Ironclad narrative supports an ice thin adventure
The wasteland dust has barely settled from developer Teltalle Games’ recent release of Tales from the Borderlands, and the masterful storytellers have already returned to kick off another episodic adventure. Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series- Iron From Ice is set against the backdrop of the War of the Five Kings from A Song of Ice and Fire, an especially grim and turbulent time in the continent of Westeros, where houses fall, kingdoms crumble, and blood flows as freely as the series’ copious sex and wine.
During the game’s planned six chapters, players assume the role of five members of House Forrester, a northern house loyal to the Starks. The Forresters, seated in the castle Ironrath, in the wolfswood in the North of Westeros, find themselves in the precarious position of swearing allegiance to Roose Bolton after the bloody outcome of the Red Wedding found him in the position of Warden of the North, or facing utter destruction. In this debut episode, players assume the role of three members of house Forrester: Ethan Forrester, the young and inexperienced teenage son of Gregor Forrester who assumes power after his father Gregor is brutally murdered, Mira Forrester, the firstborn daughter who resides in Kings Landing and serves as the handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, and Gared Tuttle, squire to Gregor who is entrusted with an urgent message before Gregor’s demise.
If you’re familiar with the previous games in Telltale Game’s packed stable of narrative adventure titles you know what to expect from the gameplay of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series. While the majority of the game revolves around making dialog choices, some of which will impact the overall arc of the adventure’s story, you’ll also spend time scouring small locations for clues and details, and in Gared’s opening segment, spend a prolonged opening sequence performing some dramatic maneuvers several QTE’s that capture the brutal nature of the books and HBO television series the game that serves as the game’s inspiration. Unfortunately, there are only two of these QTE events in this debut episode, and both of them are set at the very beginning of this chapter in the story, making the latter portion of Iron From Ice’s roughly 2.5 hour story feel somewhat lopsided.
Of course, being set in the Game of Thrones universe the familiar dialog sequences ante is upped, with the tension being dialed to 11. During your time with Iron From Ice you’ll find yourself having to make some truly harrowing choices while dealing with a handful of the series more menacing figures, such as the cold and calculating Cersei Lannister as she question’s Mira’s allegiance and the murderous and volatile Ramsay Snow, whose unpredictability makes for a truly unnerving verbal chess match during Ethan’s portion of the chapter shines brightly as a truly maniacal antagonist that is sure to make your skin crawl.
Of course, it makes sense for the dialog to take front and center in a Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series, it’s still somewhat disappointing to see that the game follows the trend that Tales from the Borderlands set in regards to a near complete lack of puzzles, or interaction in general outside of the aforementioned QTE events. While the formula works, it’s hard not to feel like a specter, or as if you’re playing a story-focused game of the 1983 laserdisc arcade classic Dragon’s Lair at times, and that is disappointing, offering a well-written but somewhat hollow feeling experience at times. Having said that, we hope that subsequent chapters offer a bit more in terms of a gameplay to go with the overall superbly written story.
While the writing in this episode is excellent, the stunning likenesses and high quality voice work provided by the cast of the the television series push the delivery over the edge. Lena Headey’s performance as Cersei Lannister is spot-on as she delivers condescension and lopsided sneers in plentiful heaps upon the player, breaking down your nerves as you fumble to find the right words to appease her. Additionally, Peter Dinklage trades in his bored monologues about Moon Wizards in favor of his more comfortable role as the dagger-sharp dwarf Tyrion Lannister, offering a fine performance that’s limited only by a lack of of exceptional lines worthy of his character.
In terms of visuals, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is a bit of a mixed bag. While the likenesses of the show’s cast look quite good, the game suffers from some some technical issues that pull you out of the experience. During my playthrough I witnessed limbs seemingly appear out of thin air during cutscenes, turning what could have been a dramatic moment into comedic affair. Additionally, animations are as awkward as ever, and underscore Telltale’s need to upgrade the long in the tooth Telltale Tool engine in favor of a platform more up to the task of realizing their grand writing with equally exceptional gameplay performance. That’s not to say all is bad, as the game’s lush backgrounds feature a gorgeous oil painting styled aesthetic, which look great from afar, though up close don’t fare quite as well. The game has its moments though, such as a moody shot in the Wolfswood at night that features some suitably moody lightning that is oozing with haunting atmosphere.
Even with its lumps, its hard not to be excited about Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series. The prospect of getting a new, peripheral perspective on some of the major events in George R.R. Martin’s epic series is no doubt enticing for any fans of the books and show alike. However, one can only wonder just how much of an impact the story can have when limited by series canon. After all, knowing that your characters won’t be getting the vengeance they hunger for in a game so constrained by canon. Even still, the finale if of Iron From Ice is sure to leave your jaw on the floor, and having you clamoring for the next chapter in this episodic adventure.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series may not rewrite the adventure gaming book, but it’s a strong start to another emotionally-charged series in the studios burgeoning stable of memorable tales. If future chapters offer enough engaging gameplay to complement the powerful storytelling then this could very well become another masterwork from the scribes at Telltale Games.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, Mac, iOS, Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Vita; Publisher: Telltale Games; Developer: Telltale Games; Players: 1 ; Released: December 2, 2014; Genre: Adventure; MSRP: $4.99 ($29.99 Season Pass)
Note: This review was based on Xbox One retail code provided by the game’s publisher, Telltale Games.