Game of Thrones
May 15, 2012
When I first heard of Game of Thrones
getting the video game treatment, I couldn’t help but “SQUEEEEEEEE” like a raging fanboy. HBO’s hit show of the same name had me hooked since the first episode, leading me to buy the entirety George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, and it easily became my favorite group of novels of all time.
That being said, I was also concerned. The game was being worked on by Cyanide Studio, a relatively unknown developer. I was cautiously optimistic. Then came word that the game was being published by Atlus, and hope sprung anew. Soon after that, word came out that George R.R. Martin himself was helping to work on the game and that HBO would also be licensing it, so my worries and doubts were squelched.
And then I checked out the game’s website and saw how it looked. The first thing I noticed was a location in the game called Riverspring. “What the hell is Riverspring?” I asked myself. I’d never heard of the town before, so I pulled out my trusty dusty map of Westeros and my suspicions were confirmed—in the books and the show, there was no such thing as Riverspring. Then I noticed the names of the characters. “Sarwyck? Never heard of them.” Something else created specifically for the game. I was now completely unsure of it.
On the roller coaster of expectations for this game, these revelations helped it take another dip.
Having said all that, it was just a few weeks ago that I wasn’t even sure I’d buy the game, but after yet another incredible episode of the show that Sunday night, I couldn’t help myself. I just love Game of Thrones
too much, and I think that if you do too, you can definitely find a lot of joy in this game.
The story revolves around two main characters: Mors Westford, a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, and Alester Sarwyck, the heir to the city of Riverspring who had fled Westeros to the Free Cities of Essos to become a Red Priest some 15 years before the game began. Both characters served together as friends and allies during Robert’s Rebellion, when now-King Robert Baratheon called upon his bannermen who helped overthrow the “Mad King” Aerys II Targaryen.
As the game begins, Mors is continuing his duty protecting the realm at The Wall, a giant ice wall that protects the rest of Westeros from the north and all the wildlings and other terrors that lurk beyond it. Alester, on the other hand, is returning to Westeros for the first time since after Robert’s Rebellion, as he has learned of the passing of his father, Lord Raynald Sarwyck of Riverspring.
Much like the books and the show, the game bounces back and forth between perspectives, with most of the game’s 15 chapters alternating between Mors and Alester. I thought this was a very nice touch. It keeps with the style of the franchise and it also helps keep things fresh.
The events that unfold span north and south through Westeros from the icy confines of The Wall and the whore-ridden Mole’s Town, down to the bustling streets of the capital, King’s Landing. As the incredibly-written story unfolds, there are more twists and turns and backstabbings and revelations than I’ve experienced in a game this generation, but this is something fans have come to expect from George R.R. Martin. Throw in a villain who I ended up hating almost as much as King Joffrey—and that's saying A LOT—and the plot of the game is something that fans need to experience for themselves.
Martin once said that he wants readers to be afraid to turn the pages in his books, in fear that their favorite character might die. The game is no different. Shocking events are around every corner, and the story is the biggest strength in Game of Thrones
that helps drive it forward and make you want to keep playing for hours on end.
Sadly, Game of Thrones
is extremely lacking in the visual department. Most environments are flat and uninspired and some of them even look last-gen quality. Walking through the snowy wilderness of the north offers ugly-looking shrubbery and poorly-lit areas. Many times, you'll find yourself walking through underground tunnels or dungeons and find that they look all-too-similar to one you've already visited.
Character models are hit or miss, such as Mors and Alester being hits and just about everyone else being a miss. Many character models are used over and over again as I think I saw the same woman play about four different roles.
Ofttimes there were performance issues in my playthrough, whether it be after going through a door or into a new area. Framerate issues are apparent throughout and the game seems to come to a violent slowdown when there’s a lot happening on the screen.
The shoddy graphics in the game makes the product come off as lazy by first glance and does no justice to the hard work that the team at Cyanide put into the game, working on it for the last few years, even before the show began to air.
Still, though, it's not all bad. King's Landing and The Wall both look pretty damn cool, and that should make fans happy. As an overall package, however, the game is just not good-looking whatsoever.
Again, another hit or miss. The game features the incredible soundtrack from the show, composed by Ramin Djawadi, including the now-famous main theme when you first boot up the game and visit the start menu. A lot of the songs are familiar to the trained ear or obsessive fan like myself, but the joy is taken away as the music randomly cuts out at times. During a cutscene, during gameplay, on a loading screen, whenever. The sound just cuts off. It’s disappointing.
