Welcome to Westeros, where everything’s made up and the choices don’t matter
If you’ve played a Telltale game before, then you know the drill: Take a pre-existing franchise, pick a host of new characters, pack in a plot-driven, character-laden, choose-your-own-adventure style story, and you’ve found Telltale’s formula for success.
Based on the hit HBO show of the same name, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series lets players step into the political and literal battlegrounds of Westeros. For any fan who’s ever yelled at a character on screen for making the wrong choice, this is—in theory—your chance to see if you could do any better. The story takes place around the end of season three of the show—or in the middle of A Storm of Swords for book readers—so if you’re a new fan who hasn’t gotten that far, back out now or beware of spoilers.
The events of the show are set in stone, so don’t think you’ll be forging any kind of alternate Westerosi history. In fact, the main characters of Telltale’s Game of Thrones aren’t the main characters from the TV series at all, though you’ll definitely encounter a few familiar faces—not to mention voices. Lena Headey, Natalie Dormer, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, and more lend their voices to the game in order to bring their characters to life, but we already know their stories.
Instead, the main focus is on a smaller family hit hard by the fall of the Starks and the events of the war: House Forrester. These characters may not be on the front lines commanding dragons or marrying kings, but they’re lurking just around the corner and out of sight from events that Game of Thrones fans will find very familiar. Mira navigates the deadly court politics of King’s Landing as one of Margaery Tyrell’s handmaidens, while her brother Asher fights through the revolutions in Essos in order to return home. Ethan and Rodrik negotiate treaties, alliances, and attacks to keep their home from total destruction, while Gared follows his dying lord’s words to the Wall and beyond in search of the legendary North Grove.
In true Game of Thrones fashion, victory never comes easily and seldom comes without cost. Tragedy strikes hard and often for House Forrester. To quote the show, “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die—there is no middle ground.”
Sadly, though, the game seems to take this quote a bit too literally. Despite all the gameplay centering around choices—what you say, who you offend, and who you ally with—very few of them actually matter. There’s one set path to “win,” and all choices steer back into that path. If one NPC dies, another will step in to perform the exact same motions (with the same animation, even), so there are no consequences to losing anyone. If you’re offered a choice between stopping a character or letting them pass by, attempting to stop them will end up with them passing by anyway, since that’s what the plot requires regardless of your decision. At one point I tried very hard not to kill an NPC in a fight (which the plot hinted should be the correct course of action), even failing the attack-centered quicktime events on purpose, yet the NPC ended up dying anyway of a stab wound I never gave him. You play the game Telltale wants you to play, or you die—there is no middle ground.
That’s not to say that your decisions do nothing. Plenty of small choices open up new dialogue, and result in confrontations or conversations that can’t all be seen on the same playthrough. A handful of scenes play out differently depending on a character’s presence or absence, and a choice in the penultimate chapter unlocks one of two entirely unique sequences in the final chapter. None of these, however, will steer the plot in a significantly different direction, and the veil of illusion is lifted as soon as you go back to investigate an alternate path.
Like other Telltale games, the end of each chapter lets you see how your choices lined up with those of other players. Here, at least, it looks like Telltale’s doing something right. There were a few major choices where one option was much more popular than the other, but I was impressed by how many choices were split almost evenly down the middle. Telltale’s great at providing tough dilemmas with no obvious “best” solution, and that fits really well with the Game of Thrones setting. The choices you make in the moment are difficult, and with only a few seconds to respond in some circumstances, there’s genuine pressure to pick the right choice—if only those choices could be pushed a little farther towards having actual consequences.
The biggest disappointment, however—and the worst part of the game by far—had to be the ending. The story finished so abruptly and with so few plot threads pulled together that I honestly thought I’d messed up my first playthrough and gotten a “bad ending” somehow. Maybe there’s still a perfect, highly specific combination of events out there I didn’t find, but all four of my playthroughs of Chapter Six—exploring every major choice I could think of—reached the same unsatisfying conclusion. Two major diverging plot threads end without ever tying back into the main story, which itself leaves the fates of several characters up in the air. Its ending could be mistaken as a teaser for the next episode; unfortunately, there’s no ‘next episode’ on the way (at least not yet).
With all that said, though, I did enjoy most of my time with Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series. As a fan of the franchise, this game provided a neat look into George R.R Martin’s universe that kept the spirit and atmosphere of book and movie canon while creating an original story. Though the story fell flat at the end, each individual character arc was interesting enough to keep me invested throughout. The pressure of playing consistent choices, telling each character what they want to hear without pushing things too far or losing respect, made for some genuinely compelling gameplay, and it piqued my curiosity about corners of the universe that hadn’t seen much depth before.
It’s only through closer inspection, like a reloaded save or second playthrough, that the superficiality of choices becomes blatantly obvious. For the most part, Game of Thrones tells a high-drama, high-stakes story with enough behind-the-scenes tie-ins to major events to make it worth playing for fans of the series. Just don’t go in expecting great things from the ending—and if you want to keep the illusion of control, don’t play it more than once.
|Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.17.15|
If you’re hungry for more Game of Thrones content and can’t wait until the next season or book, then Telltale’s Game of Thrones is the perfect game to pass the time. It weaves an interesting narrative that intersects with the franchise’s main plot while still poking into unexplored corners. Unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of any real choice, and a hugely disappointing ending leaves the story hanging on a sour note.
|The Good||Fans of the franchise will enjoy trying their hand at the game of thrones, exploring corners of the universe not touched by the show or books and holding their own against the likes of Cersei, Margaery, and Jon Snow.|
|The Bad||A disappointing, abrupt ending kills what was setting up to be a good story, and replays expose just how little your choices actually impacted the plot.|
|The Ugly||While Telltale’s oil-painting art style looks nice on the backgrounds, it can be jarringly low-resolution up close. Add a couple of unfinished-looking animation goofs like weird blood splatter and hair clipping through the characters’ clothes, and Westeros isn’t looking all that pretty.|
|Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is available on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, and iOS devices. Primary version reviewed was for PC. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review.|