Saturday, November 21, 2015

Game of Thrones: Episode 6: The Ice Dragon review

    "If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention."
    -Ramsay Bolton

    The quote above summarizes this game in a nutshell.

    I love Telltale Games, I truly do but I'm rather irritated by the fact this ends on a cliffhanger. The Walking Dead video game got two sequels but both of them were self-contained stories in their own right. I see no reason why Game of Thrones couldn't have been the same way. So, if you want the biggest strike against The Ice Dragon then you should definitely know the story is really just the first part in what will undoubtedly be a much longer epic.

Beshka and Rodrik are an odd friendship I'd like to have seen more of.
    To which I say boo.


    `The premise of this episode is the Whitehills have finally decided to march on Ironrath, having gotten well and truly sick of Forrester defiance. The Forresters have the sellsword army recruited by Asher but it is unhappy and untested against real soldiers.

    Furthermore, the Forresters have suffered a previous loss in a previous episode and this casts a pall over the resulting events. Mira Forrester, meanwhile, struggles with the fact she is now the primary suspect in the murder of a Lannister guard. Finally, Gared Tuttle manages to get to reach the North Grove and discover exactly what Lord Forrester wanted him to protect.

    I give credit to Telltale games for actually making the ending of Season One very determental. Whichever way you choose for Episode 5's climax results in an entirely different version of Episode 6. I actually hope they manage to avoid the usual "cutting off the branches" in Season Two as I think it would terrible for the final choice to be rendered meaningless by the survivor being killed.

The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair.
    Honestly, I'm not sure how they're going to Season Two without doing that, though, since there's a lot of people who can live or die in this finale. It would be difficult to list them all but it's a number only exceeded by the people who definitely die. This is perhaps the bloodiest installment of any Telltale game yet and that's a ludicrously high bar to leap over.

    Unfortunately, it's a value of diminishing returns as killing so many interesting characters only means the relationships developed in previous episodes don't get to be followed up on. There's a TV trope for this called, "They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character" and you'd need two hands to count the number they waste. So did I hate it? Not really. Did I like it? Mostly! Did I love it? Eh, no.

    Aside from the fact it's a cliffhanger with no real ending to the story, the biggest problem of the game is there's really just too damn much going on. It's not so much an emotional roller-coaster as one long dip because it never bothers to go up again. By the time the game is done, I was just numb from the experience and not in the same way I was from the best parts of The Walking Dead's first season. More like the worst parts of Season Two of The Walking Dead where things start at grimdark and move to a kind of darkness event horizon.   

I will say the Whitehills finally graduate from stupid flunkies to villains I want to kill as much as Ramsay Bolton.
    I mean, there's an actual scene where a protagonist can do the human sacrifice of a close friend to do mind-control magic. Seven hells, people. I will say, though, Telltale was smart enough to let me kill one of the Forrester enemies.

    And it was oh so satisfying.

     Of all the plotlines, I think the one between Rodrik/Asher and the Whitehills was the most entertaining. I think it was a suitably epic battle between them and if not for the number of named characters prematurely ended, I would have said it was a fitting finale. Sadly, it feels more like it should have been Episode 5 rather than Episode 6 and if they're going to end the season there, they should have extended the season however many episodes they needed to get it done.

I wonder if Telltale realized the implications here.
     Mira's story ends not with a bang but a whimper and while I chose an appropriate way for her story to climax, the fact it ends on such a sadistic pointless way left a sour taste in my mouth. In the game of thrones, you either win or you die but there's only choosing how you lose here and that's rather tragic.

    When they do Season Two, I really hope they work on the pacing for this story. I'm a fan of grimdark and love it when stories are gritty as well as troubled. Despite this, I also expect events to flow to a certain order and things seem to constantly reverse themselves the favor of the villains. A proper grimdark story doesn't care about the heroes but it doesn't care about the villains either. It is an amoral uncaring place where there's no safety net for anyone. Here, Ramsay Bolton and the Whitehills seem to be operating with a particularly sturdy one.

    Despite this, I'm going to be picking up Season Two first day. The Game of Thrones universe is one I love and while I wish it would dial it down a bit, I was still entertained by the story. I came to care about House Forrester despite the constant ass-kicking they got and hope they manage to get some measure of revenge on their tormentors.

    Call me an addict.


  1. I think the problem that Talltales Game of Throne series has is that while it follows logic and reality in how the Forresters path goes in season one, it sticks too much to the two and it sucks out a lot of the tension and interest people would have in this series.

    The Forresters story in season one was just too clear of a shoot a shaggy dog story, that and the fact they were simply too much like the starks to stand on their own as characters (part from Asher and Beska whose interactions and fleshed out characters and backstories made their arc's by far the most entertaining and investing to go through).

    Also Talltales perchance for railroading the plot so much that choices matter little affect their games as well, they might as well not have choices if they are going to go the same path either way. I.E on Asher path even if you go for peace, you get the fight and Asher's mum dies no matter what you do. That takes quite a bit out of replay value for me in the game.

    Still the finale had its great moments, either killing Ludd or Griff is very satisfying, along with the final fight with their brute being done well in my view.

