Sunday, November 22, 2015

Game of Thrones (2015 video game) review

    A Song of Wood and Iron.

    A Game of Trees.

    These are my nicknames for Telltale game's experimental adaptation of the HBO television show, Game of Thrones, which itself is an adaptation of the popular George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire series. I've reviewed all six parts of the story individually (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6) but feel the need to discuss the story as a whole and how it all comes together.

    Or doesn't.
You will want to kill these characters. Badly.

    My overall opinion is Telltale's Game of Thrones is a flawed but enjoyable game. The flaws are severe, however, and they are ones which I expected better from Telltale than. This isn't to say the game isn't good, mind you, it is. Telltale has some of its best writing and the setting of Westeros is such a vibrant and entertaining one that it's able to paper over a lot of the cracks in the walls.

    Unfortunately, by the cliffhanger ending, the roof has started to leak and you're very aware a lot of the things which you thought were important were actually just misdirections. I'll get to discussing all of the series flaws before the end of the review but, don't worry, I'll also be discovering what worked well.

    The premise of the game is House Forrester, bannermen to House Stark, are savaged by the Red Wedding and left with only a fraction of their former soldiers. With a psychotic and insane lord installed above them, the Forrester family must play the game of thrones in order to figure some way out of their predictment. The Forresters must beg, borrow, and steal in order to survive the anger of their longtime rivals in the Whitehills as well as the wrath of their overseer. Meanwhile, a former squire of the house is sent on a quixotic quest beyond the Wall in order to find a mythical location called the Northern Grove which may hold their house's salvation.

In the game of trees, you always lose and die. Period.
    The biggest problem with the above? Well, none of this will make any sense to someone who hasn't watched the first three season of HBO's Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, if you have watched the show (or better yet, read the novels), then a lot of the game will feel like a retread as the Forresters are eerily similar to the Stark family. While capturing the feel of the Stark's adventures is important, they went a little too far in making them stand-ins for various members of the family.

    Another major flaw of the game is it does its best to try and capture the constant doom and gloom of the show, which sometimes exceeds the book for shocking reversals of fortune. The number of times the Forresters have anything good happen to them in the game can be counted on one hand and the successes of the house are minuscule. The game also kills a lot of characters who aren't quite done with their development so you don't get the level of shock or enjoyment factor out of them you should. Perhaps the nadir is the utterly unwarranted and irritating fate of a character in King's Landing which is both mean spirited as well as frustrating given the events prior.

Some scenes are heartbreaking--and not for the reasons you expect.
    So it's awful, right?

    Not in the slightest.

    Game of Thrones successfully captures the complicated politics, violence, and interactions which embody the allure of Westeros. When you're under the dominion of a psychopath like Ramsay Bolton, there's nothing you can do about it because that's how the feudal system works.

    Is your self-respect worth more than your life? Is it better to be true to yourself or cowardly if it means your survival to fight another day? Is it better to make peace with your enemies or destroy them? All of these questions are represented in the game. Perhaps not perfectly, the Whitehills are such enormous [censored] that there's really no solution for dealing with them than setting them on fire then setting them on fire again but it's still headier stuff than most video games by far.

Peter Dinklage CAN do voice acting. Just not in Destiny.
    I'm actually quite fond of the Forresters despite their similarity to the Starks and while they suffer needlessly I wanted to see them successfully navigate the game of thrones to a happy ending. I'm particularly fond of Rodrik Forrester, Gared, and Talia. I never quite warmed to Asher who seemed like they'd dumped Han Solo into Essos (which I suppose would make Beshka Chewbacca) but, at least, he was an original character. I even have a perverse fondness for Gwyn Whitehill and Lady Glenmore who show the two sides of being a proper lady in Westeros.

    The world-building around the Forresters is impressive too. While they bear little similarity to the one-line Forresters from the book (being more a combination of House Glover and House Manderly than a third tier house of little comsequence), the Forresters feel like they belong in Westeros despite being mostly a creation of Telltale. The importance of house words, family, lineage, history, and rivalries are all brought out with great skill. When a character says, "Iron from Ice" you know they're repeating more than a family motto but a creed.

"Hi, I'm Jon Snow. Bye."
    The guest stars in the video game are a mixed bag. Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) do the best in terms of showing their multifaceted characters. I also felt both Lenda Hedey's Cersei and Iwan Rheon's Ramsay Snow did a pretty good job with their characters despite medium changes. My frustration with not being able to stab Ramsay in the eye is more to do with his plot immunity than Iwan's performance. Kit Harrington's Jon Snow, sadly, was completely unnecessary fanservice.

    The art of the game deserves special credit as it manages to have the painted style which isn't attempting to be realistic but works well for a timeless Disney-esque quality. Other games' graphics may fail but this is the sort of game which will be as fun in twenty-years as it is today. About the only thing I should warn you about is it's sadly damn near unplayable on Xbox 360. I had to change over to the Xbox One because the frequent pauses and stops rendered playing a nightmare.

    In conclusion, buy it but be aware of the flaws. This is an evocative game but it sometimes feels like you're on a set of railroad tracks when most Telltale games are better at disguising the road only goes one way. Nevertheless, they manage to capture the feel of Westeros and if they aren't quite up to the skill of George R.R. Martin in making their world then it certainly doesn't feel like they've bungled the job either. The art is beautiful, the characters entertaining, and I'm going to buy the sequel when it comes out.


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