Wot I Think: Telltale’s Game Of Thrones, Episode 1

uh-oh

Warning: this article presumes familiarity with the entire televisual run of Game of Thrones, as indeed does the game itself. In other words: SPOILERS. Don’t read on if you’re not up to date with the show.

Game Of Thrones, Telltale’s latest episodic conversational dilemma game interweaves with the third and fourth seasons of the HBO show. It stars a ‘new’ House, the historically Stark-aligned Forresters, but features appearances from a number of Game of Thrones’ stars. It’s on you to keep the Forresters alive by, basically, not saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.

The first episode, Iron From Ice, is out today, and Varys’ little birds delivered a copy to me a short while ago.

What would you do if Ramsay Snow was on his way to your home? This is the key question posed by this first episode of Telltale’s official side-story to Game Of Thrones, and also its key strength. ‘Ramsay Snow’ means things to the player that it doesn’t mean to the game’s characters. They’ve only heard hearsay and whispers; we’ve seen exactly what the Bastard of Bolton is like. We know that everything is a game to him. We know that negotiation is of no interest to him. We know that he’s immune to threats. We know that supplication only invites greater cruelty. He is Westeros’ Joker, and damage limitation is the best that one can hope for. Moreover, we know that the characters in this game will not be able to defeat him, because we know the show, and his status there.

In other words, we’re scared. I was scared. The game asks that I protect a family, and the people who toil and march under that family’s banner, but I do not believe that I can. How rare a thing this is, to play a game without the hero’s self-belief, and the conviction that everything will turn out in at least some version of OK.

From afar, Telltale’s Game of Thrones was looking as though it might falter – to be a side-offering to the ‘main’ story, starring the beyond-obscure House Forrester and a whole new ensemble cast, risked being a bridge too far from our concerns about the Starks and the Lannisters. Turns out that, for the first episode at least, this is the most thematically appropriate Telltale adaptation yet. For one thing, the drama hinges on conversation, and GOT/Telltale’s commonality in that a wrong choice or even a wrong word can invite a disastrous butterfly effect. For another, GoT’s notorious, almost nihilistic brutality results in a Telltale with the brakes off. While their previous series haven’t exactly lacked a body count, there’s an almost cavalier quality here. Characters are introduced clearly to be killed, and the episode goes out of its way near its start to demonstrate that no-one is safe.

While this could be cheap – and could be seen to be riding too much on the coat-tails of the show’s more notorious Stark-based shocks – it’s very much the right decision. Because it teaches that the stakes are so very high so very quickly, the vast majority of the choices I made were agony. I knew what the Flayed Man represented. I understood what pissing off Cersei could entail. When the game offered one of those famous Telltale prompts – ‘so and so noticed that’ – but with Ramsay or Cersei prefixing it, I shuddered bodily.

Foreknowledge as forewarning: a powerful weapon added to Telltale’s arsenal. Existent names as short-hand for fear and doom. Similarly, knowing Tyrion as we do, we’re inclined to make a character share her secrets with him, even though she couldn’t possibly know of his sometime kindness herself. This is our opportunity to interact with familiar characters, not as a cameos but almost as old friends – or enemies. Telltale have wrung good performances out of Dinklage, Heady, Dormer and the Tenth Doctor soundalike who plays Ramsay: I believed it was them, and all that meant.

I was so very aware throughout how very easily I could get it wrong. And boy, did I ever get it wrong. Whether I would have gotten it wrong whatever I did is something I can only find out from another playthrough (or more), but right now I feel I should live with the apparent consequences. Ned or Robb couldn’t be brought back, after all. I must stay the course and accept the losses.

The other side of this coin is that Telltale’s own characters perhaps don’t make the impact or are as fleshed-out as they could be, not simply because they’re standing in the shadow of some pre-existing and very strong characters, but also because they seem so very powerless. A Cersei or a Ramsay are essentially indestructible as far as this game series goes, and all they have to do is nod in a given direction and it’s all over for The Forresters. This is the Telltale game’s strength, but also its weakness. Its new characters cannot ever amount to a hill of beans, no matter how much damage control the player manages to implement.

