Saturday, April 18, 2015

Game of Thrones: Episode 3: The Sword in the Darkness review

    The Telltale adaptation of the Game of Thrones television show, adapted from A Song of Ice and Fire, is perhaps its most ambitious undertaking yet. The Walking Dead remains the benchmark by which such things are judged. However, George R.R. Martin's work is infamous for its branching plotlines, deep storytelling, and fantastic subversion of fantasy tropes. I was a big fan of the first episode but significantly less so with the second. With the third episode, I think we've settled into a better pace which I hope will continue until the final episode.

    The premise for this section is to follow-up on a number of plots established in the previous episodes. The plot is only about halfway done but we're seeing some serious progress as well as a large amount of character development. The game nicely ties into several Game of Thrones show plots as well. The episode follows multiple storylines dealing with the Forester family members as they struggle to adapt to their new circumstances.

Drogon is animated beautifully in a particularly harrowing action sequence.
    Gared Tuttle adjusting to life on the Wall and swearing his vows before encountering two individuals from his past who change his perspective on the Night's Watch. Roderik must deal with being head of the Forester household despite being a cripple and their castle being under enemy control. Mira has to deal with the fact she's torn between Margaery as well as Tyrion for who will benefit her. Asher must try to figure out how to gain a mercenary army despite possessing coin and being on the run. Watching how these stories weave and intersect is the greatest appeal of The Sword in the Darkness.

    The game makes extremely good use of characters established in previous episodes. The daughter of the Whitehill family, Gared's friends in the Night's Watch, the Coal Boy ("Tom"), and others who became fully fledged characters here. We get to find out a number of secrets I never expected and this fits in with George R.R. Martin's Westeros. The game cuts down on cameos from the original series, instead using them only in select roles which fit their personalities. I appreciated that, even if I think they would have done well to not introduce so many in the first place.

Some of the most harrowing moments in the game are contests of words.
    There's some very satisfying scenes in the game, allowing the characters involved a sense of accomplishment even if nothing will be resolved for the final scene. Gared Tuttle gets a long-awaited rematch with a foe from Episode 1, Mira gets to make a firm alliance with either Tyrion or Margaery, and Roderik gets to show why House Forester is bowed but not broken. I also liked we got to see our first dragon this game.

    The Sword in the Darkness is also good with its moral decisions, an area I hadn't expected to be touched upon. You can choose to work for peace with the Whitehills or seek your revenge on your lord's betrayer. You can try to make peace with your friends or hang onto your grudges. You can attempt to keep your oath to the Night's Watch or work to save your noble friends.

    It's good stuff.
The swearing of the Nightwatchmen's oath is a powerful, moving scene.
     If I had to give kudos to the developers for one thing, it's how well they've established the tension between the Foresters as well as the Whitehills and Lannisters. The game does a wonderful job of making it clear the Foresters don't have any political, military, or financial capital to rely on. While I complained about Episode 2 not having much in the way of consequences, I retract that statement as we see how the characters are slowly building up their reserves again.

    This episode ties into the "Purple Wedding", which is something all fans of the books/television series should know as well as be grateful for. Honestly, I think they could have done it a little closer-to-the-action than the way they handled it in the game but the events are a political game-changer. They also felt more organic in throwing all of the plans of the Foresters into chaos, too, perhaps because we franchise fans knew it was coming. I do think it's a shame we never got to see a certain character who dies there meet with Mira, though, as I believe their interactions would have been quite entertaining.

    There is one very annoying moment where you are able to put your military power to use for one plan or another (either rescuing a member of your house or expelling the Whitehills) but this gets stalled by a revelation from a third party. While I'm sure this plotline will come up in later editions of the story, I felt cheated of not getting those results after so much set-up. Still, overall, I loved how things progressed. It was never too slow or two fast and I'm starting to feel the game taking shape for its finale.

The Foresters' suffering never ends.
    In conclusion, this is a solid entry into the franchise and I have no complaints. I'm anxiously awaiting the next installment. If they can keep up this balance of storytelling styles and give each protagonist something to do then I think it will be considered one of Telltale's best games when all is said and done.


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