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Game of Thrones Season One Review: Surprise, You're Dead

It's fitting that the Game of Thrones adventure game, based on the HBO series, starts off with a massacre in its first episode, because there are times when it seems like the situation seems like a bloody mess. Every episode since the premiere has been more-or-less a matter of picking off the survivors of that day while House Forrester desperately clings to life and the forces around them vie for power. Now we're at the season finale, titled "The Ice Dragon," and we finally get to see who survives to see another season.

The game tells the story from four points of view, across different areas of Westeros and beyond. There are a few connecting characters and events, along with voices from the actors from the show, which makes for a great tie-in. Some might take issue with the watercolor art style, which I think has moments of great beauty when looking at the environments, but can give characters a wash out look. On the bright side, it's easy to overcome that problem when the game, true to the Game of Thrones fashion, starts to ramp up the body count. 

A Torturous Conclusion

However, the adventure game also tests the limits of the episodic format. It's tough enough to keep track of all the characters and events on a weekly show, and twice so for a game that sees months between releases. What promise did I make last episode? Who is this person I'm talking to? Ultimately, little seems to matter, since a good number of life-or-death decisions are out of your hands. There's rarely a decision of whether or not someone will die, and more often about who dies and how painfully. Although this does capture the sense of helplessness House Forrester finds itself in, I'm not sure it quite works as an interactive adventure. It's hard to feel like your choices have much meaning if the people you try to save end up dying no matter what you do. Furthermore, it's difficult to put emotional investment in characters who are likely to be stabbed soon.

It feels like the series has been saving its biggest decisions for the final two episodes instead of peppering them throughout. That's not to say there aren't some big moments, like thwarting an assassin, coming face-to-face with a dragon, and dealing with a traitor. But some of the bigger moments are so unavoidable that it seems hardly worth the bother, like whether or not Gared breaks his vows to the Night's Watch. There's also an opportunity to attack the sadistic Ramsey Snow, even though fans of the show or books know that nothing comes of it. Even finding out the traitor's identity was a bit of a letdown, since I suspected who it was almost as soon as I found out that there was one. 

Similarly, the final episode puts forth three plans to deal with the rival House Whitehill, all with terrible outcomes that can be seen from a mile away. Once you've figured out that it's pretty much impossible to get anything right (which becomes apparent in the first episode's conclusion), or do what common sense dictates (like throwing a murder weapon off a cliff), the game loses a lot of its suspense and charm. At least with other Telltale Games like The Walking Dead, there was at least some hope of saving people, maybe even most of the group, given the right choices. With Game of Thrones, I was just putting off the inevitable for six episodes.

Death is an Inevitability

As a result, many of the main characters end up running around in circles the whole time. Especially Mira, who is supposed to be honing her skills as a schemer in King's Landing, only to be outmaneuvered by unseen forces at practically every turn. The final wrap-up of events throughout the season is a painful, almost mocking, reminder of what little control you had over anything that happened.

At the same time, the season does end on a strong note, with plenty of bloodshed, and a special mystery with what Gared finds in the North past the wall. It's too bad that the some of the season's highest points are little more than a setup for the next season. I admit that there were a few intense situations, like poking a guy's eye out, but they are overshadowed by the fact that my choices generally didn't much matter in a game with the primary focus on decision making--underscored by how the same one eyed-man still talked crap to the cripple that beat him up. Let's hope that the second season makes for a stronger showing.

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Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series

7
good
  • Great tie-in to TV show, including original actors
  • Unique art style
  • Some very good characters
  • Watercolor art style makes characters look washed out
  • Choices don't really matter
  • Hard to remember what's happening from each episode