The Game of Thrones HBO television series is near perfect. With superb acting, perfect pacing, tons of drama, and enough political intrigue to keep an entire collegiate political science class interested – you would be hard pressed to find a single person that has watched and disliked the show. The same can be said for George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, of which Game of Thrones is the first entry of the series. The same cannot however, be said for this game. While it bears the same theme song, characters, and lore from the show, it does not bear the same level of execution.
The game begins with an interesting premise, in that you control two entirely separate characters between alternating chapters. The first protagonist is Mors Westford, a man of the Night’s Watch. The second protagonist is Alester Sarwyck, a priest of R’hllor (you know, the god that Stannis worships in the show.) Each of the characters have very different story arcs and motivations for what they do – but ultimately their paths do cross.
The overall plot sounds interesting enough, as it is all set up in the established land of Westeros. The game even sports actors from the actual show lending their talents for a few characters like: Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jeor Mormont, and Lord Varys the Spider. So, with all of this support, and a story that was overseen by Martin himself, what could possibly hold this game back from the pinnacle of RPG mountaintops? Well, a lot, frankly.
To start things off, the characters themselves are extremely poorly developed and acted. While the voices may be authentic actors from the show, the enthusiasm and interest just isn’t there. You very well may find yourself bored while listening to a conversation, which is a very bad sign for a story driven RPG.
The gameplay itself is passable. What I mean by passable is that it all works, technically, and you might even enjoy certain parts of it. What I also mean, is that it does not strive to be entertaining, or offer anything to really set itself apart in any way at all. Imagine a less fun version of Dragon Age: Origins combat and you will have a pretty good grasp of what is in store for you here. It does differ itself in that when you enter the tactical menu (to issue commands and to use abilities) the game does not pause like it does in Bioware games. Instead, it enters into this odd type of super-slow-motion while you decide what to do.
Clearly the intent was to instill a sense of exhilaration in battle, forcing you to make decisions and not pause and think of the next move, but this is ultimately ineffective for two reasons. First is that you can still pause the game – just hit the pause button. Sure, you cannot look at your abilities, but you can just as easily stop to think about your next move. This fact strips away the key reason they wanted it to be in slow motion. Secondly, in order to emphasize the exhilaration and intensity of combat – combat has to be exhilarating and intense; it is neither.
Graphically you could do a whole lot worse than this game, as the character models (especially on the main two player characters) are done extremely well. The detail on your different pieces of armor, weapons, and even faces (save for the fact that they are emotionless) definitely look really nice. The same can be said, for the most part, of the environments in the game. It is not perfect, as there are plenty of graphical hiccups, oddities, and glitches. For example, in the opening minutes of the game for me I noticed a bird fly into the ground in front of me, and then proceed to fly up out from beneath it. It then followed a pattern of flying a circle in the air, and diving directly into the ground, then flying back out of it and repeating the circle. This is a minor thing, but it goes to show the underlying problem with the game itself: it just isn’t very polished.
In the end, if you are desperately looking for an RPG based in Westeros that lets you play out a story sanctioned by Martin himself, then this is really your only option. There are mods out there for other games, but mods are mods. This game is entirely functional, and if you are fanatic for the show and books, you may very well find a good deal of pleasure from this game, if not for the references alone. Otherwise, you would be better off not playing this game of thrones at all.
Game of Thrones is available for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by Atlus.