Recently Telltale Studios have been seriously kicking their workload up a notch, taking on an ever widening array of pre-established franchises and making ever absorbing games centred around their worlds, including such titles as The Walking Dead (2012), The Wolf Among Us (2014) and more recently, Tales from the Borderlands (2014), along with their soon to be released Minecraft: Story Mode. However, their most recent release, and biggest tie-in to date, is the new episode of Game of Thrones entitled ‘Sons of Winter’.
Now I will be the first to say this, on paper: this is most certainly, a match made in heaven. Telltale games rely on concepts of occasional button prompts along with timed chances to give dialogue, which will eventually change the outcome of different events, characters, and possibly the entire narrative, to varying degrees. This is the formula that Telltale have been using since The Walking Dead and has caused some controversy over whether or not they fully constitute an actual game or are more akin to an interactive film. Regardless of one’s opinion of what does and doesn’t constitute a game, the strength of the narrative and dialogue is undeniably effective. There are moments in this game fully on par with moments from HBO’s hit show and feel fully genuine to the world created by George RR Martin and the creators of the show David Benioff and DB Weiss.
In this game you play as different members of House Forrester, a long time Bannerman house to the Starks, and this game kicks off nearing the end of the third season of the TV show, right around the aptly named ‘red wedding’, and that is where I must come to my first point of: if you haven’t read the books or seen the show then this is not the game to begin your trip into Westeros. The game is full of references to main narrative events and as such a good understanding of the major events preceding the book and series 3 of the main titles will greatly enhance the experience of the game. The game predicates itself on your understanding of these events and therefore while the game may still be somewhat comprehensible without this foreknowledge, it may become increasingly confusing without it. The inclusion of the main cast of the HBO show, including Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington and Peter Dinklage reprising their roles of Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister respectively, is also a welcome advantage to linking this world with that of the HBO show. Their inclusion can be seen as a good sign, as it demonstrates a strong support from the cast and a better appreciation of a medium which hasn’t always done too well when it comes to tie-ins with others; even Game of Thrones has fallen victim to this in the almost disastrous GoT RPG released by Cyanide studios in 2012, so it is good to see the support from the show’s cast and seeing them grant the medium the respect it deserves, a trend which I would like to see carried forward.
There are some drawbacks, however. A constant staple of Telltale games has been graphical and visual errors including objects, and sometimes characters, briefly disappearing and reappearing as well as some minor facial animation bugs; though this is far below the level of Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014), they can sometimes become distracting. Also the art style, which Telltale frequently tweaks per title in order more accurately to depict the original source material, may be a turn off for some people in this game. Typically Telltale depict comic books and as such can build a bold and excellent looking comic book style from them, as seen in The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead, but they seem to have opted for a watercolour and oil-paint aesthetic in order to complement its live-action counterpart. It looks great for some of the expansive backdrops but also creates some strange textures around objects and people, especially in the King’s Landing sections when playing as Mira. However, this may be down to personal preference and doesn’t detract majorly from the events of the game.
Also, there is a much more underlying flaw with the title, which at first glance seems difficult to fix. Telltale’s distribution model revolves around episodic gaming and has been congratulated on being one of the few companies to do this right, with sites like gamespot.com and IGN.com giving immense adulation and praise and even suggesting that more companies might turn to it. This is somewhat true, though when you have gaps of four to six weeks between episodes with an ever-complicating plot and a wide array of characters, following the narrative becomes increasingly difficult. I’m sure I’m not the only one who, in the run up to the newest season of GoT, watched a few earlier episodes or a few TV specials on ‘the story so far’ in order to be sure I firmly understood the events and attempt to piece together what might be coming next in the show, so when you have a series which is broken into episodes that you might view months apart, I quickly become my mother trying to watch the HBO show: ‘Who is that?’, ‘Why is this happening?’, ‘What happened to this person?’…it’s infuriating, and unfortunately the nature of the game doesn’t really encourage replays so usually it will be a case of downloading the episode the day it comes out, playing it and then waiting over a month for the next instalment. This issue has been problematic before, especially in The Wolf Among Us, which is essentially a noir style, ‘whodunnit’ crime thriller and the joy for the audience in slowly piecing it together is denied when there are such huge gaps between episodes. The problem is just as prominent here as it is there, and it strongly detracts from the narrative.
There is, however, a simple solution, which you can use to get around this problem: by waiting until all episodes are released and downloading them in one batch you can have your very own feast for crows and enjoy the series as a whole in maybe one or two days depending on your lifestyle, and then it’s easy to appreciate the minutiae of characters’ actions and effects and the gradual change of the characters’ personalities – the most prominent being Mira in episode 4 – and then subsequently make decisions which actually fit with the style of play your interested in portraying.
So I suppose the question that everything comes down to is: should you or should you not buy Game of Thrones? Well, ultimately the answer is absolutely yes: there is a thoroughly engaging and interesting story here and it’s turning out to be one of Telltale’s best yet, but I would say wait until all the episodes are released and just play them through as close together as possible so you can really appreciate the hard work and effort the studio has put into their astounding Game of Thrones tie-in.