The Telltale ‘Game of Thrones’ Puts You in the Middle of a Deadly Westeros
If you’re at all into this Game of Thrones thing, you might’ve heard rumblings of a Game of Thrones video game released this week. That, in itself, is nothing surprising. Only the peak of game franchises are rewarded with their own movies (and even then, those movies are almost exclusively crushing disappointments). On the other side of the curtain though, it seems like every movie from Mean Girls to The Penguins of Madagascar is given a cheap tie-in game that’ll just end up in a landfill somewhere.
But Game of Thrones (or, to use its full, regal title, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series, Episode 1: “Iron From Ice”) is, in fact, not crappy. It’s actually pretty great – not entirely a surprise, considering that Telltale Games was responsible for a previous The Walking Dead game that blew the doors off both the comic and the TV series of the same name. Also, HBO personally plucked away George R. R. Martin’s personal assistant, Ty Corey Franck, and handed him to Telltale as a story consultant just to keep things up to snuff.
But is it worth it for those Game of Thrones aficionados that might not dig on video games? Is GoT:ATGS, E1: “IFI” a worthy companion during these long months away from the Seven Kingdoms? Well, let’s find out – and judge Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series not on its merits as a video game (that’s a job for Video Game School Rejects, and that site doesn’t exist), but solely on how this piece of interactive media makes use of the source material we know and love.
We’ll judge in two categories: the surface-level aspects of Game of Thrones (does gaming’s Peter Dinklage look like real life’s Peter Dinklage?) and the deeper ones (does playing Game of Thrones make you feel like you’re really in Westeros?). Now if you would, please hum the Game of Thrones theme as we begin.
Duuuuuh duuuuuuuh duh-duh-duh duuuuuuuuh duh-duh-duuuuuuuuuuuh…
On the Surface
First, the facts. Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is set in right in the same continuity as the book and TV series (although it’s based on the series first and foremost, so expect to hear “Yara” Greyjoy and not “Asha” Greyjoy). You play as various members of House Forrester, a house no one has heard of up until now, but is a legitimate part of the Game of Thrones universe, having been mentioned once in passing in the novels. Says Asha Greyjoy in “A Dance with Dragons:” “trackers and hunters sworn to Deepwood with clan names like Forrester and Woods, Branch and Bole.”
They have their own castle (Ironrath), their own house words (“Iron from Ice”) and their own sigil (a black sword on a white tree) all stemming from their status as woodcarvers – House Forrester controls a vast swath of ironwood trees, producing the sturdiest wood in Westeros. They’re sworn to House Glover, which in turn is sworn to Winterfell, making the Forresters proud, Sean Bean-stoic Northerners.
All the necessary care has been taken when tying this new tangential House to the rest of Game of Thrones. House Forrester is a microcosm of any major house in the series, given its own ruler, Maester, quasi-Hand of the King, and various minor lords and ladies. There’s just enough in there to make you feel like a legitimate part of Westeros, but there’s not so much that it’s needlessly complex, which is a good thing because you will be running it.
Throughout the course of this first episode (Telltale’s Game of Thrones is released in episodes; two or three-hour chunks of game available every few months.”Iron From Ice” is the first of six), you switch between three different members of the house, reminiscent of the ever-swapping POV chapters in the novels.
- Gared Tuttle, squire to the head of the House, Lord Gregory Forrester.
- Mira Forrester, oldest daughter of Lord Gregory.
- Ethan Forrester, third son of Lord Gregory.
Telltale promises two other lead roles in the future, but “Iron From Ice” only has three.
The characters look and emote convincingly enough (there’s an oil painting-y filter placed on all the game’s visuals that helps greatly), but any time the game trots out a likeness from the HBO series, any sense of immersion goes plummeting out the window.
“Iron From Ice,” has roles for Margaery, Cersei, Tyrion and Ramsay Snow – all voiced by their HBO counterparts, no less – but they’re not pretty to look at. This thing speaks like Peter Dinklage, but it looks like a baked potato in a blonde wig (or, in Margaery’s case, a fish that’s had some serious Botox work). The game-only characters, we’ve never seen in real life, so who cares if they’re a little videogamey? It’s the actors we’ve spent hours staring at that suffer from a nasty case of uncanny valley-ism. It’s an unfortunate double-edged sword, as the four HBO characters are far more than cameos – they play significant roles and have lasting impacts on the story. When they interact directly with you, the player, it lends the game an enduring sense of Game of Thrones importance. But including them means we also have to make plenty of eye contact with Baked Potato Dinklage.
