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Game of Thrones Review

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There is probably a great role-playing game to be made out of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but Game of Thrones isn't it.

Political intrigue, brutal, unflinching violence, hardscrabble characters that range from flexibly moral to morally bankrupt, and, of course, boobs; these are some of the hallmarks of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels, which you may be a tad more aware of these days thanks to the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. Beyond those facets, there is also a wry sense of gallows humor to Martin's writing that takes a bit of the poisonous edge off of what is generally a deeply unsentimental story full of people you might possibly like generally getting fucked over again and again until they either end up dead, raped, otherwise bloodied, or some combination of the three.

A lot of terrible things are going to happen to Alester over the next 20 or so hours.

It's this sense of humor that is altogether absent from Game of Thrones, developer Cyanide Studio's detailed, if somewhat misguided attempt at turning Martin's fiction into a palatable role-playing experience. Taking mechanics largely inspired by BioWare's various RPGs and combining them with selected story elements of Martin's first Ice and Fire novel (and by proxy, the first season of the TV series), Game of Thrones has no shortage of aspirations. Unfortunately, Cyanide wildly overreaches beyond its apparent capabilities, turning in a depressingly lackluster effort that is a mere skeleton of its potential.

Before we go any further, know that you can play Game of Thrones sans any foreknowledge of the books or the TV series, but it's far from recommended. Cyanide has constructed a game that is absolutely rich in subtle and obscure details from Martin's books. The stories of Game of Thrones are self-contained, but for newcomers, many of the references and concepts tossed around by the characters and codices of the game are bound to go well over your head.

Those self-contained stories tell the concurrent tales of Mors Westford and Alester Sarwyck, two characters previously unknown to the world of Westeros. Mors is an almost comically grizzled ranger with the Night's Watch, the black-clad guardians of the massive, perpetually iced-over wall that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the barbaric mountain regions on the other side. Sarwyck is a former heir to the Lordship of Riverspring, a territory invented wholesale for the purposes of this game. After spending 15 years in the Free Cities of the eastern continent, Alester returns as a Red Priest of R'hllor to pay his last respects to his recently-deceased father, who may have died under suspicious circumstances.

The set up and narrative structure of the game is one of the things Cyanide nails, insomuch as it feels very similar to the way Martin tells his stories. The game moves back and forth between Mors and Alester's lives as they unknowingly investigate opposing sides of a mystery, which pertains to a strange woman being hunted by rival houses and even Queen Cersei herself. Eventually these two stories do converge, and do so in an intelligent way that genuinely qualifies as a very cool and cathartic moment in a game that tragically has precious few of them.

It's not that Game of Thrones lacks the grotesque violence or the heartbreaking double-crosses or the abject misery generally experienced by Martin's characters; it's that there isn't really much else beyond those things. Growing attached to any one character probably isn't a good idea, because the writers of this game are even more capricious about killing them off than Martin is himself. As for Mors and Alester, neither is exactly a cheery fellow. Alester's emotions range between forlorn and sleepy, while Mors is such a coarse and uninviting creature that just being around him can feel like a slow, agonizing suicide by sandpaper. And they both suffer indignity after indignity as the game goes along, to the point where you start to wish it would just end, already, if only to spare them some needless suffering. By the end of Game of Thrones, you'll think Ned Stark got off comparatively easy.

A lot of terrible things are going to happen to Mors, too. But at least he has a dog.

With all this misery and skulduggery and relentless stabbing comes none of the wit inherent to the books and the TV show. The Game of Thrones TV series works especially well because there are so many clever personalities so brilliantly portrayed by actors like Peter Dinklage, Charles Dance, Maisie Williams, and the like. Those personalities are essentially absent in this game. Major characters like Tyrion Lannister, Littlefinger, and anyone from the Stark or Baratheon clans are nowhere to be found, and the supplemental characters created for the game aren't suitable replacements. Lord Varys, the bald-headed eunuch and master of spies is on hand (and voiced by TV series actor Conleth Hill), but his scenes lack any of the witty repartee he's so well known for on the show and in the books.

