the character you’re playing, as well as other characters. Is Beskha playful or really ticked off at Asher? Does Cotter trust Finn? Some of the reflex decisions of these fights add a lot of momentum to what otherwise is the screen prompting you to press a button. It’s a noticeable departure from the earlier episodes when failure in combat does not necessarily mean death and a restart and can just be detrimental to the character’s cause.
Rodrick’s scenes continue to forward the season in the most apparent ways, but seem to offer the most problems, mechanically speaking. Like the previously-mentioned quicktime event, there may be many avenues (apparent to the player) to solving any given problem presented to Rodrick, but not all of them will be options (understandably so since it would be improbable to have so many branching trees of dialogue, cutscenes, voice-acting, and that doesn’t even account for the story variables it would present in a game that is meant to tie into the HBO series). This became most problematic when the discussion on the Ironrath “traitor” was raised without mention of who I find most suspicious. Sometimes it’s a little too apparent how much the game seemingly values player choice, but is truly on-rails: an issue Telltale Games seems to struggle with regularly.
The Verdict: 9.0 out of 10
Episode Four: Sons of Winter has its flaws, but when compared to the rest of the season, it is the beacon that represents everything we love about Game of Thrones and Telltale Games. For the first time since the end of Iron From Ice, I found myself getting emotionally charged over characters’ scenes, cheering them on, laughing with them, and occasionally feeling a deep kinship forming. Much like when watching the HBO series, I didn’t want the episode to end. When it did, it was difficult not to speculate when we might see the last two episodes and to hope it’s soon.
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Jordan Loeffler is an Associate Editor 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 also follow him on IGN and on Twitter.