(That the game will be near-incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t a GoT fan already is perhaps a given, but if you want to interpret it not even slightly being a standalone tale as a weakness, so be it. Me, I’m treating it as a between-seasons extra rather than a whole new adventure).

The new characters aren’t, however, anything like as effective as the familiar ones. They’re a little more cartoonish in their behaviours, and there’s a certain homogeneity to Telltale’s own house character style that, by contrast, means the recreated faces of Lannisters and Boltons do look beamed in from another game. One of the leads also looks disconcertingly like someone composited the faces of Ramsay, Jon, Robb and Podrick in their search to create a suitably GoTish visage. The newbies’ vocal performances are a little uneven too, though in fairness to accuse someone’s accent of slipping here would be forgiving the show of multiple faux-Brit sins.

Really though, the issue so far is that the Forresters and their allies and enemies feel assembled from GoT archetypes (I tended to think ‘oh, she’s Catelyn’ or ‘he’s Jon’ rather than ‘hey, I wonder what this guy’s up to), and this made them just that little more two-dimensional. I cared about them much more because I could see Damocles’ finest hanging above them wherever they went than because of anything they themselves said or did.

There’s also perhaps a little too much earnestness to them. Too many Jons and Brans on the dancefloor, not enough Aryas or Brons. In an ideal world, the mounting chaos the cast experience in this first episode will see them hardened and grimmer come future instalments. Right now though, the game sorely lacks big personalities of its own. I hope I’ll come to care about its cast on their own merits, rather than just from worry about what a pixel version of a television actor is going to do to them. There is definite potential for true personalities to emerge though, and a few instances where picking a certain conversation option sees a hint of something more Machiavellian appear in those oversized eyes.

This first episode really does work well despite this, though. It divides its attention between several characters and several locations, but keeps them all tied to a central purpose rather than spinning off into distracting sub-plots. Most of all, it’s about talking. I always had this background awareness in The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us that the characters could be in a far healthier situation if they got on with doing rather than worrying about what to do, but the game of thrones is the game of conversation. This game successfully conveys that words have such power and such danger, and that action is a consequence, not a cause. It’s compelling, frightening stuff.

This is all politics, and playing politics means knowing how your opponents think. Again, we know how our opponents think because we’ve spent hours in their company long before playing this game. This is, to some degree, a test of how well we really know them. Ramsay Snow particularly does not disappoint, especially after so much of the episode is spent building up to his arrival.

Less positively, while it’s mostly a very attractive game – Telltale’s house tech has matured ever so well, and a watercolourish art styles makes for some wonderful environments – there are some odd textures which make most characters look weirdly dirty. Setting-appropriate perhaps, but clearly not the intention. Another niggle is that there’s a little bit of flab to the narrative at points, and though it meant this is one of the longer Telltale episodes I did feel it repeated itself a couple of times. An early string of quicktime events felt a little needless too, but almost entirely gives way to breathlessly tense conversations. The old Telltale trick of there being a short timer in which you may choose your dialogue response is all the more powerful when you’re talking to someone who’d have your head if you so much as blinked the wrong way.

All told though, no previous Telltale game has made me feel this tense and this wary. It’s dangerous. Its pacing is nothing at all like the show’s, but its ever-looming dread very much is. I only hope the rest of the series similarly refuses to pull punches.

Game Of Thrones – A Telltale Game Series Episode 1: Iron From Ice (phew) is out now.

56 Comments

  1. Bobka says:

    Having not gotten around to watching the show, I was hoping this might be a quick alternative way to dip my toes into the franchise, but I guess not. Glad to hear it’s fairly well-crafted, though, and the way the player understands the game’s plot and characters based on the show seems interesting.

    • Ragnar says:

      The best way to dip your toes into the franchise is honestly to dive into books head first. The show is great, and I love it, but the books are really much better. The first 3 books correspond to the first 4 seasons of the show.

  2. Dawngreeter says:

    I would be interested to hear how far it strays from the books. As in, can it be enjoyed as an interesting little story in the A Song of Fire and Ice world, or is it strictly in the domain of that completely separate TV-Land story inspired by some of the characters from the books, loosely following some of the bigger plot points established by the books?