From the TV cast, he is joined only by James Cosmo, the actor who plays Night's Watch commander Jeor Mormont. Sadly, Cosmo's performance is brought down by the same trap that snags pretty much every other voice actor in this thing: the script. Game of Thrones is an exceptionally wordy game, filled with long-winded strings of purple dialogue that has no right coming out of a human mouth, even in this high fantasy world. The actors struggle endlessly to try and emote these needlessly engorged strings of expository text into something that sounds vaguely human, but it never quite works.

Regrettably, dialogue dominates much of Game of Thrones' progression. In gameplay, Cyanide has implemented elements of player choice into the dialogue, which can have distinct effects on how later sections of the game play out. The choices you're presented with are generally interesting ones, but the problem is that they're sandwiched between lengthy sections where you're just listening to characters explain to one another the stuff that you just saw happen five minutes ago. You can, thankfully, skip most dialogue sequences, but you're going to be hitting that skip button a lot before you get to the next mission.

The tech and art that make up the foundation of Game of Thrones do little to make up for these shortcomings. Game of Thrones is not an attractive game, even by the admittedly bleak standards set by the show's depiction of the world. Characters are stiffly animated and poorly rendered, environments are bland, blurry, and blocky, and at no point do characters engaged in combat look like they're even aware of one another, let alone actually engaging one another.

It's a shame, because the combat and character-building systems as designed aren't half-bad; they're just not executed particularly well. At the outset of the game, you choose from one of three different combat stances that each character will use throughout the game, which determine your proficiency in different weapon types. Additionally, you'll have to choose equivalent strengths and weaknesses. Strengths are the expected stuff, like leadership bonuses that help rally your party members, or agility bonuses that make you more nimble in combat. Weaknesses, however, drag down your abilities a bit. For instance, you might choose the hemophiliac weakness, which causes you to bleed (and thus lose more hit points) during combat, or you might have a fear of fire that makes you more susceptible to fire damage.

It's a neat little balancing act that sadly is rendered less-than-thrilling by the dearth of interesting abilities you're afforded. You'll gain new attacks and abilities at a reasonably rapid clip, but only a handful of them are particularly useful in battle. This essentially means you'll find yourself spamming the same three or four attacks through every single combat sequence, a fact made all the more tedious by the general lack of enemy variety in front of you. Sometimes the combat challenge level will violently spike, but it's not because you're fighting new or more interesting characters. I hope you enjoy killing dumb guys with swords, bigger dumb guys with swords, and really dumb archers (they clearly don't understand the concept of "ranged" attacks), because that's about all you're going to get.

Combat tends to devolve into a mess of repetitive attacks and lazy, flailing animations.

Mors and Alester each have their own character-specific abilities as well: Alester's priestly powers give him control over fire magic, while Mors is a skinchanger, meaning he can enter the mind of his trusty dog, whom Mors hasn't even bothered to give a name. The fire magic stuff adds a bit of depth to Alester's combat sequences, but it's ultimately unneeded depth, since again, the same few attacks are easily relied upon for the duration. In addition to being able to send the dog after attackers, skinchanging gives Mors an extra stealth ability, since the dog is less noticeable and can sneak through smaller spaces. Unfortunately, the dog sections tend to drag on far longer than is fun, especially when you end up doing the same button-mashing minigame every single time you want to murder someone quietly.

That's pretty much the whole of Game of Thrones. Sad dialogue, combat, sad dialogue, combat, sad dialogue, more sad dialogue, something outright horrifying happening, sad combat, and so on repeated in varying orders for a bit more than 20 hours. I'll admit that as a fan of the source material, I did find myself increasingly willing to put up with Game of Thrones' mediocre mechanics and ass-ugly graphics for the sake of pushing forward in the story. At points, its tale can be quite gripping. But between its healthy dollops of bloated dialogue, its endlessly embittered tone, and its perhaps unsurprisingly bleak conclusion--no matter which of the multiple endings you end up with, mind you--I ultimately found Game of Thrones too soul-draining to enjoy. There is fan service to be had here, but the trade-off of what you have to endure to experience it isn't balanced in your favor.

