Game Review: 'Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice'

"Game of Thrones" video game

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, iOS

Style: 1-Player Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games

Release: December 2

ESRB: M

The Bottom Line: 8.5

Concept: Begin a six-part episodic series based on the HBO show that focuses on the little-known House Forrester

Graphics: Similar animation and character model details to Telltale’s other games, but with texturing that mimics a mural painting. The character models for the show’s cast look good, but are not as expressive as the new characters

Sound: Peter Dinklage turns in a great video game performance, channeling Tyrion’s bitter tone perfectly. The voice actors for the Forresters fit well with the existing cast

Playability: A conversation simulator that pushes players to make difficult choices quickly. The overly easy quick-time events are held to a minimum

Entertainment: An intriguing and suspenseful first look into the Forresters’ lives that hits all of the tones that Telltale and George R. R. Martin are known for

Replay Value: Moderately Low

HBO’s Television Series Gets The Interactive Treatment

Telltale Games has a knack for killing beloved characters, seems intent on delivering experiences that fluctuate between doom and gloom, and has no problem feeding children to wolves. I can’t think of a studio better fit to take on HBO’s Game of Thrones, the popular television series based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books.

Telltale’s first foray into this dark fantasy world is just as thrilling, crushing, bloody, and unpredictable as the studio’s work on The Walking Dead series. In some cases it’s too similar to the ebb and flow of the studio’s zombie apocalypse, but the winds of winter are strongly felt in this first episode, giving fans of Martin’s work and its television adaptation another sliver of fiction to obsess over.

Telltale’s adaptation is a canonical part of the HBO series, picking up toward the end of the show’s third season and its famed wedding. Many of the show’s cast reprise their roles, such as Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Iwan Rheon as Ramsay Snow, and Natalie Dormer as Margery Tyrell. However, this story focuses on House Forrester, a family that doesn’t receive screen time in the show, and is barely mentioned in the books.

The Forresters reside in the Wolfswood in northern Westeros, once swearing loyalty to House Stark, but now standing on uncertain ground as the War of the Five Kings tears the kingdom apart. Their former allegiances bring trouble to their house, but their mastery of crafting armaments from Ironwood gives them leverage. In this first episode, Telltale shows us that this family is in as rough shape as the Starks or Lannisters, and one false move could turn their house to rubble.

Holding true to Telltale’s most recent batch of games, the Forresters’ actions are shaped largely by player choice. From the outset, it only takes a few minutes for this family to be thrust into the fire. In the opening scene, Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester, escapes an ambush, but not without blood on his hands. Lord Whitehill wants his head for his crimes, and the Forresters must decide what to do with him. The newly appointed lord, Ethan Forrester, is trusted to dole out justice or potentially lead his house to war. This arc is painted nicely, delivering the sensation that Ethan is standing on a flimsy house of cards, and one false action could topple it.

Across the kingdom, Mira Forrester, the handmaiden to Lady Margery, is searching for ways to help brother Ethan. Her efforts become intertwined with the Lannisters’ sinister breed of mind games. To get any more specific than that would ruin the story for potential players, but as a Game of Thrones fan, I was satisfied.

All three of these characters – Gared, Ethan, and Mira – are playable in this episode. Control switches between them at the end of each act, much like chapter switches in Martin’s books. All three of their stories bring a multitude of player-made choices that either affect the plot or deliver the illusion that you are shaping it as you go. The feeling of guilt hangs heavily over much of this episode.

Notifications like “Cersei will remember that” successfully instill a feeling of doom, and make you second-guess your actions and responses. Most of the choices are brilliantly interlaced into the conversations and come under the gun with a timer ticking away rapidly, giving you little time to think things through. Some choices are resolved immediately, but most play into that “game of thrones” concept, and will likely affect the characters’ standing in the world in future episodes.

Most of the action, if it can be called that, unfolds in conversations. A few simplistic button-pressing sequences are thrown in to give the player a small sliver of control over the sword fights and sleuthing, but make no mistake: This game is mostly a conversation simulator, more so than any of Telltale’s other games. That’s okay. Conversations are largely what A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones are – dialogue with the high chance of something horrible happening.

Telltale echoes that narrative structure well, and does a nice job of creating dialogue for Cersei and Tyrion, but the way the story unfolds gives it a much different flow than the show. It falls more in line with Telltale’s other games, which, despite the mature subject matter, are a bit cartoony, with doe-eyed characters delivering emotion through exaggerated reactions. They clash a little bit against the character models modeled after the cast, as they hold a higher level of realism and are not as emotionally animated. The story is also packaged in that Telltale way, with big narrative moments flowing into choices for the player. It’s a successful formula, and it works well with Game of Thrones.

Duplicating its success from The Walking Dead, Telltale has created an excellent new way for fans to enter Westeros – one that has a unique vibe that sets it apart from the books and show. I can’t wait to see where the Forresters’ story goes next.

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