Game of Thrones tells a great, well-written and well-acted story. Unfortunately, someone seems to have forgotten something: the game.
What it is
Developed and published by Cyanide Studios, Game of Thrones is an action-RPG—and I have to use both of those terms loosely here—set in the world created by George R.R. Martin in his novel(s) A Game of Thrones (which includes A Song of Fire and Ice, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords).
Amazon describes the series as “…George R. R. Martin’s stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.” My geek friends have been raving about it for years. There’s also an HBO series based upon the novels, so it’s fair to say that A Game of Thrones has become a multimedia fantasy franchise juggernaut, and video games are the next logical frontier for the series to conquer.
Unfortunately, Game of Thrones (the RPG) only talks a good a game. It doesn’t deliver one.
In Game of Thrones, you play alternately as Alester Sarwyck and Mors Westford through two concurrent storylines. Sarwyck is a self-exiled lord-turned-priest who returns to his house upon the death of his father. His house in disarray and his township on the brink of revolt, Alester sets out to put everything right once again.
Your other alter-ego is Mors Westford, a veteran war hero and gravelly-voiced bad-ass of the Night’s Watch. The Night’s Watch is essentially a dwindling military group forced to serve in the ass-end of a frozen hell. Warriors of The Night’s Watch serve as a sentence in lieu of the death penalty for a severe crime. Mors is a war hero and well-respected veteran of the Black Watch who finds himself unraveling a conspiracy.
Game of Thrones outwardly bears all the hallmarks of a high-brow, AAA action RPG, and at a glance resembles games such as Divinity II or The Witcher 2. All the “usual suspects” are present: levels, experience points, loot, stuff to kill, special abilities, and so forth.
Sadly, these are merely window dressing.
The voice acting and writing are superb, and the game starts out in a tutorial mode to help you learn the ropes. You spend a lot of time in minimally interactive conversations, some teaching you how to play, some setting up the story and sending you on missions. Then you fight a little bit, and have more conversations. Did I mention the writing and voice acting are great?
Unfortunately, 5 hours into the game and I still felt like I was waiting for the “real” game to start. When would I get to explore, take side quests, and go loot some dungeons? When would I get to meander around town or the world? When would I feel like I actually had (and could make) real choices that impact the story?
The answer, as you probably suspect by now, is pretty much never. Game of Thrones is ultimately a long, linear series of barely interactive conversations and cut scenes punctuated by relatively short bouts of combat—and then more cut scenes and conversations. Real choice is at best elusive and worst non-existent. Several times even after killing an enemy, I’m treated to a cut scene of said enemy still alive—in one case even rising, escaping, and ordering some suddenly convenient (and punctual) minions to attack me.
Wait, didn’t I just kill you? Shouldn’t I get a choice to run you through or kick you in the liver? Why didn’t I kick you in the liver to begin with? Oh, because the game never gave me the option—or any option—to step outside its carefully orchestrated and contrived machinations.
In between slogging from one objective point to the next you get to occasionally kill stuff and loot bodies, but combat offers little beyond turn-based whack-a-mole in which you occasionally need to move, pause, or click on a special ability. And even when combat does rise to the level of ‘almost interesting’ (which isn’t often), you’re just a few whacked moles away from talky-talk cut scenes where you might get to choose some conversational bits—not that any of them matter much, because more often than not it appears your conversation choices still steer you to the same inevitable conclusion of the conversation. Your conversational choices essentially boil down to ‘listen to more yakking’ or ‘cut it short’–and which is which isn’t always obvious.
To top it off, many of the conversations are completely pointless. I made the mistake of talking to two Night’s Watch guys in a whorehouse. Why? Because I could, and there wasn’t much else to do aside from following my objective indicator. I was still holding out faint hope maybe there was a side quest lurking about or something.
Sadly, I was mistaken. The two idiots rambled on their life stories, and I, like an idiot, chose to let them—still vainly hoping at some point there would be a reason for it all besides useless ‘color’ lore for two basically inconsequential characters.
Game of Thrones squanders its license and opportunities, and reels you like a fish on a hook and simultaneously drives a red hot poker up your bum through its well-written story. Unfortunately, there is little here for fans of role-playing games, and only the most ardent fans of the books and television might enjoy it—and even they, I suspect, will be sorely disappointed at the lack of true adventure, exploration, and interactivity. There are far, far better RPG games for your money. (Skyrim anyone?)