Alex Navarro on Google+
53 Comments
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Posted by leejunfan83

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Posted by MrKlorox

I fell asleep during the quicklook both times I tried to watch it.

Posted by Metal_Mills

Low scores are coming.

Posted by lronMan

This makes me sad. :(

Posted by StealthRaptor

Alex, you always get the good ones.

Posted by corganmurray

Bummer.

Posted by Scheds

That's too bad! I had hope in the game even after the quick look, but it certainly did look jank.

Posted by FLYmeatwad

I'm still interested in this game because, from what I keep hearing, the story can get super compelling. I've definitely put up with games with bad mechanics before even when I wasn't compelled by the story, so I'll still pick this up when its price inevitably plummets. I love the world that Martin created, and I always feel like the best adaptations are ones that try and free themselves from replicating the characters/pre-existing events in favor of telling new stories and letting me explore the world, so if this give me even five or six hours of that I figure I'll be pleased even if the game isn't completely good.

One day I'll find someone to fund my grand Harry potter game experiment, resulting in the best video game ever made. Until then, I'll just stick to Cyanide's GoT efforts.

Posted by FLStyle

Sad times, I was going to try this out, not going to bother now. Thanks Alex, helped me dodge a bullet there.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Wait, there's a Game of Thrones game? Why did I forget about this?

Posted by louiedog

@Video_Game_King said:

Wait, there's a Game of Thrones game? Why did I forget about this?

There are two.

Posted by caska
But between its healthy dollops of bloated dialogue, its endlessly embittered tone, and its perhaps unsurprisingly bleak conclusion--no matter which of the multiple endings you end up with, mind you--I ultimately found Game of Thrones too soul-draining to enjoy.

Pretty much sums up my experience with the books too. Although I guess it hasn't reached the ending yet..... I guess I might pick this up when it's $2.50 in a steam sale

Posted by sixpin

I knew this would be a 2 star score when I saw - via Twitter complaints - that Alex was reviewing it. Harsh, well written, possibly fair, but I still think the game is decent enough to check out after it is discounted.

Posted by Yummylee

D'aww, I got my hopes up thinking this was going to be a Vinny review at first! No offence intended at Alex or anything :P

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Posted by BabyChooChoo

...can Alex get a good game to review for once?

Posted by AMonkey

I didn't have high hopes for this game, but its still disappointing to read its flaws.

Edited by Animasta

I feel like you're being a little unfair (and I am no game of thrones person either, I much prefer the Witcher for my dark fantasy) game of thrones is supposed to be dark, and you're complaining it's too soul draining to play, but isn't that the point? as far as I know, nothing happy goes on in game of thronesville. I mean sure that might not make for a fun game and the combat being bad or boring is totally valid, but I dunno... Witcher 2 basically alternated between being hella depressing and being raunchy, but that didn't make it soul draining. Nier was pretty soul draining, but that's what it tried to do and it did it very well.

It's fine to not like it but I feel like your arguments against the tone of the story are a little weak if you get what I'm saying.

Posted by Alex

@Animasta: I tried to emphasize in the text that there's just no levity at all. At least in the books/on the show, there are characters who bring a bit of black comedy into the proceedings to lighten the mood between horrible things happening. The game just has no sense of humor, and no characters to lighten things up. I'm all for bleak fantasy fiction, but 20+ hours of nothing but terrible things happening to every character becomes wearisome and depressing for all the wrong reasons.

Staff
Posted by Yummylee

@BabyChooChoo said:

...can Alex get a good game to review for once?

You mean like Saints Row The Third, Journey, Rayman Origins? I understand that it's well known to be his ''thing'' (...forgive me) to review bad games, but it's really not quite as one-sided as everyone consistently believes.

