A Losing Game
When I first booted up the fourth episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, I very quickly found myself attempting to force my way through the game, because I was struggling to care about what happened to me and my fictional family. This was peculiar, because I wouldn’t say that the game wasn’t interesting. The tales of The Forresters, lords of the Ironwood, were actually quite compelling, and I swear to you, the Telltale writing team handles serious adult situations better than the HBO writing team does. Yet, coming in to this episode, standing before Daenerys with the renegade Asher, being beaten to the ground as Gared Tuttle by Frostfinger, being chastised for improper behavior as Lady Mira, and being stampeded over both politically and physically by Gryff Whitehill as Lord Rodrick, was simply getting boring to me. That was when I realized, that my problem wasn’t with Telltale or their games at all, but rather with Game of Thrones .
You see, Game of Thrones is fundamentally about watching bad things happen to people. Triumphs are few and far between. Instead, you watch the heroes suffer in order to wonder how they are going to break out of their terrible situation, and you watch the villains suffer in order to see them eventually get their comeuppance. It’s a series full of schadenfreude, where no one can be trusted, everyone will eventually die, and no matter what you do, there is a power higher than you. That could be another lord, another army, another continent, or even, if you are lord king of Westeros, the unseen war between the god of fire and the undead hordes of ice.
As a show or a book, this works perfectly fine. I’m passively watching or reading about these interesting characters getting beaten down by an unrelenting and unloving universe and enjoying it. However, as a game, it doesn’t work out as well. You see, even in Telltale’s other dark works, like The Walking Dead , I felt like everything I was doing was to attempt to ensure my survival in a world that otherwise hated me and wanted me dead. I know that survival was a long shot, and that everyone I knew and care about would eventually be lost to time and violence, but that small chance was purpose enough to keep pushing forward.
But in Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, I don’t feel that same drive. I am very familiar with the Game of Thrones series, and I feel like the chances for survival or a happy ending are slim to none. So I find myself regarding every choice with the same, “What do I care? This is just going to screw me anyway” attitude, as opposed to The Walking Dead , where I worry that saying the wrong thing might somehow cost me an important ally when the Walkers come.
In Episode 4 , things start in much the same way. Gared Tuttle, for example, barely did anything with the Night’s Watch other than train, and the game has already railroaded you into being treated like a traitor and put up for execution. This makes you ask yourself, “Well, what was the point of all that other stuff I just did?”
Mira has gotten to the point where she is basically a fugitive inside King’s Landing, ready to be arrested at a moment’s notice, escaping only by the skin of her teeth. However, she continues to hobnob with nobles with barely any consequence from the prior three episodes.
Asher spends most of his time planning an assault on Mereen, when he isn’t groveling to Daenerys. But no matter what he says or does, Daenerys doesn’t even start to listen to him (despite the fact that one of us was wounded by her dragons) and the assault on Mereen doesn’t really change. This is doubly frustrating because Daenerys feels reduced to a one note hard-ass, which is very unlike her character in the books and shows.
Finally, Rodrick is meant to stand up to Gryff Whitehill, but regardless of how cowardly you bowed or how valiantly you defied Gryff last episode, you still end up being put in the same situations in the beginning of this episode, which totally undermines how badass Episode 3 ’s conclusion made you felt.
This is perhaps the biggest flaw with this series. It continually undermines itself by attempting to find a way to reset the story back to “bad things are happening to everyone.” This prevents the story from ever evolving or moving forward in a way that actually responds to player input.
This is especially disheartening because many times, these episodes seem to understand that the player wants more input halfway through their running time. For example, there is a point where Gared has to gather items from a cell in order to escape it, and then embark on a journey into the wild lands north of the Wall. At this point, the game feels like an old style King’s Quest game, where you gather as many items as possible before proceeding to the next phase of the game, and it’s very refreshing.
Similarly, there is a point where Rodrick gets invited to his enemy’s house, and he can wander around getting information to use against him. This information comes up in later conversations and makes you feel like you are outsmarting your rival lords.
Every character participates in similar situations where the player has a lot of control over their fate. Mira, for example, gets to wander around a party and discover the machinations put in place against her, while simultaneously avoiding the eye of Margarey. Asher, when the assault on Mereen occurs, gets to stealthily take out guard after guard, setting up ambush situations that make you feel as if you are playing a tense stealth game.
The whole second half of the game lets you do this – Asher retaking Mereen, Rodrick standing up to Lord Whitehill, Gared adventuring north of the wall, and Mira acting as a super sleuth in King’s Landing. There is no shortage of awesome set pieces where you feel as if you are really changing the world.
But then the game ends, and we are back to where we started. Daenerys is chastising Asher, even though it seems to go against her character motivations, Mira is still in trouble in King’s Landing, and Rodrick is being hounded by Ramsay Snow rather than Lord Whitehill this time around. Nothing you did mattered. Nothing you did changed the world.
I feel conflicted about Game of Thrones by Telltale. I enjoy it at points, when it’s happening. The voice acting is great, the graphics are fine, there are fewer bugs this time around, and if I were watching someone else play the game, I think I would enjoy it quite a bit. But the fact that everything I do just seems to be unwritten at the end of every episode, and not in any way that ever makes me triumph, takes me straight out of the action. I can’t get invested in this game, because I feel like I’m not doing anything. It might be fine watching Tyrion get put in shackles and carried off as a prisoner, but when the same thing happens to me , I keep wondering why I can’t fight back.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The hand painted style of graphics really works for the game, and there are far fewer visual bugs this time around. 4.0 Control
All the bugs in the controls appear to have been worked out. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is still top notch and hasn’t dropped at all in quality. 2.9 Play Value
I am having a very hard time caring about any of the events that transpire when Telltale continues to undermine my decisions at every turn. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best