Voice acting is yet another hit or miss, with the actors portraying Mors and Alester doing a great job. Also shining through are James Cosmo and Conleth Hill, playing Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Lord Varys respectively, actors from the show who lent both their likenesses and voice talent to the game. This adds an extra bit of awesome for Thrones fanatics. And then there’s Queen Cersei Lannister, who was modeled after her actress, Lena Headey, but voiced by a sound-alike. Not gamebreaking but disappointing nonetheless.
The combat took the biggest adjustment from me, as I’d never really experienced anything like it. If I had to summarize, I’d call it a mix between the fighting styles of an MMO and Dragon Age
. You target an enemy, pull up an ability wheel(which makes time move extremely slowly, allowing you to plot out your next move) and select an attack/defense/item usage and watch your character go at it. At first it was jarring, but I honestly have to say that it grew on me.
As Mors and Alester level up, they gain new abilities to add to their ability wheel. The gameplay gets more and more fun as the game wears on and new abilities are learned, helping to add a freshness and a sense of strategy to the combat. It’s actually extremely gratifying once you combine attacks with party members.
Mors and Alester are each special in their own way. Mors is a skinchanger, or a ‘warg,’ which allows him to take control of his mangy mutt of an old dog. In combat, the dog can attack the throats of the enemy, bark loudly to boost morale, bite their hand to remove their weapon or shield and more. Outside of combat, Mors can enter the mind of his dog and the game enters into a first-person view where holding down a shoulder button reveals scents that the dog can track, leading you to people and objectives you must find. This is extremely useful, especially when there are enemies and sentries around. If the dog sneaks up on an unsuspecting guard, he can tackle it from behind and rip his throat out to save his master the effort of having to kill him himself.
As Alester is a Red Priest, a master of the fire religion that worships the red God Rh’llor, he wields a form of pyromancy. He’s able to light his blade on fire, boosting attack strength and setting enemies aflame, which is extremely effective when getting attacked by a large group. He’s also able to use his “Flame of Rh’llor” ability which can revive a downed teammate, the only way to do so in the game. The variety between Mors and Alester is extremely representative.
Dialogue choices can be very important—the weight of what you say can change events in the game such as decide an NPC’s fate or even which ending you can get. Sometimes, you can’t get what you want without choosing the right dialogue, and other times you won’t even survive. It actually surprised me that a dialogue choice I made early on in the game directly decided the fate of a minor character. This isn't a main selling point of the game, but maybe it should be.
The three weapon-types in the game—cutting, perforating and dull—for swords, knives, dirks, axes, hammers and so-forth, have different effects on the three different types of armor you'll face—light, medium and heavy. Perforating weapons work best against medium armor, dull weapons work best on heavy armor, etc. Often you’ll face differently-armored enemies in battle, which makes the clicking of the left stick to switch to a second weapon-set extremely important. It just adds more depth to the combat.
There are a few side quests in the game, but nothing too extreme. The game is kind of linear, which is both okay-by-me and a bit disconcerting. It’d be nice to explore Westeros and get lost in the mythology of it, but there’s a distinct plot to the game and the main quests make you stick to them, for the most part.
Game of Thrones
can last anywhere from 25-35 hours on a first playthrough, with a second easily warranted for seeing both endings and wrapping up any loose achievements or trophies. This is a surprisingly deep RPG that had my attention for several extended play sessions.
As a die-hard and obsessed fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones
and George R.R. Martin’s "A Song of Ice and Fire," I’d love nothing more than to give this game a 9 or a 9.5. As a hardcore gamer and critic, however, Game of Thrones
has many faults that simply cannot be overlooked. But, in summation, these numerous faults do not take away the fact that the game weaves an intricate and fantastic storyline that any fan of the show and/or books must experience for themselves.
My worries about the inclusion of all-new locations and families were put to bed pretty quickly. Sure, you're not likely to see any Sarwycks pop up in the show, but everything fits so perfectly and seamlessly that you end up saying to yourself "I guess this could've happened." In short, it didn't take away from the experience at all. There's enough familiarity between the characters, the jargon and the mentions of events from the books and show that are happening as the events of the game unfold to make it an enjoyable experience.
If you’re not into the show or the books, odds are this is not for you. If you’re a gamer who’s turned off by bad graphics, this is not for you. Sadly, the game is also not a good introduction into the Game of Thrones
universe, and acts solely as a supplement to what’s already there. That being said, it's an excellent supplement and a true achievement in video game storytelling. If you're a non-fan who's just looking for a story-driven RPG, then this is definitely worth looking into.
In general, this game was made for fans of the books and show. If you don't find yourself fitting into either category, then it's not likely that you'll like it nearly as much as I did. This game has a specific target audience, and with that, I think that they nailed it.
To close: if you're a fan, pick the game up. If you're a person who skips cutscenes to get to gameplay: avoid at all costs. If you like story-driven RPG's: wait for a price drop.