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Posted by darkjester74

@Metal_Mills said:

Low scores are coming.

I C WAT U DEED THAR.

Welp, guess Ill wait for a Steam sale. Something tells me it wont be too long before its in the $5 range.

Posted by Delta_Ass

I guess winter came.

Edited by Tennmuerti

For some reason I am glad this turnded out the way it did.

Edit: Oh yea i know why, the faster they desecrate the franchise with mediocre to shit games the less insentive there weill be to try to further exploit the licence, like say make an MMO out of it, BRRRR. Also because it puts less insentive on me as a fan to pick this up, now it's easier to ignore.

Posted by Benny

Vinny was so right about Robert's rebellion being a good choice for setting, I'd love to see something like that rather than this. We just have to hope nobody tries to make an MMO out of the series, cause that would be certain death. It is known.

Posted by Jimbo

Finished it on PC.  Depending on your tolerance for technical incompetence (the camera is particularly shitty), I think you might get something out of it if you're a fan of the franchise.  I don't really disagree with any of the points raised in the review, but I'd personally be inclined to score it higher.  It reminded me a lot of The Witcher 1 (though not quite as good) in that I found it compelling in spite of its obvious flaws, so if you enjoyed that... maybe consider it?
 
I thought it had some neat ideas in there.  Switching between characters from chapter to chapter (like the books) translated to the game surprisingly well.  In the right hands that could be fantastic.  I'd hesitate to call Bioware 'the right hands' nowadays, but I'd love to see something like that used in Dragon Age to show both sides of a conflict.

Posted by Animasta

I suppose you're right, that'd probably get pretty annoying if not done properly (which this seems it wasn't)

Posted by HEAVY_IS_JETPACK

I'm enjoying this game, but by the Seven Gods does it have a lot of flaws. I still think it's a interesting piece of story driven experiences, I genuinely like the main characters and as a fan of the books there is a lot of nice references. Unfortunately, everytime I was starting to get lost in the world of Westeros, some badly delivered line, graphical glitch or seeing the same character model over and over again would come and break the immersion. It's unpolished to say the least, but if you are in for the story then I guess you can overlook all the bad stuff that it's in it.

Posted by S0ndor

The game is extremely mechanical, but it works. My experience has been mostly bug-free up until now. The combat is very similar to KOTOR (semi-turn-based, queuing up actions), only less good. The gameplay is largely forgettable, but I set the difficulty to easy and just hack through every encounter with minimal thought.

The story on the other hand...

I have read all of the novels and I keep up with the show, and I really like the characters and the story in this. The voice acting for the side characters can be laughable, but the actors for the main characters do a more than serviceable job. The budget for this is obviously pretty low, but the developers know how to manoeuvre within its confines. They never overreach with the presentation.

I'm about 15 hours in, and I'll definitely see it through to the end. I'm having a lot of fun with the twists and turns and there's some exiting stuff going on with the Brotherhood and the Targaryens.

Posted by CornBREDX

If you need a video game game of thrones, The Witcher 2 is pretty close.

Just puttin that out there.

Posted by Jesserad

I had a feeling of disassociation with the video game compared to the book and the TV series as soon as I saw the trailer for this game. It's too bad.

Posted by zombie2011

I thought this game looked pretty great in the trailers, but the QL was really boring.

Posted by NTM

I'm starting to think that he doesn't get the bad games, he seeks them out.

Posted by MattyFTM

@BabyChooChoo said:

...can Alex get a good game to review for once?

I have a better idea. They should force Alex to review Big Rigs again. And again. And again!!!

Moderator
Edited by jon_e

Damn it. I had hoped this game would be better. I'm glad I waited for the review before picking this up. The soul-draining aspects of the books were why I stopped reading them. If the game doesn't even have Martin's gallows humor to leaven the kill-all-the-characters-you-like aspects I'm happy passing on the game.

Posted by Dad_Is_A_Zombie

Too bad. The source material should have made for a hellava game.

