Review: Game Of Thrones
"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."
- Worth The Time?This is a long game done in a unique fashion, so I would say yes.
- Things LovedThe story will suck you in like a supermassive black hole. The combat is challenging and tactical. Loads of quests for you to do, that are actually worth doing. Some noteworthy cameos really nail home the similarity between game and canon. Beautiful theme song and soundtrack.
- Things HatedSometimes the combat is downright unfair. The game doesn't look that great. The character animations are limited and ugly. Voice acting isn't up to standard. Loads of missed potential. It's definitely not for everyone.
- RecommendationIf you're a fan of RPGs or A Song Of Ice And Fire, you should get this game now and play it.
- Name: Game Of Thrones
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Cyanide
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Price: R 450
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Cersei Lannister quite famously noted that to Eddard Stark one day. Any fan of the series would appreciate that sentiment, knowing full well how the sequence of events played out thereafter. In the game of Game of Thrones, that ethos has not just been adopted but entirely adapted to the point that at times, it feels as if the game outdoes itself.
The Game of Thrones RPG as it’s called, is a role-playing game that has released in a year chock full of role-playing games, already setting itself up for quite the challenge. And to add to that, it’s not exactly what you’d call a triple-A offering. Keep in mind, this is no Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Mass Effect 3. Developer Cyanide has had to work with a mere fraction of that sort of budget and the quality (or lack thereof) certainly shows in various aspects. But it’s even more amazing then to consider just how well this game manages to deliver nonetheless.
Let’s start with everything that isn’t the focus of the game, since I feel it’s important to at least mention those and then get them out of the way before we move on to the real meaty justification for why I think so highly of this game.
The first and most noticeable aspect of the game once you start it up and move beyond the main menu which loops that amazingly inspiring theme music we know and love from the television series, is the graphics. As is the case with many things, in the absence of smell, the next most prevalent sense is sight. And why not, everyone likes pretty things, right?
Unfortunately, Game of Thrones is anything but pretty. Sure it’s nicely stylised and works well to accentuate characters, but for the most part what you are presented with is a substandard game that, at least by the standards set by games such as The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in all its beauty, and Mass Effect 3, is decent at best. The textures are bland and uninspired, while everything feels rigid and wrong.
Character models are an especially atrociously done aspect that, while artistically crafted in places to account for the lack of detail, still manage to make you want to cut off your eyes and feed it to your dogs… or cat, I suppose, although I imagine a cat would sooner roll the eyes around with their claws than swallow them whole. But I digress.
Interactions with characters had me cringing as each character, be they NPC or player character, took turns doing a sequence of, I believe three unique animations, and nothing else. Only flailing arms changes things and even then, I’d sooner prefer if they just swapped all of it out and replaced characters with little green army men, static poses and all, because at least those came in more flavours. While some characters look artistically good, meaning you can see the style the designers were going for, it’s still extremely upsetting to have to watch them be animated so poorly before you. More especially when their voice actors who, though clear and well toned, still sound a little too much like they’re reading lines off a script rather than really acting the scenes out.
At times it starts to feel a little silly.
Moving onto combat, from trailers the game initially seemed like a turn-based experience that allowed for thinking time between attacks to coordinate tactical strikes rather than button-mashing your way to victory, which I appreciated even though I dislike turn-based combat somewhat. Thankfully the game itself actually feels more like Dragon Age: Origins in the style in which it handles combat.
When a combat sequence begins your character will pull out their weapon and attack a foe in the third person, and continue to attack that foe as well as others until everything is dead. Easy? A little boring? Not quite. See, the combat is done significantly well enough that it requires you to think as much as you strike, by allowing you to slow down combat using the bumpers in order to either choose your target, drink potions or use abilities.
Further, combat is party-based in sections allowing you to issue separate orders to each character, making for an experience that is both rewarding and… to be honest, tough as steel fucking nails. I’m not even kidding when I say that there were fights where I felt as if the life had been drained from me, where I quit out and just stared into space for a while, so dejected was I over how badly I was destroyed on the normal difficulty.
