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Telltale Game of Thrones

Telltale’s Game of Thrones Season One Review

With everyone eagerly awaiting its sixth season to be shown next April, you could say that Game of Thrones has become a bit of a phenomenon. Combining Tolkien-esque fantasy with graphic violence, colourful dialogue and a captivating story full of politics and deceit, it has truly captured the hearts and minds of it viewers.

In fact, it has grown so big that it’s cemented a position for itself in our popular culture, with such TV shows as How I Met Your Mother and the little known UK comedy Catastrophe referencing the show, mainly in regards to the universally hated snot-stain that was Joffrey. Even Borderlands 2 has a sly nod with its Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep DLC, which includes a mission called Winter is a Bloody Business where you can ultimately slap a rather familiar looking Prince “Jeffrey” until your heart is content.

It wasn’t surprising then, what with the hugely successful episodic The Walking Dead game under their belt, that Telltale Games announced they were working on a similar experience for fans of Game of Thrones. Promising a rich story that sat alongside the show, complete with shocking events and a few familiar faces, fans like myself were eager to see if Telltale could deliver on their promise.

Let’s face it, just what kind of fan of the show wouldn’t want to exchange terse words with Cersei or take control of a battle against a horde of Whitewalkers? It just had to be good. Unfortunately, after playing all six episodes of the first season (yes, a second one has been announced), it’s with much regret that I have to say that it’s all a bit of a disappointment really.

Telltale Game of Thrones

Beginning during the events of the Red Wedding, Telltale’s Game of Thrones follows the Forrester family and their struggles with both the bastard Ramsay Snow and the Whitehill family. As owners of the valuable resource called Ironwood, the Forresters seek to protect their livelihood by any means necessary, but by the end of the series the price will assuredly be high.

Whilst the story gets off to a good start, cleverly weaving its narrative into the events of the show (or book, whichever way you want to look at it), eventually it all just feels rather dissatisfying, and that’s Telltale’s Game of Thrones’ main problem; for a story driven game it just fails to engage you enough to care. Throughout the game you take control of various members of the Forrester family, spread across the lands of Westeros, but not once did I ever really feel a connection with any them or care for their wellbeing.

Granted, I rooted for them over the despicable Whitehills, but that was easy when they were portrayed as the typical villains, with no redeeming features whatsoever. In fact, for a series that is renowned for its conflicted characterisation, where most individuals are capable of following up a great act of kindness or decency with a heinous act, it’s disappointing that things here are expressed so plainly in black and white. In the show and books where you don’t have control of the unfolding events, Game of Thrones works because it’s up to you who you root for – none of the characters’ points of view are presented as truly just – and you just hope and pray that your favourite doesn’t die. Here however, you’re forced to side with the Forresters, and it doesn’t make for a fulfilling experience.

When you’ve come to terms with Game of Thrones’ disappointing story, you’ll have to deal with its graphics and technical performance, which are beyond sub-par. Whilst many of the game’s watercolour-like backdrops are commendable, the actual characters and environments are anything but, looking like upscaled assets from a last generation game.

Shoddy textures, angular character models and rough edges do not make a nice game to look at, but what’s even more horrendous is the terrible character animation and inexcusable stuttering that exists throughout. Whilst The Walking Dead suffered from the same pitfalls upon its release on last generation consoles, it was forgivable to a large degree thanks to its comic book roots and the little power available under the console’s hoods, but here, there’s simply no valid reason why the game should look or run so badly. The only reason I can think of is that Telltale just don’t want to invest in a new game engine, which is really disappointing if true given their recent successes.

Telltale Game of Thrones

The gameplay in Game of Thrones follows the usual Telltale formula. You mostly spend your time watching events play out, selecting dialogue choices when they occasionally pop up in order to influence the story. The choices you make are largely ineffectual as to how things actually turn out, but there are a few along the way that have real gravitas and will certainly make you think about their consequences.

Of course, it won’t be until season 2 that we will get to truly see the impact of our choices on the overall story, but I suspect that they’ll be negligible in the grand scheme of things. Interspersed throughout the game, there are also some sections where you get to explore environments a little, but they never really last more than a few minutes and usually just require you to go and initiate a conversation with a NPC. Finally, no modern Telltale game would be complete without a sprinkling of quick time events, and Game of Thrones features many, most of which occur when you’re in a combat situation. Unlike past Telltale games (I’m looking at you, Jurassic Park) they’re fortunately pretty lenient and generally free of technical hiccups, so you rarely fail them unless you really aren’t paying attention. It’s a small grace, but a welcome one when the fight scenes are horrible to watch due to the awful choreography and animation.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on Telltale’s Game of Thrones; after all, I managed to sit through it all without getting too frustrated by it or feeling the uncontrollable urge to turn it off. The trouble is, by making a game based on a series that raises the bar for storytelling and characterisation so high, you kind of expect it to do the same, but it doesn’t. I imagine Telltale thought they were being clever by building a new story that weaves between the events we’ve all witnessed in the TV series, but it in the end it does the game more harm than good.

Had the game been its own piece of drama set in the lands of Westeros – free from the shackles of a handful of  familiar characters and events that have been shoehorned in as some sort of fan service – it might have given Telltale more freedom to create something that added to the Game of Thrones universe, but instead, everything feels forced. The story feels forced to tie into existing events to allow cameos; the characters feel forced to fit archetypes to affect your view of them, and the bad language feels especially forced to make it seem like an episode of the show. As they set about making the second season, Telltale will hopefully realise that simply putting the word “f*cking” in random sentences desn’t automatically put their dialogue on the same level as that exhibited in the show; it’s all about how the word is used, and here, it’s just childlike.

Telltale Game of Thrones

All in all, Telltale’s Games of Thrones Season One has a few shocking moments that will delight, but it’s largely a dull affair that just disappoints. Graphically and technically deficient, it feels like a cash-in on what has quickly become TV’s hottest property, and fans of the show and the books deserve more. If you’re a huge fan of the show and need something to fill the gap before the next season airs, then it may be worth a play at a sale price, but just don’t go in expecting the story or the characters to be of the same calibre as George R. R. Martin’s masterpiece.

Game of Thrones Season 1 is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. We reviewed the PlayStation 4 version.

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