Game of Thrones Episode 1: Iron From Ice Review

My entire time playing this, only one thought ran through my head: Why, oh why, did Telltale choose to stealth-release this game? I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the game. Sure there are some hiccups (which I’ll discuss later) but overall, this was a fairly engaging experience.

I suppose I should preface the rest of the review with a warning: if you have not watched the Game of Thrones HBO series up until the end of season three, and you would like to, stop reading RIGHT. NOW.  The story of this game is based on a giant spoiler, and I’m not going to pull anything from this review, so come back after you’ve watched it if you don’t want spoilers.

Seriously. Last warning.

The story of this game follows house Forrester, bannermen of the Starks. As opposed to following the Telltale tradition of having one player character per season, Iron from Ice has three — Duncan Tuttle, Ethan Forrester, and Mira Forrester. The action begins at the Red Wedding, and follows the Forresters as they get progressively more screwed just like every noble person in Game of Thrones.

The writing itself is fairly top-notch, and emulates the kind of tension typical of the television series. Of course, this is only the first episode, so we’ll have to wait and see if this falls prey to the mid-season lulls common in Telltale games.

If you’ve ever played a Telltale game, then you’ll feel right at home with the gameplay. If you haven’t, there a basically three sections of gameplay – conversation, action, and roaming. Conversation is fairly self-explanatory; you are given certain options for how to respond to characters, and the conversation changes accordingly. Action is comprised mainly of Quick Time Events, and/or frantically moving a cursor over a target and pressing Square. And roaming is a typical adventure game style section; walk around and click on things. Though the three types are all important to the gameplay, conversation is the real meat of the game.

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The worst is when a choice is never referenced again – like this one.

And while there are conversation sections with a binary choice — ones that seem like they’ll be major, far-reaching choices —
nothing you do will change the overall plot of the game. Sure, some characters will give you a dirty look if you do something they disapprove of, but everything happens in order, no matter what. And that’s not the bad part – it’d be a nightmare to attempt to record the myriad of different ways to react to a situation. It’s the illusion of choice, the posturing that your choices do matter, that makes things worse. In the end, it only affects the stats at the end of the episode, nothing more.

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Graphically, the game is…odd. Game of Thrones still uses the cel-shaded graphics typical of games made in the Telltale Tool. However, the developers opted to make this game look like an oil painting. And while certain shots obviously look the part, others – especially those in motion – look incredibly rough, like someone spilled shellac on an oil painting. At other times, the game suffers the same loading issues that all Telltale Games do, On the more powerful hardware, hiccups turn to framerate dips, which is slightly more bearable I suppose, but it does show how thrown together some elements of the engine truly are. Just as well, the game cuts to a black screen when changing locations, which really breaks both story tension and game immersion.

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Uncanny valley? What uncanny valley?

The best thing going for Game of Thrones is the inclusion of the actual actors from the series. Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Natalie Dormer, and Iwan Rheon all lend their voices and likenesses to the game with some…mixed results. Don’t get me wrong – the likenesses are almost uncanny. But it’s obvious that some of the actors (Dinklage and Rheon) are far more comfortable acting into a microphone than others (Dormer and Headey). Perhaps this will change with time and more experience with the game, but that remains to be seen. Though their inclusion makes the lack of advertising more confusing. Why would you not let people know about these A-list actors in a game based entirely on an A-list show? It boggles the mind.

Ultimately, Game of Thrones is perhaps the best effort at converting a series from TV to video game form. And while I am excited to see where Telltale takes their new series, I’m frightened that the ghosts of their past may affect the episodes to come. I suppose only time will tell.

And here's my choice breakdown, if anyone was wondering.
And here’s my choice breakdown, if anyone was wondering.

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is available on almost every modern platform under the sun.

Ethics Disclosure: The reviewer purchased this game, and has no affiliation with Telltale Games or HBO.

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