TL;DR(eview) - Telltale attempts to tell a very Game of Thrones-type story, but ends up falling short when compared to the source material by repeating too many of the original's story beats with less interesting copies of the characters fans of the books or show love.
Near the end of last year, I played the first episodes of Telltale's Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones. Unlike The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, these were the first franchises since playing Back to the Future that I had an affinity for outside of what Telltale was bringing to the table. In both cases, I played the first two episodes as they were released but didn't keep up with the games after that. The Telltale schedule is just too sporadic for me to get behind when I'm trying to keep up with everything else in gaming so I've decided that moving forward, I plan to play the first episode as it comes to get a feel for a series, but then hold off until the whole season is out. During my recent 24-hour Extra Life stream, I returned to Westeros (and Essos) to explore where they took the story of the Forresters.
It's Just Like the Show...Kind Of
The game obviously ties in with the narrative HBO is telling, with many cast members reprising their roles. A few touchstones to the TV show include the infamous Red and Purple Weddings and the night Daenerys took Mereen. But apart from those connections, this games feels structured more like the book the series. Like the books, the story is told from the perspectives of a few different characters. The Forrester clan is conveniently divided up among many locations familiar to fans of the series.
- Sons Rodrik and Ethan exist at Ironrath, inspired by the Stark home Winterfell, often dealing with Westeros' resident sadist: Ramsay Bolton.
- Daughter Mira serves as Handmaiden to Margaery in King's Landing, also running into Cersei and Tyrion Lannister.
- Exiled son Asher is operating as a sellsword across the Narrow Sea in Essos, supporting Daenerys in her crusade to free Mereen.
- Forrester squire Gared's story largely takes place at The Wall when he runs into everyone's favorite know-nothing, Jon Snow.*
* - While the voice acting was mostly well-executed, there was one incredibly noticeable dubbing issue whenever Jon said Gared's name, as if Kit Harrington said something completely different in the recording session and they didn't catch it until it was too late.
The main thrust of the story kicks off following the events of the Red Wedding. The Forresters, who were loyal to the Starks, are feuding with the Whitehills, who are loyal to the Boltons. As the Boltons are now the reigning power of the region, the Whitehills begin making moves to acquire the valuable Forrester ironwood. In typical, Game of Thrones fashion, there is an overabundance of death, deceit, and betrayal. Unfortunately, without the depth of the books or the clearly defined characters of the show, the weight of all of this doesn't really resonate. Because the player is deciding the characters dialogue options, I often found myself picking the lesser of four evils from the options provided. Which led to a particular realization...
Game of Tragedy
The inherent tragic storytelling from any kind of Game of Thrones property means that very seldom do you get happy moments. As a gamer, I prefer playing with a sense of accomplishing something: chasing a high score, progressing through increasingly difficult challenges thrown at me by the game, or even just performing fetch quests. In Game of Thrones, I was continually reminded that I was just going through the motions to get to the next bit of tragedy that would befall the Forresters. Regardless of the choices I was making, certain narrative elements were set in stone by the architects of the game itself. In a passive medium like a book or tv show, the expectation is understood: I'll experience the story the creator built for me and I can either like it or not.
But in the interactive medium of a video game, I want to be able to feel like my actions matter in a more tangible way. This is probably why I never really connected with The Walking Dead. And with The Wolf Among Us, I was still able to get the big bad in the end. But in Game of Thrones, the deck is so stacked against the Forresters (and Telltale was already planning a Season Two) that I rarely had moments of actual in the game. The story itself was serviceable but mostly filled with characters who existed as the poor man's versions of characters who are better written in the show or novels. Mira and Gared, for example, have a lot of the same story beats as their more famous counterparts, Sansa Stark and Jon Snow, that I often found myself thinking "the show told this story a lot better."
On top of those narrative concerns, I also found myself increasingly frustrated when I would be thrown into quick-time event-heavy combat sequences only to have the game stutter and freeze causing me to miss the prompts and have to replay a section. This would be understandable if I were playing on an iPad, but not when I'm playing on a PlayStation 4. There isn't enough going on in these games to support the logic that the system can't run it so I can only assume, Telltale continues to sacrifice a fluid experience in favor of one that can maybe usually run on every device possible.
Telltale's Game of Thrones Season One is available now on Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Google Play, and the App Store.
More information can be found here.