The little touches match up, though as the costumes and settings feel accurate, and the music is culled right from Ramin Djawadi’s HBO soundtrack (although there’s a fair amount of original music, and it sounds like placeholder stuff in comparison). If you die, the words “Valar Morghulis” scrawl across the screen, which is a neat touch. So are the opening credits, a recreation of the HBO Thrones titles in Telltale’s own graphics engine.
The verdict? Telltale’s Game of Thrones resembles the real deal about as much as anyone could expect, barring the occasional character that looks like a swamp mutant.
Into the Depths
Game of Thrones is a point-and-click adventure game. Meaning, it’s not about skill or aiming or who can mash which button the fastest – there’s no skill involved, so to speak. “Iron From Ice” is more a choose-your-own-adventure novel brought to life than anything like Halo or Grand Theft Auto. For those who have played the Walking Dead game, all of this will feel familiar.
Take the game’s opening sequence, where Gared Tuttle finds himself on the wrong end of the Red Wedding. In the few minutes of calm before the carnage, your job is to talk to people including your fellow squires and the lord you’re squiring. Every time it’s your turn to speak, the game pops up with four potential responses, usually, highlighting different emotions or personality choices.
Hey, how’s it going? asks Squire #2.
A. Not bad.
B. What’s it to you?
C. My heart is a crippling ocean of sorrow.
D. *draws sword*
Only with slightly more subtlety.
That’s the bulk of the game, right there – moving through the story and slowly changing the outcome, depending on how you talk to whom, who you befriend and who you annoy, and the outcomes of certain crucial decisions. Every “not bad” you throw to Squire #2 creates a butterfly effect that’ll change the outcome all the way through the final chapter.
It’s the ideal format for a playable Game of Thrones. Yes, it’s a show where people frequently hack each other apart with swords, but every other series and game has swordplay in some form. What sets the world of Westeros apart is the verbal swordplay, and this is a verbal game.
Each of the three playable characters in “Iron From Ice” has his or her own form of conversational sparring. At the Red Wedding, Gared is told a cryptic secret, with explicit instructions to tell only one specific person. As his storyline weaves through the rest of the chapter, your little dialogue choices can give you the option of leading the conversation towards truth-telling, or blurting out the secret without hesitation. What do you do? Do you follow orders, give one person the secret message and leave it at that? What if telling a trusted friend might help you through another situation? What if the guy you’re supposed to tell is acting on edge and might be dangerous? Who do you trust?
That’s Gared’s end but Mira’s is in King’s Landing, working as a handmaiden for Margaery. She gets a long sequence (likely the standout of the entire episode) where she’s tasked with making a good impression on Cersei Lannister. It’s not easy as even a wonky digital Cersei is hugely intimidating, and the sequence ingeniously opens by forcing you to walk, tortoise-slow, down the Great Hall. Cersei and the Iron Throne grow slowly in the distance. Meanwhile Ethan, after a few Red Wedding tragedies (spoiler alert? It happens about five minutes into a several-hour game) is the new Lord Forrester and must assemble his small council, then parlay with Ramsay Snow.
It all feels so very Thronesy. As well it should – this is the the actual “game” in Game of Thrones. Again, there’s a slight weak link when the HBO characters show up – in planning for the sit-down with Ramsay, one of the options is to arm the troops and prepare for a fight, and in my play through I didn’t give that a second thought. What am I gonna do, kill Ramsay Snow circa season three? Not happening, game. I’ll choose “peaceful diplomacy,” thank you (although even that was creepy and horrible).
But given the other Game of Thrones gaming options are all roundly mediocre (your choices: a mediocre strategy, mediocre role-playing, and mediocre Facebook game, respectively), this is the creme de la bloody, Westerosi creme. If you find yourself bored waiting until season five, or the eventual 2046 release of “The Winds of Winter,” the best possible option just hit the market.
Related Topics: Game of Thrones