EDITOR'S NOTE - We'll be doing something a little different with episodic content of this sort from here on out. Rather than establishing individual scores for each subsequent episode, we'll be having a consistent reviewer play each episode and write a review sans numeric score.
Now that the season is finished, this review is a reflection of the entire game experience of Season One.
GENERAL SPOILER WARNING - While this review is presented free of spoilers for the game experience, there will be small allusions to characters and events. Furthermore, this game does take place near the end of season three and first few episodes of season four of the HBO television series. Those who have not gotten that far should proceed at their own risk!A funny thing happens when you spend six episodes constantly being told that your every decision is wrong and that your house is doomed; you stop caring about "what's right" and start acting on "what feels right".
Throughout six episodes, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series Trophies has allowed players to act out roles surrounding House Forrester, one of the northern houses that serves under House Stark. Taking place directly after the events of The Red Wedding, Season One (and there are allusions to a second) finds House Forrester at their lowest point and somehow hands them a shovel. While there are some ups and downs - mostly downs - along the way, the entire season feels like an exercise in measured misery for those who like seeing the little guy triumph...
...but this is Game of Thrones. That should be expected. Those who like seeing David beat Goliath should stick to Star Wars, because that ain't happening in Westeros.
Any critical examination of a Telltale game has to begin with the central conceit that you don't come to these experiences for "gameplay"; you come for a story. With that in mind, the actual playing of Game of Thrones is better than some previous offerings from Telltale, but still falls well short of the mark of other games. At its best, Game of Thrones operates like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story with a few quicktime events thrown in. On the plus side, it is easily approachable for even the most casual of gamer. On the negative side, the game plays practically on autopilot and, outside of making conversation decisions (more on that in a moment), the gameplay feels almost like having to eat your vegetables before being allowed to have your cake.
Speaking of the cake of the experience, Game of Thrones stays true to its literary and televised roots in that it doesn't allow you to have it and eat it too. You get to make some decisions, but it feels as though every choice you make is the wrong one. No matter what you decide, you'll always end up in a world of proverbial (and sometimes literal) crap. At the end of the final episode, the game goes through a recap of your major decisions across the entire season and points out all of your failings (and a few successes) as the decider. If the ending of "Episode 6: The Ice Dragon" weren't enough of a downer, dredging back up mistakes made almost a year ago certainly brings things down another notch.
The story of House Forrester is the highlight of the experience but it is, unfortunately, saddled with the existing lore of the books/show. While weaving the tale in and out of the existing narrative helps keep diehards engaged, it also lowers the stakes. Fans of the show know what happens at Joffrey's wedding, they know that Ramsay Snow is still alive and kicking, and they certainly know what awaits the Crows at Craster's Keep. Basing (what seem to be) important decisions around these events minimizes the impact of those decisions and neuters any kind of dramatic stakes that players may have invested. It's basically the equivalent of Lincoln telling you that he's going to name you Secretary of State... right after he gets back from seeing Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre. When away from the pre-existing narrative, however, the story truly does shine and genuinely provides some great moments that will inspire conversation around the water cooler... provided you work with fellow players, that is.
When things look bad in the story, the temptation is always to see if you can make it better. Personally, I resisted this temptation, if only because I feared ending up like Reek after an extended stay with Ramsay, but the draw is strong and players may be well-served by revisiting the season once completed to see if they can generate a better outcome for the Forresters. On the other hand, the misery is almost what makes Game of Thrones good. One of the biggest appeals of the series is that it continually stacks the deck against "the good guys" and doesn't stop. As modern consumers of fiction, we're almost predisposed to expect some kind of triumphant payoff at the end of a harrowing story full of trials and tribulations. Who knows, maybe we'll get it... but not in Westeros... not today... not tomorrow... and probably not any time soon.
As can be expected from Telltale, the trophies in Game of Thrones are all story based and unmissable. Those looking for a quick completion or score boost for a contest can expect to put in around 13-15 hours to get a full completion.
SummaryAt this juncture, we know what to expect out of a Telltale experience: less-than-solid gameplay that is balanced out by an amazing story. That being said, while a solid Telltale experience, Game of Thrones has limited appeal. The Venn diagram of interest is flatly composed of people who love Game of Thrones with people who like/tolerate Telltale's experiences. If you love Game of Thrones and enjoyed Telltale's previous offerings, you shouldn't hesitate to pick up the game. If you're someone who loves Westeros but dislikes Telltale's style, you might want to give the game a shot, if only to get another hit of Thrones before you find out what really happened to Jon Snow. On the other hand, if you don't know a Crow from a raven, you should probably give it a pass.
- Great story for Game of Thrones fans
- Fantastic additions to an expanded universe
- Technically sticky and buggy
- Story gets mired down by the pre-existing narrative
- Actually "playing the game" interferes with story enjoyment
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately 14 hours (a little over two on the final episode) completing the first season and popping all 48 of the trophies. A digital copy of the season was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.