Posted on May 23, 2012 AT 10:31am
A saga of the depth and width of George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is the sort of IP that begs for hundreds of tie-in products. Having been a bit of a secret since its first installment back in 1996, the tale of Westeros and Essos has been suddenly plunged into the spotlight thanks to the HBO series bearing the name of the first novel, A Game of Thrones.
Cyanide Studio is no stranger to ASOIAF, having released a real-time strategy game less than a year ago based on the same universe. The mild welcome this game received made fans weary of their upcoming RPG, which had been in development for several years before finding the unexpected backing of Atlus and HBO. The resulting Game of Thrones RPG is like any character in the series: at one point you love them, at the next you hate them, but you can’t pull yourself from knowing more about them.
And the story is the main reason you will want to play this game. Like the novels, the events in this game are seen from the perspective of two characters you control throughout the game’s 30-some hours of play time, and they couldn’t be more different: one a priest of R’hllor with a kinship to fire itself, the other a warg veteran member of the Night’s Watch. You can choose several different classes for each of the characters, and the game offers a deep customization system for abilities on par with the best RPGs on the market. Not only does the game follow the novels in terms of point-of-view structure of the chapters, but it takes advantage of its chronological discrepancies: one character’s story begins in the present day, while the other starts three months before. Knowing these unrelated paths will eventually meet is one of the biggest lures the game has going for players.
The problem is that it will take even the most ardent fans of the novels or the TV series several hours to actually feel compelled to continue instead of just leaving the game to gather dust. Combat is largely tactical and reminiscent of the first Dragon Age, but several degrees higher. Tapping a button will slow the action down to a crawl, and a series of actions can be assigned to party members depending on the scenario. This actually works very well most of the time, but it takes a few hours to get a good hang of it and it doesn’t help the game’s allure that the first dozen encounters will pit players into very tough fights. Simply put, the first couple of hours with the game will see you die a lot, and the sporadic auto save system won’t do much to frustrate you beyond measure. This punishing combat at first, coupled with an astounding amount of info-dumping during conversations makes the beginning of the game crawl at snail’s pace. It’s understandable giving new players a historic background on the world’s events, but a 4:43min monologue on Robert’s Rebellion shows serious directorial flaws. At least in the TV series there would have been nudity, but I digress.
The game’s original score can be hit or miss depending on the track, but this is nicely offset by the addition of more famous tracks from the TV series. The simple addition of these tracks does a nice job at making it feel further like the game and the series are part of the same universe, not just bearing the same name. Unfortunately, the voice acting is nothing to write home about, and it’s a shame because it’s one of the main reasons the game fails to be emotionally involving. And there’s plenty of potential for emotional involvement here. The folks at Cyanide have demonstrated to be not just familiar, but experts when it comes to Martin’s work and the many decisions players face are nowhere as simple as good vs. evil, shaping future events in completely unexpected ways.
Of course, you will encounter some of the series’ most famous characters and hear of others in passing, and these bring about one of the game’s strangest flaws: character models. Jeor Mormont is absolutely identical to his TV counterpart, while Cersei Lannister looks like someone forgot to hit the “texture” button on her face. While character animations are stiff, even some secondary characters will be remarkably textured, with scars, warts, and odd markings, until you find this same character model five times within the span of a dozen yards. This repetition of the same models not just in characters but in armor and weapons borders on the criminally lazy. In the environment, subpar textures are common in several of the urban areas of the game like King’s Landing, but one can’t help marveling at the faithful recreation of some of the series’ most notable locations. If you ever wondered what Mole’s Town looks like outside your imagination, you’re in for a real treat.
Despite the graphical issues and the occasional glitch, Game of Thrones is an enjoyable game that perfectly ties into the series universe and it’s no wonder that George R.R Martin has given it his blessing as part of the canon. In fact, I can only recommend it to current fans of the work, and not to those with a passing interest hoping for the game to draw them in. It does take a while to capture you, and the game’s direction seldom compels players to go out and explore on their own instead of following the main quest markers. But once you’re baited, you’ll be hooked until the end. The best way to describe the game is with an analogy:
It’s like giving your child a box of 100 watercolors, each of a different shade, and asking him to paint a sunset. Does it have all the colors a sunset should have? Probably most. Does it look like a sunset? Yes, there’s a yellow orb on a blue sea. And despite loving the picture because it was made by your child, you can tell from a mile away that the technique is not there yet to paint a masterpiece.
- THE GOOD: Great story and clever narrative. Combat is fun once you get a grip.
- THE BAD: It’s a great story, but the pacing can be daunting at first. Combat is not at all intuitive. Stiff acting.
- THE UGLY: Evident laziness with character models and textures.
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