By Patrick Dane
Every winning streak has to come to an end sometime, especially when you are talking about creative output. There are too many variables, too many moving cogs, too many risky ideas. It's improbable that every work produced by a single entity will be a winner. It gets even more unlikely when you throw in an intense corporate culture and huge franchised properties. Somewhere down the line, something has to go wrong. It just isn't sustainable forever.
With that, we come to the Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series opener, Iron from Ice. And honestly… I'm dumbfounded. Mostly, because this is another strong entry in the Telltale renaissance. Someday, one of these won't work. This isn't that day though.
In this episode you'll take control of several members of House Forrester. That's unusual for Telltale who usually like to tell strong narratives from a singular protagonist. On the whole though, the developer has gotten through juggling multiple characters largely unscathed. It create a unique dynamic for the player, as they never commit to one character. These characters aren't direct avatars, they're roles to play in an ever fluid play. That is an interesting place to be coming from as a user.
You'll take the reigns of three characters during the course of the 2 hour and a bit episode. The first is Gared, the squire of Lord Forrester. The game opens at the Frey's holding on the night of the Red Wedding, where House Forrester are celebrating Robb Stark's most recent victories. As fans of the show will know (or at least should. If you don't watch the show, I'd strongly suggest you do before jumping into this game), the events of that evening turn everything southward.
The fallout from the Red Wedding puts Gared in hot water with House Whitehall and the new Warden of the North, House Bolton. The second character is Ethan, one of Lord Forrester's sons, who finds himself thrust into a position of power even though he is still a boy, trying to make manoeuvres in a politically charged situation. Lastly, you'll play as Mira Forrester, daughter of Lord Forrester, who resides in King's Landing as a handmaiden of soon to be Queen, Margaery Tyrell.
It helps that Telltale have picked an intriguing time in the history as it puts House Forrester in a very interesting position in Westeros. After the Red Wedding, those previously loyal to the Starks, like House Forrester, are in a precarious situation. How do they now deal with House Bolton and do they stand their ground or try to bend the knee to their new masters? It's a smart time to explore in the Game of Thrones universe, especially for a house like Forrester.
Where Game of Thrones truly shines is when it is dealing with…well the game of thrones. There are multiple occasions where Telltale put you in the shoes of someone forced to make political decisions due to the state of Westeros. Will you try and intimidate or negotiate with Ramsey Snow? How will you address Queen Cersei when she doesn't trust your loyalty as a previous supporter of the Starks? These are the moments that really bring out the best in the episode. It feels like you're playing 'the game' in a cut throat political world where everyone else holds the cards and you hold none. Marrying choice based gameplay with political machinations make for a remarkably clever pairing.
On the flipside, the episode is weaker when it's gaze moves away from politics. Luckily, that isn't often as for the most part you are going to be dealing with some decision or another. However, when the game focuses more on action orientated scenes and character progression, there is a slight stumble in pace. This is why Gerard's story is the weakest of the three since his is more focused on travelling, action scenes and set up for later episodes. The driving force of this first episode is your decision making.
When the game tries to feel as massive as the show, it never quite reaches that level. Peeling back the cover, the means of Telltale do end up seeping through the seams. Perhaps the best example of this is the soundtrack of the game. The show has perhaps the richest music in television, where as Telltale's imitation is distractingly thin. That's just one example too. In game, you might only see two or three people on screen in a huge camp outside a castle. It is a minor gripe, but it is certainly noticeable when dealing with a universe as massive as this.
As I stated though, these moments are in the minority. Most of your time in Westeros will be spent learning about the Forresters and interacting with characters you'll know from the show. On that side of thing, Telltale have pulled out all the stops, roping in Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Natalie Dormer and Iwan Rheon to reprise their roles. For the most part, they give the episode a lot of clout providing some strong character moments. At times they can come off a little laboured, but I suspect that has more to do with the way dialogue is delivered around gameplay, rather than any individual bad performances.
It's exciting that Telltale have laid solid ground work for this series going forward. Seeing the developer and Game of Thrones come together really is a dream partnership and it doesn't look like they are going to squander the chance either. Fireworks are going to fly when you match up the most cut-throat narrative team in games with the most cut-throat franchise on TV. In the show, no one is safe.
That goes double when you match it with Telltale. At this point, we shouldn't be surprised when someone gets knocked off by either, but with clever plotting, they always blind side us with insane twists we didn't see coming. Telltale have brought that level of writing here. Perhaps at times it can feel that you are making decisions that will only pay off later down the line, making the first episode feel like a lot of set-up and little pay off. However, this is the first episode in a series. You'd be silly to think it would be otherwise. The future is bright with this one as
Telltale have crafted and interesting niche in a crowded world, full to the brim with political dealings and back stabbings as is true to the series. Sometimes when two things make such a good match, they never truly work together. That isn't the case here so far. Colour me excited by that.
Patrick Dane, once a would be filmmaker, has somewhat accidentally found himself as an entertainment journalist over the past two years. You may recognize him from around these parts, or you may not. Who's counting? From E3 to SDCC to the Top Gear track, Patrick has explored the world of entertainment wherever it has taken him. He is always happy to talk words at you. Hopefully the ones above will suffice your needs.