Game Of Thrones ReviewMay 26, 2012
As a big fan of the HBO series, I was greatly anticipating playing through this game for review. Game of Thrones could have been a masterpiece of a game, had the developers put more effort into it. It has a solid foundation – deep character customization, old-school RPG elements, fleshed-out characters, and a great story – but its shortcomings keep its greatness from shining through. As it stands, the poor voice acting, last-generation graphics and lack of polish ultimately bring down an otherwise enjoyable experience for fans of the Game of Thrones show and books, but the story kept me playing through to the end. All told, what could have been great ends up being merely good.
Game of Thrones isn’t a direct retelling of the novels, but rather serves as a parallel point of view to those events. The game has been in development for 7 years (though you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a rush job based on how rough it is around the edges), and as such it is a strange amalgamation, partly featuring members of the HBO cast, with other characters being portrayed as the artists dreamt them up long before the series aired. You’ll play Game of Thrones as two separate characters, Alester Sarwyck and Mors Westford. Mors is a sworn member of the Night’s Watch, and protects The Wall with his life. A letter from the Hand of The King comes with orders for him to protect a woman south of the wall, and our first hero is swept away from the frosty lands.
Our second hero in Game of Thrones, Alester, is of noble birth, and returns to his home of Riverspring after a self-imposed exile of fifteen years, now a Red Priest (with fire powers!). He comes home for his father’s funeral, only to find his formerly thriving town in ruins, the people rioting against the rich, and his bastard half-brother, Valaar, conspiring to take his place as lord of Riverspring. Alester and Mors’ fate will be intertwined by the end of the game, and the story does a great job of keeping you interested and invested in these characters.
Game of Thrones also presents you with a variety of moral choices throughout the game, with no readily apparent right or wrong choice. During a riot in Riverspring, for instance, citizens will be placed under arrest, and you will question them on their alleged crimes. You can send them all to prison, kill them all, or let them all go free, with nothing telling you that it was the right or wrong choice. One man was caught with a bloody knife and accused of murdering a guard. The man says he’s just a simple butcher in the wrong place at the wrong time. His fate was mine to judge, and when I sent him to the dungeons, he simply said I’d regret my decision. Should I have killed him? What about the woman who set fire to a guard’s home – she claims that it was because the guard raped her sister. Do I imprison her, kill her, or let her go and send the guard to the dungeons? All of these decisions will probably come back to haunt you in the end, and I found this open-endedness refreshing. Characters may be against you, allied with you or not there at all by the end of the game, based on your earlier choices. There are 5 endings to Game of Thrones, but you can get them all by simply reloading the final chapter and changing your decisions there.
There is a lot of voice acting in Game of Thrones- it’s 30 hours long, and anyone who hated Metal Gear Solid 4’s dialogue-over-gameplay style will be groaning and skipping everything soon enough. I loved MGS4, but that game had great voice acting- this game, not so much. The main cast is passable- nothing special, but fine. However, almost all of the townspeople and lesser characters are so bad that it takes all of the emotional weight out of dramatic sequences. Also, there really are no animated cutscenes- for the most part all you’ll see is characters talking to each other with bad lip syncing, folding their arms, shifting their weight, and folding their arms again. It will make you want to fast forward to the next fight, but unfortunately that isn’t all that exciting either. You’ll press a few buttons to input your character’s next few commands, and watch it unfold. You can cancel actions, and add special actions that you acquire as you gain levels, but that’s about it. Mors can also sic his dog on attackers. You also get access to standard RPG buffs and health potions, and everything slows to a crawl when you press a button to select your next actions, which is a cool idea. Alester gets some pretty neat fire powers, and you’ll see a cool kill animation when you kill the final enemy in a group, but there’s not much else to it. Also, for the cheaters out there, you can get access to Interrupt attacks, which will freeze your opponent and allow you to slice him to pieces. It’s vastly overpowered, the sort of thing that will likely get patched in time, but take advantage of it while you can, and it will lead you to many victories. Mors is a warg, which means he can basically possess the body of his dog. You can tear out opponent’s throats in battle, bark at them, and also track scents and go through paths Mors can’t access while exploring, which adds a bit of diversity.
Despite the fact that Game Of Thrones has some good things going for it, it fails to recreate the epic feel one expects after experiencing the great HBO series. The graphics engine looks very dated, and with the game’s protracted development, it very well may have began life on a last generation console and updated to higher resolution later in the dev cycle. The animations are mostly amateurish, and while character faces are usually ok, everything from their neck down seems to drop drastically in detail. Environment textures are quite muddy, and details such as trees, flowers, and fire can only be described as unfinished. Models often clip through opening doors and disappear right before a cutscene, and the audio drops in and out. Music will cut in and out in the middle of a emotional sequence, and it takes you right out of the experience.
Despite its shortcomings and rough-around-the-edges feel, Game Of Thrones has an excellent story, and smartly this is where the focus is placed. Despite other elements feeling unfinished and sometimes pulling you out of the game, the story always manages to pull you back in. I, for one, would love to see a sequel, with more focus on presentation and deeper combat, but with a similar focus on story, and using the entire cast of the HBO series. As it stands, however, any fan of Game Of Thrones or A Song Of Ice And Fire should give this game a look.