    • Alec Meer says:

      Tough one. Events-wise it would fit the books just fine, but as I say much of it depends on one’s knowledge of Cersei, Ramsay and also Margery. The latter two are much bigger presences in the show, I think, and a book-only person’s response to them here would perhaps be rather different.

      • Anthile says:

        I have not played it myself but as far as I understand it, this game takes place around the fourth book. Otherwise it’s placed in the show continuity and I imagine it will reference the show some more once the next season arrives. This is unlike the Game of Thrones RPG which includes characters from both the books and the show and is of dubious canonicity.
        The Forresters are very briefly mentioned in the books but nothing more.

        • Werthead says:

          The game is set explicitly in the TV-only canon (despite the Forrester name coming from a minor house mentioned in the books). Book-only readers will probably have a reasonable grasp on what’s going on, however.

          And yes, the Cyanide RPG is set in its own canon, drawing as it does on both book-only and TV-only events which makes it impossible to set in either.

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      phuzz says:

      After reading all the books I was expecting to spend all my time wincing at the TV show, but I’ve been consistently impressed with how well they’ve adapted it. Of course there’s changes, but they’re all understandable, and in some cases preferable (although in a few cases they’ve managed to really drop the ball).

      Of course, the other advantage of the TV show is it gives some people something to feel smug about because they don’t watch it, so really it’s good fun for everyone yes?

    • Tim says:

      I think the game seems to be “other” regarding to the series. I don´t know why but the screen doesn´t look like the series.

  3. klops says:

    I would be interested to hear is there any way of really affecting on anything. For example, does the diplomacy/bargaining/fight options eventually lead to any differing outcomes? Most likely not since this is done with a Telltale hit format.

    Then again, that does not mean I’m not interested. Sounds good.

    • mmuu says:

      My concern is the same.
      An emphasis on dialogue and playing politics is only really interesting if it’s possible to outplay the opponent.
      I’ll probably still enjoy the ride, but I’ve been ready for some time for Telltale to mix their formula up and give us more than the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

  4. FataMorganaPseudonym says:

    Warning: this article presumes familiarity with the entire televisual run of Game of Thrones, as indeed does the game itself.

    So… if I don’t watch the show, there’s not much point to buying this game, then? I was hoping it would be stand-alone and not require preexisting knowledge, like The Walking Dead games, but oh well. Money saved, I guess.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      It could perhaps still work. Jurassic Park, Sam & Max, Tales from Monkey Island and Back to the Future had a ton of backlog canon too for (comic)book readers contra movie/game watchers/players.

      But I’m the kind of idiot who regularly jump into franchise stuff in the middle or the end because girlfriend. It’s quite fun to construct your own intricate backstories in your head when watching stuff like Twilight Breaking Dawn part 1 and not knowing what the hell is going on.

    • waltC says:

      I wish I could presume Alec has a familiarity with the books…which I was avidly reading long before the TV adaptations. Can I?…;)

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        Aerothorn says:

        Yes, Alec wrote in his review of the GoT RPG about his experience with the books.

    • P.Funk says:

      Possibly not. Perhaps it merely presumes that it needn’t spare you from any spoilers in the show’s run. I imagine that if you entered this ignorant to all of the show’s happenings and didn’t care if they were spoiled for you then it could easily stand on its own provided the exposition of events is done correctly. Given the fact that the Forresters are basically a nobody house in GoT there should be plenty of exposition.

      In many ways this might be more fun in a different way for someone who knows nothing. Rather than KNOWING how a TV character inserted into the game will react, you can be as uncertain as the game’s protagonists are. Might be a unique advantage in fact. As Alec says he’s constantly seeing these new characters as archetypes of the show’s characters. As one who’s ignorant to it all you could be spared this entirely and possibly see the characters less two dimensionally even if they are borrowing form something you’re utterly unaware of.

      • Deano2099 says:

        That’s an interesting question. I had this with Walking Dead. Generally when I play games, I take the most friendly, diplomatic, nicey-nicey options. But I’d read the Walking Dead comics. I knew how fucked *everything* was. I knew no-one was coming back from a bite. I knew most people were going to die. I knew letting threats live would likely come back to bite me later.

