Whenever any media property becomes too popular, there will be a video game made on it. It’s like a law of the universe. And with Game of Thrones, the video games have been a long time coming. When something like Animorphs could get its own set of games back in the late 1990s, one couldn’t help but wonder when Game of Thrones, a high value property that is currently enjoying a lot of popularity, and one that has a lot of substance from which to draw on while making a game, would get a game to its name.
Game of Thrones finally got what would appear to be the ideal kind of title, well suited to it- it got an RPG. With an original story that is supposed to be part of the canon, penned by George RR Martin, and some compelling characters, one would think that this would be the rare title based on an existing property that would actually be worth playing on its own merits. Even if you go in with some scaled back expectations, looking for Spiderman 2 more than Batman Arkham Asylum or Goldeneye 007, however, it’s hard to deny that Game of Thrones largely disappoints on all counts. While fans of Martin’s lore (or the HBO show) will probably find lots of plot details that enhance their understanding of the series’ lore, on the whole, it will be hard to shake off the feeling that the entire game is somewhat of a missed opportunity.
To begin with, it’s probably best if you understand that you are likely to appreciate Game of Thrones more if you prefer the books to the TV show. The TV show is known for its incredible production value, grand setpieces, some incredible dialog and on screen characterization, and for generally being a visual spectacle. All of which this game is not, or thoroughly lacks.
Game of Thrones looks poor. There are no two ways around it. The textures are muddy, the framerate drops graphical glitches and bugs abound, and the entire experience is punctuated by excruciatingly long loading screens. The character animations are stiff, the close up shots to the character’s faces look awful and evoke the ghost faces that populated Oblivion’s Cyrodil, and even the environments betray little of the scale or royalty that fans of the series would expect.
Worse still is the voice acting. The characters are all voiced, but the delivery is stilted, awkward, artificial. The Game of Thrones TV series is known for some powerful dialog with expert delivery, and the game squanders on one half of that equation at the very least, with the dialog delivery being so awkward and forced so as to induce cringes or, worse still, make the player lose all interest in what is going on on screen.
And that would indeed be a shame. This game has multiple faults, but the story it tells is not one of them. The game tells a story that is set parallel to the events of the first book in the series (although nothing that happens in the game actually impacts anything that happens in the book or the TV show, so if you are a more casual fan of the series, you’re not obliged to play the game. On the other hand, it is highly advised that you have read the book or at least seen the TV show before you play the game, if only to be able to follow what goes on in the game better; the game itself does a poor job of initiating you into the story if you are a newcomer).
The story begins at the Night’s Watch, the elite force that is tasked with guarding and manning the colossal ice wall that lies to the north of all the kingdoms that play host to the main story of Game of Thrones. The narrative features all the typical betrayal, intrigue, politics, and backstabbing that you have come to expect from the series. Overall, it’s a well told story, even if it is a bit redundant in terms of its placement in the series timeline.
What augments the story’s strengths is the dialog, which is generally well written, and which would have been the game’s highlight had it not been for the aforementioned awful voice acting. The writing in the game is generally well done, although it fluctuates from being laughably juvenile, to on par with some of the books.
This is a problem that pervades everything about the game. For instance. Game of Thrones is an RPG that offers, ostensibly at least, the player lots of choice. However, the actual choices themselves often come off as laughably caricaturized, simple black and white options, labeled as such. It kind of breaks the whole ‘adult fantasy’ theme that Game of Thrones works so hard to establish and maintain.
Half baked ideas lost in execution is a running theme with the game. Take its combat, for example, which feels genuinely well done, at least conceptually. It has some great new ideas, and you can see that some thought went into it, at least on paper. However, the ideas are lost in execution. Whereas theoretically, Game of Thrones combat is like Knights of the Old republic- round based, strategic, slow, with you taking stock of the situation before each round begins- in practice, it becomes little more than mindless button mashing.
The game’s curve is to blame for this. There are some genuinely good ideas here that add depth, such as a contextual damage multiplier. However, the game takes its sweet time doling out abilities to you, so that you default to using the same attacks that you have been using all throughout the game. It’s a shame really, because the game should, in theory at least, promote strategic and tactical combat, but it doesn’t.
Combat becomes even more of an exercise in banality, however, since it is punctuated by the same character animations, over and over and over again. Although the animation varies from weapon to weapon, if you stick to one, you will be forced to watch the same routine multiple times. Even the finishing kills suffer from the same problem.
Game of Thrones is plagued with bugs and glitches, most of them auditory. For instance, music abruptly stops playing and decides to pick up later, fading in and starting over. Dialog is suddenly cut off, even though the characters continue to talk, and you only have the subtitles to tell you what they are saying. It’s niggles like this that add further to the feeling of frustration with this game, because it could have been so much more.
Game of Thrones made waves when it debuted as a book, and even more so when it premiered as a TV series. One would expect that it would carry over its tradition of excellence into video games as well, but unfortunately, it hasn’t. Whereas this game has some genuine good ideas somewhere, and is backed, at least, by some good, if inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, writing, it is not a game that can be recommended to everybody. Series fans will probably want to check it out, as will hardcore RPG enthusiasts, but both will come away feeling let down. And that is because, when all is said and done, Game of Thrones is a missed opportunity.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Tells a good story, the dialog is generally well written, combat has some good ideas. Somewhere, there is a very good game inside this mess.
Plagued with bugs and glitches, muddy textures, framerate drops, stiff animations, stilted voice acting, oftentimes laughable dialog and player choice, the story is inconsequential in the end, Combat is repetitive, game feels unfinished
Game of Thrones is a missed opportunity.