Being such an avid fan of the Game of Thrones television adaptation, I was certainly excited to see a game set in the universe on consoles. I was at least hoping that strong narrative and interesting characters could carry the game, as we all know licensed titles are not always of the highest quality. Cyanide Studios has crafted such a story, and fans will enjoy the twists and turns of our characters’ fates, but what it is wrapped inside of is a hot mess of poor design and archaic presentation. With the quality that has been poured into other adaptations of the universe, Game of Thrones feels like a complete step backward, and more importantly, a rushed experience.
You get to step into the shoes (or boots if you will) of two new characters. You don’t have to be versed in the lore to appreciate the story, considering the game does take place outside of the other media. You spend each chapter as either Mors Westford or Alester Sarwyck, and you will run into characters both familiar and new, and even intertwine your journeys. One of the coolest things about the game is the way the story is told, especially towards the end. It was almost worth fighting through the other 30+ hours of game time just to get the pay off. Unfortunately for most, it is something you will never see.
As a side note it is worth mentioning that if you are like me and have only watched the series in HBO’s adaptation, there is a lot here you likely won’t appreciate. The developers have used more from the Song of Ice and Fire novels that the show has most likely not touched on yet. Being on the outside of this issue didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story too much. This is a dark tale of misery, but it fits nicely within the universe. Though I must warn you, none of the endings are remotely positive. It is apparent that the developers really wanted to focus on the tragedy portion of the series.
The combat in Game of Thrones reminds me of popular BioWare titles such as Dragon Age or Knights of the Old Republic. It is a turn-based RPG that allows you to slow down time and queue up attacks for multiple characters in combat. Where it falls apart is that while the combat system feels tactical in this regard, you quickly realize that you will find a pattern of actions that works for all situations. There is very little depth here. Find a way to knock them down, make them bleed and finish them off. Rinse and repeat, over and over again. Combat becomes stale quickly, and never really fleshes out even with the insane amount of stats.
This game is definitely geared towards those who enjoy stat trees. Each character can be tailor made starting with three separate classes. Then you can add attacks, stats and finally balance a strength/weakness slider that trades some benefits for others. I actually thought this was pretty cool. You can choose to be resistant against bleeding, but it may also cost you in attack power, or speed. Each trait is assigned a number and as long as you are even, you are good to proceed. It really lets you customize how you play the game. If only the game were as diverse in other areas.
Each character also has unique traits based on their background. For example Mors is a skinchanger, which as I mentioned earlier fans of only the TV show won’t know much, if any about. This allows him to take control of his pet bull terrier. Mors can issue battle commands to him, and even take control of him in certain areas. This segment acts out much like a stealth game as the dog can fit into smaller spaces and even rip out enemy’s throats if he gets the jump on them. Alester on the other hand is a priest under the fire god R’hllor, and as such, can wield flames to enhance his weapons. Both are unique in these aspects and, to be fair, fleshed out and interesting characters.
Visually, the game is a mess more often than not. Character models are generic at best, and the textures are simply atrocious at times. Battle animations are also stiff and combat doesn’t have that impact you expect when swinging a gigantic two-handed sword. Even the slow motion kill scenes lack any appeal when you see shields go through characters and pixelated blood splash upon the screen. The game simply doesn’t look good. The sounds are good with some actors from the show reprising their roles and a solid soundtrack, but it also comes with issues. The music would simply start over instead of looping at times, really giving a disjointed feeling. Sound effects are limited and the overall presentation simply feels like the rest of the game: poorly executed.
I think the worst part for me is that I really wanted to love this game. I have grown fond of the TV series, almost to the point where I want to read the books, and I am not a huge reader. You can definitely see the love Cyanide has for the lore and the series; it just doesn’t translate well into their game. There are too many sloppy design decisions and repetitive combat. Fans of the universe will find plenty to love in the expertly woven story, but you will have to suffer through plenty of mediocre game to get to it. In the end I think fans will find enough to love, but those looking for a solid RPG experience will come away sorely disappointed.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.