        I played it far, far more ruthlessly than I otherwise would, because of that familiarity with the world. A familiarity that Lee didn’t have. Lee should have still had hope, but I played him like he didn’t, because I knew otherwise.

    • Distec says:

      I’ve never watched a full episode of The Walking Dead. I’m honestly kinda sick of hearing about it. But I quite liked Telltale’s work, which I believe is based more on the original comic universe than the TV series’ take on it. (Not sure if it’s considered canon to either)

      I’m sure you can at least get the first season for a bargain price the next time it’s on sale or whatever. You should give it a shot if you’re interested. I didn’t think I was missing anything having not watched the show, as your group is largely in its own self-contained story.

  5. Ignis says:

    So could someone please tell me why I would want to play this? I did read the entire saga and seen the tv show.

    • blastaz says:

      Because you enjoyed the world and want to play an interactive novel set there?

      Personally I don’t really like telltales take on adventure games, but I love asoiaf and will probably pick this up.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      I can’t give you your reason but I can tell an anecdote from my childhood. :)

      As a kid I played The Legend of Zelda on NES. Then I saw that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was a thing that existed. I told my mom that I wanted it for christmas. I didn’t get it but I got to borrow my friend’s copy.
      I wanted to play it because I liked another one in the same series. Even though they were just tangentially connected I wanted more of the stuff I liked before.

    • echo_1 says:

      I’d say it adds SOME perspective other than books and TV show (and the latter has – obviously – far larger presence than the books in the game). But whether it’s worthwhile… not so sure.

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      phuzz says:

      For the same reason watched the TV series after (or before) reading the books?

  6. twaitsfan says:

    A pox on anything that has touched Martin’s grubby little hands!

  7. Hex says:

    “There’s also perhaps a little too much earnestness to them. Too many Jons and Brans on the dancefloor, not enough Aryas or Briennes.”

    Wat. What part of Arya or especially Brienne is not earnest?

    Moving on…

    It’s difficult to see how Cersei, Margaery, and Ramsay Snow could possibly be intersecting at all, even at the most tangential level. When, in relation to the show/books, is this game supposed to be taking place?

    • Werthead says:

      The game starts in late Season 3 and ends in early Season 5, apparently. On that basis – Cersei and Margaery at court, Ramsay causing mayhem in the North – it seems reasonable that it could work, especially given the TV show’s often ‘flexible’ depictions of lengthy travel times.

    • theblazeuk says:

      Bron, not brienne.

    • P.Funk says:

      Have you seen the show? Arya is a stone cold little cutthroat. Jon is all about doing the right thing. He hesitates over his conscience. Arya barely hesitates at stabbing anyone anymore even if she’s just come across them hardly mulling over the consequences. I mean when you walk into a situation the Hound balks at you know you’re getting hardcore.

      • Hex says:

        …which is the entire point of my comment.

        • P.Funk says:

          “earnest. adjective
          1. serious in intention, purpose, or effort; sincerely zealous:”

          I’d say that Arya may have been sincerely zealous about things at first but she’s become mindlessly driven by her emotions as time has worn on. Jon however has retained absolute earnest sincerity despite the costs, despite the situation. What Jon does is not for himself. Arya is not the same, her sense of justice, what is guiding her is more personal now. Its effectively wholly contained within herself. Much of Arya’s arc is basically that she has lost her earnestness. She seeks justice through revenge, with a blade and revels in it. Jon does what he must and its hard to see how he can enjoy anything but those few stolen moments with Igrit.

          Its beyond just the intention but also the sentiment of it. Jon is guided by the altruism his father instilled in him. Arya is guided by the practical reality she sees. Arya is deeply affected by that no bullshit world that she’s seen with the Hound. Jon actually believes in that nonsense they babble about the Watchers of the Wall, or at least the spirit of it. The whole point of “you know nothing Jon Snow” is to say that he is doggedly defiant of the reality of how things are that is plain to everyone else, since Jon thinks he can be a white knight and win.

          I would say earnest is a bad fit for Arya by the end of the most recent season.

  8. Hex says:

    Also:

    TRYION!

