Posted June 15th 2012 by Anthony DiPalma.
There are times when a fictional universe in another medium can open up a whole realm of possibilities for gaming. Unfortunately, many licensed titles are rarely up-to-par with their film/comic/written counterparts. Yet there are, in fact, quite a few exceptions to this unwritten rule. When Cyanide Studios announced that they were working on a videogame based on the smash HBO series Game of Thrones, I was about as giddy as a drunken high school teenager on prom night. I'm a massive fanboy of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series, so the awesome burden of reviewing Cyanide's Game of Thrones fell on my shoulders and was nestled in my arms like a newborn kitten made out of cotton candy.
Game of Thrones: The Game (of Thrones?) takes place a few months before Ned Stark's appointment as Hand of the King. It serves as a prequel, and the story develops as events in season 1 come to pass. Fans of the show and the books will easily recognize events as they unfold through the eyes of two new protagonists, Mors Westford and Alester Sarwyck, two men who originally fled the snake den of King's Landing in search of inner peace, only to find themselves caught up in the political intrigues of the Seven Kingdoms once again.
The player begins the journey as Mors Westford, a ranger in the Night's Watch and a Skinchanger who can use his dog (aptly named "Dog") to follow scents and attack isolated Wildlings beyond the Wall. While this sounds cool, it's actually pretty terrible. Mors sounds like Christian Bale doing his infamous Batman voice while chewing on shards of broken glass whenever he attempts to speak. The piss-poor voice acting is made even worse when Mors is joined by new recruits to aid him in the tutorial stages as they bumble their way through the horribly rendered forests.
Immediately, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. Even James Cosmo lending support for his role in the show as Lord Commander Mormont couldn't bring those few wasted minutes back to my life. When Mors and his recruits are sent on an expedition to search for a deserter from the Night's Watch, the player gets to sink their head into their arms and weep as the same god damned animations play for the fiftieth time. The game looks like shit right from the get-go, and that is upsetting because there is so much potential here.
Once the first chapter ends on a cliffhanger (very similar to Martin's style, which makes sense since he wrote much of the story himself), players are taken away from the frozen wastes of the north. Instead, we are in Riverspring, a town ruled by the Sarwycks, who serve House Lannister. Through the eyes of the exiled Red Priest Alester Sarwyck, players get to witness the home of our protagonist fall to ruin as Alester must fight to reclaim his lands and titles. This part of the story was actually somewhat enjoyable. I spent my time walking around town, helping the townsfolk and negotiating deals to avoid bloodshed. Here, the player is given a more diplomatic role, which is much better than actually fighting considering the combat in Game of Thrones is just awful.
In order to slog through the twenty or so hours to reach the game's conclusion, players must be battle hardened veterans of sloppy gameplay and stiff animations. The combat is very similar to Dragon Age, where the character will continue to attack while choosing up to three abilities to perform against enemies. More often than not, my abilities and area attacks failed, however. Granted, the fighting is easy, but there were times where I was just overwhelmed. Enemies would literally appear out of the blue, run through walls, and say the same three lines over and over until I ended up leaving the room because I just couldn't live like this any longer.
Initially, players can pick up to three classes for their character, depending on their preferred style of play. Mors can be a knight who focuses on defense, a brute dealing in greatswords, or a rogue who can wield two weapons at once. Similarly, Alester can play as a knight, a brute, or a Water Dancer. (Out of respect for Arya Stark, you can bet your ass I picked Water Dancer.) Players can then pick strengths and weaknesses to balance their character as well as purchase potions to enhance their skills. Sadly, this is all just wasted time since the player will rarely ever be alone and will almost always be accompanied by a random character that the player can control in combat. There are merchants all over town who sell weapons and armor, but the best swords and shields are so ridiculously expensive that you will only be able to afford them near the end of the game, rendering everything to be a complete and utter waste of time.
Even the class distinctions aren't varied. Sure, one class allows players to have a sword and shield, but it's really not a big deal since you can level up the skills of the style you want. Not only that, but since the combat isn't even remotely fun, you're just wasting time by attempting to fill up the skill trees for your character (and Dog). By the time I finished the game, my thumbs were in my eye sockets and I was groveling on the floor, begging the Lord of Light for mercy.
Despite the horrid gameplay, atrocious voice acting, and poorly rendered environments that actually look worse than some PS2 games, there is a great story to be told. Both Mors and Alester have interesting paths and the journeys they take are very similar to the ones in Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire. There is even an Easter Egg for fans of the books, in which Maester Martin (who is poorly modeled after author George R.R. Martin) tells Mors and Alester that he is working on his sixth book that details the histories of Westeros, but that the player should not be eager to read since it will take some time before anyone gets a glimpse at Martin's next book.
Of course, I will give Cyanide credit for attempting to make Martin's story come to life on the interactive front, but sadly it just doesn't work. The music (which comes straight from the show) is well done, but often the themes would stop playing halfway through and then start up again at random times. Castle Black, Riverspring, and King's Landing are filled with people, but there is very little to interact with. It's a very static world, and that's a shame because the actual universe of A Song of Ice & Fire has such a rich history behind it.
Cyanide (or any developer for that matter) could have taken advantage of some of the unexplored areas in A Song of Ice & Fire. It would have been great to see a recreation of Old Valyria before the Targaryens conquered Westeros, or the Blackfyre Rebellion which resulted in the formation of the mercenary group, The Golden Company. A great developer could have even gone a completely separate route and made a stealth based Assassin's Creed based game in which the player takes on the role of a Faceless Man of Braavos. Seven Hells, even the Long Night in which the White Walkers first appeared would have been an interesting take on Martin's lore. While there is nothing anyone can do about it now, I feel as though Cyanide (who had apparently been developing Game of Thrones for seven years) could have done so much more with a title this ambitious.
In short, Game of Thrones tells a great story for those who are willing to undertake hours of repetition and nauseating voice acting. Cyanide does a commendable job of telling a story that ties in with the show, but ultimately the game falls flat on far too many areas for me to consider playing again. I think I'd rather just go to the Wall.
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