    As either way the Whitehills are left in a weak position with their leader or most active son lost, along with lost numbers and a very damaged ironrath will mean they will get little spoils from this whole mess.

    Plus in the long run Ramsay has just damaged his house's position by costing their bannermen number that they will need for later events in the show.

    It's this and Gared's potential season 2 arc and the fact the children Forresters live is what keeps me invested in season two of this game.

    Malcolm's potential arc in season I'm not sure where it will go simply due to how things go in meeran in season five, though a potential crossing with Vary's might prove to be interesting, or him maybe being near iron islands.

    However despite all this, the problem is that in the short term we have to deal with so much misery and crap that it sucks any enjoyment from both the TV series and the game. Ramsey is just one black hole of Villain sue dominating everything.

    Talltale need to look at where they can improve for season two, what they got right, and also look at improving or changing their engine.

    I would say they need to increase the number of episodes as this season had too few to do the story and characters justice, either make canon character fully part of storylines or get rid of them and focus fully on new characters. Write better villains for season two as the Whitehills were very cartoonish and too over the top to be taken seriously for the most part.

    Don't kill off characters too quickly as they did with Beast and Arthur, plus killing too many characters actually makes death scenes less impactful each time.

    Overall Talltale have this plan to do a lot of stuff with Game of Thrones, and it has much potential, but they need to revaluate where they are at the moment to make sure that they don't fall into traps the have done this season at times.

    I know they are restricted in many ways by canon and the main plots of the TV series and books, but they need to find a way to work around that.

    1. I think the game could have ended with a bit more catharsis, personally. Killing Ludd Whitehill and Gryff versus just one or the other would have gone a long way to making the game feel less like a Shaggy Dog Story. I also think it would have been better to keep Mira Forrester alive. The story would have been more powerful, I believe if only Elisa had died as that would have made her death feel more powerful. Personally, I think Mira's story was just too interesting to end on the simple note of Ned Stark even if I think choosing to die with dignity for Tom was about the noblest act in the series.

      I also like the Whitehills as villains even as I wish the game had bothered to explain WHY Ludd Whitehill was such an enormous dick. I think an excuse of some kind more than being the Forrester's rivals would have gone a long way to making the excessive pettiness and hatred make more sense. After all, we know Littlefinger was humiliated by Brandon Stark.

    2. The Whitehills definitely had their moments, Ludd was always a pleasure to watch for how much of a cocknob he is, that and he reminds me of a fair few people in real life he hail from northern England where I live. Most from pie eating Wigan who have as much grace as Ludd does.

      Yes if they had fleshed out the details of Ludd and other characters, I think he would have worked better as a villain for me. As petty motives only got so far for an arc villain unless they are brilliant in their moves, which Ludd and Gryff sadly were not.

      Oh I would love to have killed both of them off just to see where it would leave Gwen at or the son who is with the Bolton's. alsa it wasn't meant to be.

      What was your favourite killing of Ludd? for me the poisoning simply due to how it fed his glutton nature and was ironic for how he went on about guest honour two episodes back despite Walder breaking it was what allowed him to rise in the first place.

      Plus just how Asher can play it, though his mother dying as well made it potent but also let her have her Catlyn moment of being a northerner in all but name.

      Kind of full circle in a way.

    3. For me, the Asher ending has a lot of FRIDGE HORROR (see TV tropes) which wouldn't be apparent to most players. Basically, the wedding ambush is breaking guest right no matter what. Asher basically turns the Forrester family into the Freys. Asher in his desire for revenge becomes like Jaime Lannister, a Man without Honor.

    4. It's something I noticed as well, that the Forresters doing this basically goes against everything held value in Westros. All because they have had enough of Ludd and his family's bullying of them, it's what allows the Forresters to be foils of the starks instead of just expies.

      As well as referring to what you said in your episode 4 review of Walder Frey's actions at the red wedding forever changing the game of guest right forever.

      This as well pushes the Forrester into grey or even dark grey territory, making them for me more interesting and wanting to see the consequences of them doing this course of action in season two.

      So Telltale found somewhat of a way to give the players the chance or kill Ludd or Gryff, but laying out the consequences of it all the same.

      Could it have been done better, probably in a few areas like Mira's fate. Though her killing a Lannister guard was always going to catch up to her sooner or later, along with trusting the wrong people like Morygan and even Tom on some level simply due to him not having the power or connections to shield Mira from her actions.

      That article link I saw on your Twitter today for this game I thought was great and pointed out the limits of Talltales games.

    5. Yeah, The Forresters aren't the Starks. They're like trees than wolves: flexible. :) Albeit, I hope Telltale brings up violating guest right in any future installments.

    6. That they are, and tree's can blend or break at any given moment. But they are hard as rock in ice.

  2. For me the failures that bring down the episode are as follows.

    The Cersei plot was completely dropped and was not even really mentioned, last in episode five we saw Mira fail to get the information out of Tyrion she promised she would get for Cersei. and What were the consequences for failing the dreaded queen Cersei? Nothing evidently! We don't even get a message from her or anything. The fact that Cersei has no screentime during the episode is made even more baffling by the fact that she narrates part of the epilogue. So clearly they had Lena Headey in for line recording.

