Game of Thrones Review: An Example of Mediocre Interactive Fanfiction «

Consider the following scenario from the Game of Thrones RPG: you get tasked with infiltrating a secure location, and beforehand you assemble a proper uniform — gauntlets, boots, cape, and helmet — to gain access. This sequence conjures up the same sort of tension as watching Tywin Lannister and Littlefinger’s conversation at Harrenhal in the current season of the show, or reading the duel between The Red Viper and The Mountain That Rides from A Storm of Swords. There’s a lot at stake, and one mistake could turn the whole affair catastrophic; but this time, you’re in control of this tense situation. You walk up to a guard at a checkpoint, and he asks if he knows you because you seem familiar to him; to this, you reply that you have a very common face that elicits such a question often. Except, as noted earlier, not only are you in disguise, but as part of that disguise, you had put on a full helmet that completely envelops and obscures your face.

That kind of moment embodies playing Game of Thrones, where the occasional moments of intrigue and interest get stymied by bizarre little gaffes, mistakes, and janks. Why is there a conversation about the look of my face when I have a helmet on? It’s not an instance of randomized NPC chatter that delightfully skips over the detail of whether the player is wearing a helmet or not — it’s a specific and scripted moment in a mandatory story quest that somehow got past the game’s writers and testing.

And these sorts of goofs hinder my enjoyment of the Game of Thrones RPG over and over. Doors open outwards and literally through the player (neither an opening animation nor even a simple push). Characters frequently disappear and reappear during cut-scenes — a key moment where I finally stab someone who deserves it looks downright bizarre because for all appearances, the victim simply writhes around in the air while a disembodied voice screams about vengeance. The character model budget can be described as conservative, because only a handful of different character faces exist; the novels never indicated that Chataya’s brothel is apparently staffed by duodecaplets — as the only difference between all the prostitutes in the game comes from their hair color.

It’s a shame that most of the game feels downright sloppy, as its story — backed by George R.R. Martin’s successful A Song of Ice & Fire universe — occasionally reaches the brink of good. Starting before and running concurrently with A Game of Thrones (i.e. the first novel, or the show’s first season), it focuses on two fellows: Night’s Watch ranger Mors Westford and former nobleman Alester Sarwyck (who unfortunately gets sacked with perhaps the flattest voice acting I’ve heard in a fantasy RPG within the past year — and yes, I’m counting Bethesda RPGs). Mimicking the structure of Martin’s novels, the campaign alternates perspective between the two: Mors starts the story doing his normal gruff Night’s Watch duty, but soon receives a letter that will pull him into Game of Thrones’ central story; while Alester returns from wandering abroad (and becoming a red priest of R’hllor) to his family estate in order to deal with his father’s funeral and his inheritance. A common factor links these men, and seeing how the two plot threads eventually intertwine, and then seeing how they interact with each other up until one of the story’s four endings, somewhat makes up for the rest of the game. Throughout this 20-plus hour campaign (I skipped a bunch of side quests, and I can imagine those would push my adventure into the 30 hour range), you directly interact with Jeor Mormont, Queen Cersei Lannister, and Lord Varys — each with varying degrees of success in voice acting and facial likeness.

Besides the story, the game itself has a few good ideas in it. It overall feels and plays somewhat like a mix of The Witcher and Dragon Age: Origins — which is amusing since DAO’s developers cited A Song of Ice and Fire as the primary influencer for tone and story, and now the official GOT game feels like the RPG it inspired. That is, it has realtime-with-tactical-pause combat of DAO, but from The Witcher’s over-the-shoulder perspective and penchant for extra grit and profanity. Mors and Alester can choose from three classes that generally play differently, and in addition they each have a specific set of secondary combat abilities and gameplay mechanics: Mors gets combat support and occasional stealth gameplay via his trusty dog, while Alester’s faith in R’hllor translates into fire-based powers and the ability to see hidden switches and objects.

The combat seems deep enough, in that you can’t just spam the attack button over and over — you’ll need to pause and use interrupts or disarms to then cause effects like bleeds and knockdowns, and after that perform special attacks that take advantage of those effects. When you’re not fighting wildlings or Gold Cloaks, you’re going through a lot of dialogue trees — and on occasion, you make decisions that either affect you immediately or hours later. Sometimes you get extra party members or money because of a decision. Other times, you might decide to throw someone in jail in chapter three, and then recruit that same character in chapter nine.

 

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