Out now is the first episode of Telltale’s latest game series, Game of Thrones: Episode I – Iron from Ice. I have a track record with Telltale games that might be described as criminal; frankly, I have a tendency not to finish them. It’s not a matter of quality or even interest; I commend the storytelling of the titles, and the properties portrayed fall right into my realm of interest. I suppose the problem is merely that I have distinct times where I sit down to play games, and when I sit down to watch television—and a Telltale game exists in some unknown third state my rigid leisure time finds difficult to accommodate.
Telltale’s Game of Thrones, however, is a pairing that transcends such considerations. For the uninitiated, the title brings the dangerous, nuanced world of HBO’s Game of Thrones television series to life through Telltale’s (virtually trademarked, at this point) style of the choice-driven episodic point-and-click adventure.
Fans of the series will note that I said “HBO’s Game of Thrones” and not “George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire”. No doubt basing the game on the former television series (as opposed to the latter book series) was a matter of legal license and financial practicality, but I can’t help but feel it is something of a missed opportunity. The significantly more embellished visual world of Martin’s novels would have made for a beautiful game, and a unique opportunity for longtime fans to glimpse the world as Martin intended—rather than the comparably grey verisimilitude of the television series.
This can hardly be counted as a fault though; instead the title crafts the world of the show in a faithful fashion, though the cartoonish, painterly style is not fully in line with the grim tone of the content. Graphically, the game is more stylish than The Walking Dead, but certainly not the equal of The Wolf Among Us—and a few frustrating visual quirks and glitches persist throughout, being somewhat distracting.
Let’s be frank, though: although I feel a finer level of polish for a title like this is in order, players of Telltale’s games don’t come to the table for visual fidelity—but rather the story-driven episodic experience. In that respect, the Game of Thrones license is a potential goldmine, but unfortunately much of the episode comes across as somewhat dull.
The episode begins during the events of the infamous Red Wedding, as depicted in the third season of the TV show. Note that I will be avoiding spoilers for the show, books, and indeed the game itself, so you may read without fear. The game series follows House Forrester, bannermen to House Stark, who must deal with the fallout of the events of the Red Wedding and the power shifts that ensue across Westeros as a result.
The player characters, primarily members of this house, are forced to protect their lands and the valuable Iron Wood that can be reaped from it. The setting is well chosen; at the crux of a point of upheaval, a largely unknown corner of the world is given the opportunity to flourish, allowing for a sense of discovery.
However, while the characters are well formed and fill clear roles, they are somewhat too familiar in that they are largely written as analogues to the popular Stark characters. Indeed, I found that a few too many tropes recurred from the early seasons of the show in the series of events to befall these characters—contributing to a sense of boredom in some of the games scenes.
Also familiar, though (and to the episode’s infinite credit) is the constant, overbearing sense of dread that threatens to crush the characters within at any given moment. The sense of danger that makes Martin’s universe a scarily real place is ever present, and informs the title’s best scenes and empowers it with its greatest potential.
Most masterfully, Telltale has provided the opportunity for fans to play the eponymous Game of Thrones, as alluded to by some of the series’ major characters, without the distraction of shoe-horned action mechanics as might be found in a lesser licensed title. This is perhaps the purest story-telling form an interactive adaptation of the property could aspire to, and that is the saving grace that redeems a sometimes plodding episode.
Encounters with antagonist characters are a sequence of moves and counter-moves, as one tries to speak just the right words, play just the right game at the right time; it’s about lands, titles, swords, but most of all it’s about appearances, and that definitive sense of tension is wonderfully recreated here.
Although I feel a measure of improvement is necessary for the series to reach its potential in future episodes, Iron from Ice lays a solid groundwork and succeeds in presenting an utterly unique opportunity for fans to live the Game of Thrones experience.
Steam (REVIEWED), PC/MAC Digital Download, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, iOS
December 2, 2014
$4.99 per Episode / Season Pass $24.99 or less (varies by platform)
*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review