A Song of Ice and Fire and the incredibly HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones, contains an extremely rich world with a detailed history and mythology. Add in the huge following both series have, and it’s a wonder we haven’t seen a big Game of Thrones video game yet. Well, there have been a couple, but none of them have been successful to date. But when Telltale Games, the folks behind the incredible The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us series, got the license, a lot of people sat up and took notice.
It almost seems like a match made in heaven. One of the most important parts of A Song of Ice and Fire is interpersonal and family conflicts, and the incredibly complex politics of the realm. Those sorts of things tend to get lost in action games, RPGs, and strategies. Telltale has a different approach that lends itself particularly well to the material: it’s much more of an interactive novel than any of the traditional genres, with a huge emphasis places on character building and storytelling.
So how does Telltale Games do with adapting the series that seems to have troubled other studios? Quite well indeed. But before you read further, a quick disclaimer: this game is set right in the middle of the series, that means there will be some spoilers to follow for those of you who haven’t gotten caught up on the books or the show just yet. If you care about spoilers, you might want to hold off on this review and playing this game (but, by all means, circle back around once you’re all caught up).
In Telltales’ Game of Thrones, you play multiple characters associated with the Forrester family, one of the smaller families in the north of Westeros, and vassals of the ill-fated Starks. The game begins at the infamous Red Wedding, with you playing a young squire who is being promoted to a knight. Unfortunately for you, that’s when the ambush is sprung, and almost everyone around you is slaughtered by the treacherous Freys. As the only survivor, you must venture back to the Forresters to pass along a final message from the deceased lord, and help them to prepare for what’s to come. And, just to make matters worse, you run into some more of the Freys on your way home, making matters somehow even worse.
After the initial chapter, the game shifts gears a bit, and you jump into the shoes of a different character. This is a first for me in a Telltale game, but it makes a lot of sense considering the source material. In the A Song of Ice and Fire Novels, each chapter is told from the perspective of a single character, and those perspective characters become an important part of how you learn about the world and everyone’s place in it. It only makes sense that Telltale Games would follow that same approach.
In addition to Gared, the squire; you also play as Ethan Forrester, the new lord of the family; and Mira Forrester, a handmaiden in King’s Landing in the service of Margery Tyrell. By having three different playable characters – and I imagine more will be added as the game progresses – you are able to get a much better sense of the breadth of the world. In just the first episode you spend time at the Twins, on the King’s Road, en route to the Wall, King’s Landing, and in Ironrath (home of the Forrester family).
The vast majority of the characters you play and meet have been created for the game, but you can expect to see a few familiar faces, along with the voices of the actors who have made those characters so vivid. These include Lena Headey’s Queen Cersie, and Peter’s Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister. Including such important characters from the series was a bit of a gamble on Telltale Games’ part, as it would have been easy for these characters to overtake the narrative. Luckily, they are integrated perfectly so that they help flesh out the story without robbing the player of agency.
My only real complaint about the game is a relatively minor one: I’m really not a fan of the water-color stylization they chose for backgrounds. It’s an interesting idea, but it leaves far too much of the game indistinct, and robs the experience of a bit of the rich visual appeal I’ve come to expect from Game of Thrones.
That quibble aside, the first episode of Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones is a hell of an experience, and I would highly recommend it to fans of the books and the HBO series. I can’t wait for the next chapter.