Posted by probablytuna

When I first saw the screenshots for the game, I was hopeful it would be good. Then I watched some videos and I knew it was not gonna be great. I guess the images were polished enough to trick me into thinking that this might have the level of polish like The Witcher 2.

Posted by cavemantom

@Benny said:

Vinny was so right about Robert's rebellion being a good choice for setting, I'd love to see something like that rather than this. We just have to hope nobody tries to make an MMO out of the series, cause that would be certain death. It is known.

I totally agree, especially since the show never features any of the flashbacks.

I'd like to scramble for the fallen rubies from Rhaegar's crumpled chestplate, or stand in the audience as the Mad King burns some innocents.

Posted by mavrik1984

the problem with this game.. it would have been the shit if it came out 5-6 years ago, face it, it is outdated, the developers even admitted its been in development for the past 7 years. What does that tell us? That it would be made on an outdated version of whatever graphics engine they used and they cant simply just rebuild every little texture there is to reach the level of mass effect, I think that would delay them another year or two. Heck i think the combat would have been accepted 6 years ago b/c that was way before we got stuff like dragon age or the witcher. Around that time I think oblivion was just coming out or have been out, other than that game, there would have been no other competition to compare it with. I dont know why it took them that long to release a game that should have been released 5-6 years ago. It looks like they finished the game 5-6 years ago, threw it in the vault and decided to wait several years until the world is ready for what they thought would be their masterpiece, their gift to the fans and didnt count on games like mass effect 1-3, dragon age 1-2, the witcher 1-2, skyrim, kingdoms of amalur, and the recent fallout games to even come in to existence. I bet when they saw dragon age come out they were like :uh yea, lets not release this game as is.. lets try to paint over it a little" tv show came in "uh yea lets go reshape those character models a little, and when more of the above rpgs came out "um yea.. lets just release this game now, get laughed at by all our fans but hope we get enough money back and go make something else.." lol, Dont get me wrong, I like the game, I bought it bc I wanted the artbook and to support the devs to try and do a better game, plus its game of thrones, graphics never bothered me, but yes the gameplay is slow to today's standards, but I can get over it and go through the game whenever, maybe when I am bored I'll go back to it, which will be a long time from now since I got diablo 3 and dragons dogma heh

Posted by laserbolts

Looked like shit in the quick look so this doesn't surprise me.

Posted by Enigma777

A poor man's Dragon Age.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Yeah. This still seems like something I will buy when it is $5 on Steam.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

That dialogue man, holy shit. Reads like it was written by the work experience kid!

Posted by yoshimitz707

I almost cried when I saw Vinny hadn't reviewed this. I love Vinny reviews!

Posted by Ujio

Thanks for the brutally honest review, Alex. Now I can confidently keep this pile of poo out of my game queue =)

Posted by chrismafuchris

I was hoping this would be a Vinny review.

Posted by Hailinel

@Enigma777 said:

A poor man's Dragon Age.

...Or a wealthy man's Dragon Age II.

Posted by artofwar420

@Hailinel said:

@Enigma777 said:

A poor man's Dragon Age.

...Or a wealthy man's Dragon Age II.

Heyooo

Posted by HansKaosu

Wrong person reviewed it.. Will not stop me from buying it.

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Posted by dropabombonit

This review is spot on. I haven't played it but the problems you had with it were evident in the quick look. It would be great if the guys who make the witcher games got the rights to game of thrones

Posted by Lugixx

Hmmm...

Gripping tales are not common in videogames, so that this game actually has one is something of a surprise to say the least. I think I can deal with the issues, since I managed to play through the entirety of DA2 ( of which I can't think of a single redeeming aspect). I know it was not his intention, but Alex just convinced me to pick this up during the summer steam sale.

Posted by Snarkasaur

So disappointing. It puzzles me why they never give already established franchises to better developers, unless it's just a case of good developers wanting to run with their own creativity, which guess I could understand.

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