  9. Wulfram says:

    Is the game witty and fun? Because I find Game of Thrones witty and fun, and that’s why I find it worth watching, but people seem to just fixate on “dark”, which is just dull if it’s all that’s there.

    (Like that other Game of Thrones game)

    • Hex says:

      That’s a really good point. GRRM is very talented in off-setting and highlighting the grimdark of his work with more light-hearted and up-lifting counterpoints. And occasional outright hilarity.

    • echo_1 says:

      Well… since i wasted my night and went through it – here’s wot I think: it is not as witty and sharp. Moreover, it’s not sharp at all, the dialog is bad mostly… and what’s worse – neither of THREE protagonists provoke any kind of empathy: one is young and horribly cast (both animation and sound-wise), the other is younger but… no way I am gonna follow him in ep. 2, let’s put it this way, the third one (actually coming in touch with most ‘stars’ from the show like C, M & T) is… well, dull. And she’s got no personality so far, the piece got that right, that all the Forresters are quite dull.

      And I didn’t like the animation. At all. Even Walking Dead were better, not to say Tales from BL.

      But… it has Ramsey Snow. Lemme play as this lil bastard and I will buy any Telltale game set in GoT universe.

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    Oakreef says:

    Alec your review of the Cyanide GoT RPG is what made me buy it and I loved that game. Would you be willing to make any comparisons between the two?

    • drygear says:

      It’s unfortunate that the RPG is all but forgotten because it was really good.

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      Aerothorn says:

      I will eat my hat if the plotting and original characters are as sharp as Cyanide’s take.

      • Subject 706 says:

        That final reveal…possibly one of the best gaming moments I’ve had. There was no choice but to choose Mors. Felt extremely sad for Alester though…

        • Winstons says:

          I know right?! What a great ending – and Mors was/is an incredible badass. Got a big soft spot for the old brute.

  11. Wednesday says:

    I was going to avoid this for spoilers, and then I remembered I’d read the books, so I already know full well that Tyrion is Eddard’s son, Jon snow is really a woman, and Harry Potter dies.

    Oh…shiz…

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      phuzz says:

      You forgot the bit where Dolorous Ed takes the Iron Throne with Bronn as his right hand man.
      (and why are there no female characters who are as funny as these two eh George?)

  12. Distec says:

    Waiting for a Telltale game based on Crossed.

    • Akimbo says:

      I’ve never considered this, but it’s a perfect match. Slim chance, though, considering they just finished the second season of another zombie franchise.

  13. jumblesale says:

    Arya saying it’s a little stark on strong original characters?

    • Themadcow says:

      Good pun, but usually these type of things work best at the top of the comments before the whole thing Petyrs out.

      • Volcanu says:

        Now just a Mormont, I think this could still succeed, even this late on.

        • P.Funk says:

          Lets not Hound the issue.

          • notenome says:

            I don’t mean to join the Frey, but Aryn we forgetting that the characters’ faces look like they were Bolton the models? And that there is a Stark difference between the depiction of characters in the game vs. books is revealed as the story Drogon. For this game to be Tully great it will have to walk a tight line between familiarity and creativity in its characters, something that is difficult to maestar.

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    Harlander says:

    Interesting art style – it makes me think of wooden statues for some reason.

  15. purelilac says:

    I cant figure out how to make him crawl out from under a wagon (on PS4) so I’ve died 20,000 times. Anyone know how?

  16. deathmachinept says:

    This “thing” is awful… I can’t even call this a game. You decisions make no impact on the game they are only an illusion of choice there are too many plot holes and everything is force onto you, it’s not fun !!!, it doesn’t require any skill, it does not reward you or give you a gratifying experience, plus the animations are really really bad.. I won’t ever forget in the start as a main character runs like a dork while carrying a sword.

    I wouldn’t buy this for 2$, this would have been more enjoyable if this was a simple 3D episode of game of thrones like Clone Wars or Star Wars rebels.

  17. cannedpeaches says:

    Everything that I could find suggests that the fellow playing Ramsay is, in fact, Iwan Rheon, who plays Ramsay in the show. And the performance seemed to confirm that, having played.