Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Telltale's Game of Thrones Season 1

I bought the Game of Thrones episodic game from Telltale a while back during a sale, and just recently got around to playing it.
It's unfortunate that the first thing I noticed about this game is how non-user-friendly it is. Installation required me to download direct from Telltale, rather than using Steam or some other distribution platform. (I assume that was because of the sale price, since it's available on those platforms, but I only had the one option.) Then I had to wait through an installation and update process, which was extremely slow. After playing the first episode, I had to download each of the other five episodes one at a time (also very slow). The game runs in a tiny window on my desktop with no option for higher resolution. The graphics are choppy, even more so than in other Telltale games I've played, and on occasion the sound gets out of sync. Several times the game screen blanked out and I had to kill the program to restart, and once it crashed trying to reload my save (fortunately a second attempt worked). It takes a lot of patience to get through all those technical and distribution issues.

Beyond the technical issues, the game shares the pros and cons that go with pretty much all episodic adventure games. My least favorite of these is the action sequences, including one almost immediately after starting the first episode. I had the usual trouble with them, dying several times largely because I didn't understand what was being asked of me (why isn't my character crawling away from the bad guy...whoops, I'm dead...oh, it wanted me to press down instead of up) and had to repeat the sequence. But I was always able to get through it once I'd seen what the game was asking for, and the sequences aren't terrible...just annoying.

This Game of Thrones adventure does a reasonable job of replicating the Game of Thrones feel. The player represents the Forrester family, a northern noble family traditionally tied to the Starks. The game switches you back and forth between various family members in different locations, which is a bit different since most of these kind of games are from a single viewpoint. It's familiar here, though, since the books and HBO show use the same kind of viewpoint switching. There's plenty of intrigue, betrayal, and spiteful enemies, as well as the occasional death of a character who seemed central to the plot.

Both the strongest and weakest points of the story in this game are its close ties to the events in the books/HBO show. On the one hand, I understand that it's a big draw to see the main characters like Tyrion or Cersei or Jon Snow, and to be affected by major events like the Red Wedding. These kind of interactions give the player a feeling of being part of the same world they read about or watch on TV. But the same close ties limit what can happen in the story and make the player's choices seem less important. When you know what's about to happen at the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery, for instance, it seems pretty silly to be engaged in political maneuvering for the favor of Tyrion.

Much of the time, I felt like I was just watching the story rather than being part of it. I could make some small impacts, but some pretty bad things were going to happen no matter what I did. That's a problem with all of these episodic adventure games, but it seemed worse with this one than most. I suppose that's to be expected in the Game of Thrones setting, where bad things seem to happen to most everyone all the time.

Don't expect to learn much in the way of answers at the end of the sixth and final episode. It feels very much like the middle of a story, with only one really big question answered (whether or not the North Grove is a real place). Clearly they're setting up for at least one more season. Had I realized just how much they were going to leave unresolved, I probably wouldn't have played at all until season two was out.

If you're a Game of Thrones fan and looking for something to augment the books/show, this Game of Thrones episodic adventure game is a decent choice. But if you don't like or have no opinion on Game of Thrones in general, I wouldn't bother with this game. It's unlikely to change your mind about the world if you dislike it, and the books/show are a much better way to get involved for the first time.

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