Game of Thrones: Episode 1
The first episode of Telltale’s “Game of Thrones” is the latest in their arsenal of episodic story-driven games and takes place in the world of HBO’s Game of Thrones series. This game follows the same formula that Telltale has recently become known for after their “The Walking Dead” and “The Wolf Among Us” series. “Game of Thrones” places most of its attention on the story and the player’s decision making rather than gameplay; however, some gameplay elements do exist. Like the other Telltale games, this game is being released in episodes rather than as one whole package, meaning that if you want to get the whole story, you’ll have to wait for the rest of the six episodes to release.
“Game of Thrones” episode 1 follows the story of the Forresters, a house in the North that serves as bannermen to the Starks. More specifically, it follows three characters: Gared Tuttle the squire for Lord Forrester, Ethan Forrester the third son and second in line for the heir to House Forrester, and Mira Forrester the eldest daughter to House Forrester and handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing. The story starts at the Red Wedding outside where all of the lower houses set up camp in Gared’s point of view. If none of this makes any sense to you, then don’t worry, because very little will be explained in the actual game.
Starting with what is arguably its weak point, gameplay in “Game of Thrones” is limited to a few action sequences in which the player react to a series of quick time events, some exploration segments in which you walk the characters around and examine several set pieces like paintings and windows, and tons of dialogue choices. In terms of gameplay alone, this game does not have much more than that to offer. That is kind of what makes this game interesting, though, because the major focus is in those dialogue choices. The situations you find yourself in lead you to painstakingly consider each choice and agonize over which is the right one. You feel the kind of fear that you can only imagine the character you’re controlling must feel in their circumstances, and you really don’t want to make a poor decision. The stress then effectively doubles when you realize that each decision point is timed, and saying nothing, while a valid answer, might get you into more trouble than saying something slightly off. In this way, Telltale somehow manages to turn a game’s dialogue into a major part of its gameplay.
In contrast to the deep dialogue choices, the quick time action events and the “point and click adventure” style exploration feel pretty cheap. While the action scenes themselves are fairly exciting, the pushing of buttons that appear on your screen is largely unsatisfying. Controlling your characters during the exploration sequences is a little frustrating, especially if you are playing on a mouse and keyboard, as the character moves slowly and clumsily and camera shifts feel a bit awkward. Switching to a controller alleviates the pain a little and even makes the action sequences a little more enjoyable.
As mentioned before, the story of the first episode focuses on House Forrester and its residents, namely Gared Tuttle, Evan Forrester, and Mira Forrester. As bannermen to House Stark after the events of the Red Wedding, House Forrester must now struggle for both political and literal survival to gain the favor of Roose Bolton and Queen Cersei in the face of being named traitors for assisting Stark’s rebellion. The storytelling is well done and shows the Forresters’ in multiple different angles. Evan’s point of view does a great job in highlighting the danger the House is in as well as the panic that resonates throughout both the leadership and the smallfolk. The numerous difficult decisions you are left to make as the new lord of the house both shows you how dire the situation is and makes you desperate to make the right decisions. Mira’s point of view was particularly enjoyable, because it begins to show how the subtler sides of politics make a huge difference. It also allows you to sort of step into a similar situation as Sansa Stark was in the earlier books/seasons and gives you a chance to see how differently you would act from her.
The storytelling was well done, but the one thing that this game fails miserably at is giving you a proper explanation of the game’s setting. This is not a problem at all if you happen to follow the television show or the books, but to the uninitiated, the situation makes little sense, and the game makes no real attempt to clarify. You are told that you are the Starks’ bannermen, but you are not told who the Starks are. There is nothing to explain that the Starks and King’s Landing were at war or in a rebellion or anything like that. The best you really get is Cersei calling the Starks, and by extension the Forresters, traitors. Even the game’s codex, which explains each of the game’s original characters, contains nothing about Rob Stark, Roose Bolton, or the attack on Winterfell. Essentially, anyone new to Game of Thrones is lost. Interestingly, even the show’s characters that make an appearance in the first episode are absent in the game’s codex. This is an issue that I have not seen from Telltale’s games before. “The Walking Dead” featured a cast that is mostly separate from that of the television show and was set in a zombie apocalypse situation, which everyone understands by now. “The Wolf Among Us” was sufficiently explained through narration, dialogue, in-game exploration items, or codices. “Game of Thrones,” unfortunately, doesn’t even try.
Graphics in this game are highly stylized in a way that is familiar to anyone who has played these kinds of Telltale games. Thankfully, “stylized” in this game does not mean overly cartoony. Characters look almost as if they had been carved out of wood or plastic. The scenery looks beautiful, and there were certain scenes in which I felt like I was looking at a renaissance-style painting, which I thought was pretty neat. There were a few animation errors like characters disappearing during cut scenes or talking with their mouths closed, which I thought was odd for a game so heavy into its movie-like style.
The sound was one of my favorite things about the game. The television show’s original theme song playing (complete with the show’s intro animation) was very exciting. The show’s characters were voice acted by their own actors. The original characters’ voice acting was decent. The background music never left much of a lasting impression.
This might be a little different from most reviews, but I like to consider the game’s price and value. Game of Thrones is available on Steam for $29.99 at the time of me writing this (that is, without any current sales). Only the first episode is available to play, but, fortunately, Telltale Games does not charge for each episode, so buying even now means that you will eventually get every episode once they come out. I would gladly pay about $5-$10 just for the one episode, so considering all six episodes; it is a $30-$60 value for $30.
The first episode of Game of Thrones makes for a solid game that keeps you captivated, interested, and concerned for its characters through sheer story alone. The gameplay elements are pretty dull or even frustrating until you consider the dialogue and dialogue options as its own form of gameplay, which is where it really shines. Graphics are great barring a few animation problems, and the sound really gets you excited to play. The story is really great, but you may find yourself lost if you are not already paying attention to the TV show or books. Overall it is a fairly enjoyable experience, but not one I’d rush to play again and again as it is now. I do still have high hopes as more episodes come out, and I look forward to reviewing the full game as a whole.
Score: 3 / 5