    I was annoyed that we still never really got to learn what the North Grove really did, I know it had something to do with the White Walkers or atleast how to combat them. I guess they couldn't or didn't want to reveal information that might potentially give hints at the main story's White Walker/Other ultimative conclusion. I also found the ending to Tuttle's plotline to be fairly weak, or at least the "Stay at the North Grove" ending was. Not sure how the other is. I guess I just found the lack of any deeper revelation about the North Grove to make the whole journey feel like something of a let down even if I liked most of Gared's plot in EP6.

    Going back to Mira, I really liked the ending decision and I was surprised to hear that she can potentially end up with her head cut off, though I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. But as much as I liked the choice, I feel it plays into my biggest problem with the episode.

    That the next season, something which is clearly being teased at in this episode, will make alot of things in the episode irrelevant. Mira being alive, married to Morgryn and in position to take revenge on the Whitehills? Forget about any of that now that she is a possibly dead character, I'll bet money on her getting killed almost immediatly in the S2E1 or made trivial and be absent afterwards. Gared staying at or leaving the North Grove? We all know he's gonna end up in an entirely different location regardless. The one I am not going to complain about is Ashker/Rodrick dying in S2EP1 though, because that one would actually feel fitting.

    Speaking of Asher surviving, what the **** was Royland doing showing up at the end to help Asher and Talia?

    Despite all this, I still found enjoyment from the episode. The confrontation with the Whitehills was generally great and I liked the ending, it felt very ASOIF-ish with tragedy happening but still leaving us with hope in the form of Beskha, Asher, Ryon and Talia all managing to escape.

    Funny enough, the biggest problem with this story is the medium it is told in. Had this been the ending to a book or a TV series I would love it. But since it's a video game I know alot of what happened is going to be trivialized in someway, the worst being Mira, a shame since she was by far my favorite part of the season.

    Also, no regrets playing as Asher in this episode. Haven't seen Rodrick's version but the episode fitted Asher's character like a glove.

    Next to TFTBL's season finale however, and this actually looks like Shakespeare in comparison. Still I agree with the general score you have this, perhaps I would have given it a slightly lower 7.

    1. Ken Levine, creator of Bioshock, had serious issues with the concept of "choice" in video games and created Bioshock: Infinite in order to make fun of the concept. The "kill a kid, protect a kid" choice in Bioshock was actually meant to make fun of the concept first but he was horrified to find out a lot of magazines were praising him for giving the option when it was meant to be a satire of a ridiculous nonsensical choice.

      With Telltale, they're really not selling you a choice. What they're selling you is the illusion of a choice. I'm honestly not sure how they're going to be able to handle all of the potential variant choices they do in this game but I'm really hoping they don't just do what they did in Season Two of TWD and kill everyone. Roderik is such an important character to me that I don't think the game would be the same without him and I'm sure others feel the same way about Asher. I chose to let Mira die because, well, it was time to be true to the North or embrace the corruption of King's Landing and while ironwood bends, it does not break.

      Still, I think it would be terrible to have her "live" only to be the slave of Lord Mogryn forever.

    2. I actually vastly prefered Rodrick even up to the finale choice in EP5, in fact I even thought Asher was one of Telltale least interesting protagonists so far (certainly GOTs at least), yet I still chose him over Rodrick in hopes of his story atleast being somewhat redeemed. If Asher died in EP5 it would have made his entire story feel like a bloody farce, Rodrick's death in 5 felt far more appropiate. Fortunatly, EP6 redeemed Asher as a protagonist for me and I am actually looking forward to seeing him in Season 2, even if I expect him to quickly pull an Obi-Wan for Talia so she can pick up the mantle as protagonist.

      Nah, in the end what completely kills any interest for S2 for me is Telltale's track record for respecting choices. Mira was one of my favorite characters and I was really looking forward to playing as her again, I loved the idea of Mira having to use all of her wit, guile and charm to turn her marriage of convience into a posistion of strenght and use it to get payback on the Whitehills and reclaim the now lost Ironrath.

      Sorry Tom, but my loyalty to my family and need for vengeance is bigger.

      Still, felt pretty shit about it.

      Alas, it will all be for nought when S2 comes out.

    3. I had no real problem with the final choice being whether Mira would stand true to her Northern roots or die a Forrester but I think the choice was improperly framed.

      It left a lot of people assuming this was just another chapter of Mira's story versus the climax of it. Even so, I think it may not be as bad as that. I am hoping that Telltale will do what they did with the Royland/Duncan choice and merge the narratives versus chopping off the branches. Asher and Roderik will be able to continue their stories in a functionally identical way which will allow the choice of who survives to remain meaningful (sadly, I suspect we'll be switching away from those two to Beshka, Talia, Gared, and probably the bastard Forresters).

      I do think Mira can make an appearance in the sequel, perhaps with her story merged with the Coal boys. Mogryn could be plotting something nefarious and depending on your final choice, either Mira or the Coal Boy will slip you some vital piece of information which allows you to thwart evil.