Deal with deceitful and power-hungry tyrants – and that is just to buy the game…
First there were George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” books which introduced us to the Seven Kingdoms on the continent of Westeros. HBO then made a rather excellent TV series, A Game of Thrones, based upon the George R. R. Martin books and all of a sudden the world couldn’t get enough of the political turmoil of this fantasy world and the various families which wanted the Iron Throne, such as House Baratheon, Lanister and Targaryen.
Cyanide Studios found itself in the fortunate position of having the rights to make videogames based upon this rich world. Their first attempt, A Game of Thrones – Genesis, was a strategy offering for PC gamers which didn’t quite set the world alight. However, this time around they have taken the RPG route and made the game available for both consoles and PC. Game of Thrones should have a much more universal appeal, tempting both fans of George R. R. Martin’s fiction and players of RPGs. But the key word is “should” and that is entirely dependent on how enjoyable the game actually is…
Arguably the most important part of the game, from a fan of the shows point of view, the story is beyond reproach. Alternating between two very different playable characters, players will take on the role of Mors Westford, a veteran of the Night’s Watch, and Alester Sarwyck, a Red Priest. As players jump between these two characters, a tale will unfold filled with plotting, backstabbing, political shenanigans and more than just a little bit of mortal danger. Fans of the show will feel right at home as they interact with the various inhabitants of Westeros, including a couple that will be easily recognisable, sort of. The story runs parallel to the show and the two main characters develop in such a manner that they could easily walk into the upcoming series three and fit right in. However, while the story has impressive depth and pays more than enough fan service, being able to enjoy it will involve overlooking more than a few fundamental problems with the rest of the game.
In fact, there is only one issue that I could find with the story, and that involves the pace. Whilst things pick up after a while, everything begins very, very slowly – slowly enough to put off a lot of players right from the start. Stick at it and, if you enjoy the show, you will enjoy this tale. But patience is a virtue as you first have to work through a lot of scenes that really drag.
The pacing of the story is not helped by the visuals of the game. Extensive dialogue sessions could be forgiven if there was something interesting to look at. There is an understandable reason for much of the games “gritty” look, given the setting, but even places that will be familiar to the fans just did not seem up to the modern standard. If you add to this the fact that the characters within the game just don’t feel detailed enough, and the large number of graphical glitches, and the result is a game that graphically feels disappointing.
For some reason, the developers chose to use an almost turn-based mechanic for the combat, in which players have to queue up actions for their character and wait for them to play out. It works quite well, but feels as though there is less control over encounters than would have been nice.
Progression rewards the two characters with points to improve their skills and unlock new abilities, which is engaging and drives the player forward. But the reality is that, although there are the occasional sudden climbs in difficulty, it is quite easy to develop the character that you need to finish the game, way before the end is even in sight. The game doesn’t encourage the player to experiment enough, which makes the whole progression system feel a bit flat.
Other standards of RPG gaming are present and correct. There is equipment to buy, find or loot for fallen enemies, and there are plenty of sidequests to engage the player should they want a break from the main storyline. Some of these sidequests are actually rather enjoyable and actually take the edge off the games other problems, but the storycraft was never really a problem here.
As a massive fan of the show, it gives me no pleasure to point out all of the failings of the Game of Thrones RPG. There is a good story here, and fans of the show or the books will certainly get a buzz from the more familiar characters and places. But if you are not buying this game for the fan service, almost everything else just comes across as average, or worse. Buy Game of Thrones only if you already own every other piece of merchandise available.