July 02, 2012
A popular series of books and a subsequent hit HBO TV show has ensured that Game of Thrones is a huge deal and cultural phenomenon, transforming the tie-in game that was originally based solely upon the novels, into something of a high-profile prospect. An RPG that takes elements from both the books and the TV show, adopting some of the TV series' iconography, character likenesses and voices, Game of Thrones is still clearly more faithful to George RR Martin's printed word than the HBO adaptation, which is of course no bad thing. As it happens, the game is a mix of the show and books, which should please all the fans, right?
And with an original story penned in collaboration with Martin himself that runs parallel to the events of the first book and first series of the show, Game of Thrones the game has all of the key ingredients to make for an intriguing companion to the rest of the established lore. At least, that's what it should have been. Instead, Cyanide Studios' Game of Thrones is a bit dull, with a glacial pace that'll have you glazing over in no time, as you endure the overly wordy and meandering script, with some of the worst voice acting we've heard in a video game since the 90s, when almost all video game voice acting sucked.
However, perseverance is rewarded in Game of Thrones, because if you can stick with it for the first five flabby chapters, it's an RPG that'll pay you back in spades. First impressions aren't kind to Game of Thrones, as it's incredibly slow getting started and the sheer amount of dire-logue you have to wade through before the narrative begins to escalate and draw you in, is pretty interminable. You start out as Night's Watch ranger Mors Westford, a grizzled veteran of Robert Baratheon's Rebellion, who having betray his lord is forced to leave his wife and daughter for the Wall.
As such you begin at Castle Black, reporting to Jeor Mormont, commander of the Night's Watch with actor James Cosmo's voice and likeness all present and correct. As character models go, Mormont's is probably the best in the game and the rest are pretty shoddy by comparison. The game is plagued by low-res, muddy textures that make cut-scenes look incredibly ropey. The various locations you'll visit around Westeros are far more picturesque, with a serviceable amount of detail but a distinct lack of atmosphere. While the environments all look perfectly nice, they're bereft of life or activity, feeling somewhat static as a result.
If you can overlook the inconsistent and largely unappealing visuals and the awful voice work, beneath the surface there's a decent – though very linear – RPG to be found. Each chapter plays out like a compartmentalised episode, switching between Mors and red priest of R'hllor, Alester Sarwyck, before their stories intersect and things start to get gradually more compelling after a first third that really drags. By comparison, the final two thirds of the game are much stronger and as you level up your character, the combat becomes a less drawn out and more satisfying affair. Slightly similar to Dragon Age: Origins' tactical battling, you queue up attacks and abilities, managing how much energy you expend with each action you perform to hopefully come out on top.
Before you even start Game of Thrones, you'll choose stances for both Mors and Alester, deciding the kind of character you'll build as you progress. Choose to make Alester a Water Dancer for instance (like Arya Stark's Braavosi fight instructor, Syrio Forel in series one of the show) and you'll have swift, graceful moves that favour one-handed swordplay and light or medium armours. Make Mors a Hedge Knight, and you'll wield two-handed weapons like broadswords, axes and hammers, as well as utilising heavy armours. There are three character template options like these for both Mors and Alester.
There's more than adequate RPG depth in Game of Thrones then, but little refinement in the details that could have raised it to a much higher quality. The level of dedication and the amount of time required to actually get into the game also proves a huge stumbling block, but if you can stick with it, there are some excellent secondary quests and story moments to enjoy, as well as some smart nods to the fans. George RR Martin's cameo as a maester ought to raise a few smirks for instance. The interplay between Alester and Mors' narrative threads is also well-constructed, with each chapter ending in a cliffhanger of sorts, switching between the red priest's quest to take back his Riverspring home from his treacherous bastard brother Vallar, and the Night's Watch veteran's fight to find his family and protect an enigmatic young girl.
While Alester's side of the story deals with the politics, games and deception at work in Game of Thrones, Mors visits the darker regions of Westeros, creating a good balance of action, negotiation and decision-making across the two stories. The narrative actually manages to hang together rather well the more you progress, and as you learn more about the inner workings and conspiracies transpiring in and around places like King's Landing, Mole's Town, The Wall and Riverspring, the whole experience exponentially improves. Game of Thrones is something of a mixed bag then, and we'll admit that initially, we hated the game, finding it boring and impenetrable.
From an achievements standpoint, there's a whole bunch on the list dedicated to simple story progression, alongside an array of secret achievements rewarded for completing certain objectives during each chapter. Chances are, you'll miss a lot of them if you don't know what they are, although if you're lucky, some of these secret achievements will pop on their own. There's the usual range of achievements attached to progression, levelling and skills, making for a fairly by the numbers list. Mercifully, it's fairly easy to complete, provided you have a save near the end of the game to complete both story strands in one playthrough.
Cyanide Studios' Game of Thrones is a decent enough effort at creating a companion piece to the books and TV series, but it's a massively flawed RPG that is bereft of polish and attention to detail. Across the board, the presentation fails to deliver with floaty animations and lacklustre visuals that only very rarely manage to hit the mark. With a script that's far too verbose and flowery for its own good, it's a tough game to get into. Fans of the HBO show are likely to be sorely disappointed by the relatively toned-down violence and lack of sex too, but fans of the books are likely to appreciate the additional exposition that the game adds in its intricate narrative. Beneath the many glaring flaws in Game of Thrones there's a good, solid RPG fighting to get out, but as it stands, Cyanide's effort should be beheaded for crimes against the RPG realm.
The spine-tingling Game of Thrones' theme from the TV show is in, which is a neat touch, and the music on the whole is superb. What lets the side down is the horribly amateurish voice acting and silly accents.
Murky textures and shoddy character models look incongruous next to the decently rendered environments, which nonetheless feel static and lifeless. Very inconsistent throughout.
Mind-numbingly dull for the first 5-6 chapters, Game of Thrones gradually picks up as you progress and level-up. Movement is floaty, while combat is lacking in any heft or impact. As the story escalates, you'll be more compelled to carry on and ignore the slapdash gameplay, but it's getting past that that's the challenge.
For an RPG, Game of Thrones is surprisingly linear with few side quests to complete. However, being able to make choices during the story spices things up and the campaign is a good 30-40 hours long.
A perfectly decent list that covers all of the bases, from story-related achievements to secret achievements awarded for accomplishing certain objectives. If you're savvy, you can grab the full 1000 Gamerscore in one playthrough, but there's plenty to see and do as part of the achievement list.
Game of Thrones is definitely worth a look if you have the patience to make it past the dull opening hours. If you're a fan of the books or the show, you'll enjoy the references to the wider lore, but you might enjoy the stilted combat, poor visuals and abhorrent voice acting a lot less. Hardened Game of Thrones fans need only apply.