The reason for this is two-fold. For one, the combat gets a bit clumsy due to the control system which has buttons for slowing down combat to issue commands, and separate buttons for a second set of skills (more on this later), potions and switching between party members. It’s nowhere near as streamlined as Dragon Age’s and will take quite a while to get used to, but once you are it will start to ease up on you and allow you some breathing space.
However until then, I hope you like your game experiences masochistic because while this is no Dark Souls, you will be torn apart if you don’t constantly focus on your fights and skill your characters perfectly. This is another criticism of mine, one that almost ruins the otherwise excellent combat system for me. While I love this form of combat style because it removes the need to button-mash or use quick-time-events, it does open up the possibility that you’ve skilled your character incorrectly and will not be able to win a fight purely because… how shall I say this… your character is shit. Dropping the difficulty works to fix this, but really who does that?
The second reason involves the way weaknesses and strengths are done. For example, light-armoured enemies are weak to perforating weapons and heavy-armoured enemies are weak to blunt weapons, however the way weapon classing and character creation works means that there are some fights made for you and some not, and good luck to you when you come up against a boss character who has armour and weapons that you’re weak against. It’s not balanced well in that respect and is downright unfair unless you had prior knowledge of this and accounted for it.
After all of this, you could still just end up glitching into a wall causing your character to stop fighting entirely, and just stand and stare at whomever it is that’s attacking you, until they succeed in killing you forcing a reload because the game wanted to be a dick. This happened to me a few times in my playthrough.
Okay so with those out of the way, now we can talk about all of the cool things about this game, and to Cyanide’s credit they’re thankfully the only parts of the game that matter.
The story for Game of Thrones occurs parallel to the events of the first book, starting in 298 (I quite like this year) some fifteen years after the events of Robert Baratheon’s successful rebellion and usurping of the iron throne. So basically right at the start of the first book. It then goes in chapters that follow specific characters and portray similar elements in different ways, much like the books themselves. I quite enjoyed this and found it endearing and true to the source material.
I especially enjoyed how, like the first book as well as the HBO series and even Skyrim, the game started off (more or less) with a beheading. Make no mistake, this game has extremely mature content for its 16 age restriction.
Each chapter follows one of two new characters to the series, introduced as accomplices to Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark and Jon Arryn in their time of war during the aforementioned rebellion. Each of these characters has since moved on in different ways after overthrowing the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen and ending the dynasty of dragon kings.
Ser Mors Westford is an aged veteran, a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch who is famed as a tracker on The Wall and called The Butcher for his animalistic senses. His reasons for taking the black are revealed to you as you play through the story and his role comes in when Jon Arryn asks a favour directly of him.
Ser Alester Sarwyck is the former heir to the town of Riverspring who went into exile for fifteen years and became a devout follower and red priest of R’hllor, the famed lord of light from the free cities. He has returned to Riverspring to take his rightful place as lord after the death of his lord father, only to discover the city a mere shadow of what it once was. He then discovers that he must appease the queen in order to regain his lands as she has promised them to his bastard brother Valarr.
When you start the game, each character’s first chapter tasks you with character creation as you configure such things as the stance (basically their class, which ranges from one-handed, two-handed, dual-wielding or ranged) which is based off actual warriors in the series — so I naturally made a water dancer of Alester — as well as Fallout 3-like stats including Strength, Agility, Luck, Endurance and Intelligence. There’s also two skill trees; one based off your chosen stance and one a unique tree specific to your character, and again, Fallout 3-like skill points which you assign to such things as weapons (of which there are quite a few, some earning bonus points based on your stance) and armour types.
Finally, there’s a quite unique strengths and weaknesses system which allows you to, if you so desire, give your characters strengths and weaknesses that might hinder them in one way but empower them in another. This must balance, although throughout the story you unlock more strengths and weaknesses based on your decisions and actions.
Divulging too much of the story would be folly but I will say this, and I implore you to read this carefully.
This game’s story downright eclipses anything the first book can throw at you.
This is in every way a Game of Thrones title and while you might see some twists coming, trust me when I say you won’t for a second expect the really big ones. It starts off slow but soon enough, it will come at you hard, leaving you sitting back gaping in shock.
There are a few character cameos including Queen Cersei Lannister herself, as well as the Spider; Varys, and the Old Bear; Jeor Mormont. A few other cameos are slightly smaller although one large nod to fans of the series may be found later on. Pun intended.
The setting of Westeros is adequately done and quite beautifully represented, taking you to locations you’ve never been to before such as Mole’s Town and the Shadow Tower up north, and Riverspring and Castlewood down south. Then there are more famous locations which you can explore including Castle Black, The Wall, King’s Landing and the Red Keep itself.
It’s actually quite minimal at times. Sure you can explore as you please but most doors are closed to you and you cannot interact with most of the populace unless a quest demands it. There are merchants sprinkled around who will sell you such things as armour, weapons, potions and trinkets, but for the most part that’s it. Sometimes you feel as if they could have done a lot more with the locations and allowed you yet more freedom of exploration. Something as simple as allowing NPCs to be interacted with, could have fixed everything in this respect.
Apart from that, there’s a nice contrast between north and south with the northern locations suitably snowy and decrepit while the southern locations are sunny and vivacious.
What confused me though, was the age restriction for the game. Make no mistake, you will see loads of blood, gore, and heads being chopped off. You will experience a story that takes a mature mind to understand, as full of politics and betrayal as anything the series has thrown at you thus far. And you will visit brothels many, many times in the game. So why then does the game shirk at a Mature rating and try to be anything but? There’s everything that a Mature-rated game would have, sometimes even more, but it’s rated for 16-year-olds. It feels unnecessary as if they just went with the 18 rating, they could have done a proper Game of Thrones representation of such things as brothels and battles instead of shying away from it in a bi-polar fashion, implying but not outright displaying like some two-bit GTA knock-off from ten years ago.
After all is said and done, the truth of the matter is that Game of Thrones is a budget title that is financed nowhere near as well as something more triple-A. Yet Cyanide still manages to deliver splendidly and I’d be quite intrigued to see what they’d do with some real money.
Make no mistake, this is a licensed title and while it is… not badly but lazily done in places, it shines in every area that it needs to. That is to say, it feels like a Game of Thrones game because it has the story of a Game of Thrones, or I should say A Song Of Ice And Fire title.
I do think that you will appreciate this game a lot more if you’re a fan of the series who has read the books and I don’t say that to be pretentious, it’s just that the game glosses over many things not entirely emphasised in the HBO series. I would say that if you’ve read the books and are familiar with the source material then you can quite easily bump this game’s rating up to Great, because that’s what it is. It’s a great title that you really should look into purchasing and trying out for yourself. The story will make every moment of frustration from combat worth it.
If however you’re a casual fan of the series who just watches the live-action series and wants more dragons and white-walkers instead of political intrigue and character interaction, you’d best wait for this to hit a bargain big and stick to more quality RPG titles for the moment, because you might find this an underwhelming experience.
This then makes it a tricky game to rate because of this crevasse between casual and hardcore fans. Since I fall into the middle, I’m going to go ahead and call the game Good and say that you should really look into trying it out if you’re one who enjoys good stories and frustratingly difficult combat that plays like Dragon Age: Origins, only without the dragons.
I really like this game despite its flaws and, like Tyrion Lannister once said: “I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards and broken things.”
It might not be an entirely flawless experience and you could do far better, but it’s not bad either. And for a licensed title to have a story that is, and I repeat with emphasis, better than its source material is truly saying something; more so when you consider the source material in question. George R. R. Martin would be bursting with pride. Or pie… you know, because he’s bigger than Harrenhal.