A Game of Thrones review
The ‘proper’ video game adaption of the Game of Thrones books and hit TV series is finally here. Playing as two characters – Mors Westford and Alester Sarwyck – in alternating “Chapters”, players get to explore the land of Westeros in the way it deserves, as an RPG. Can this game truly capture the magic of the universe brought to life in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ novel series – the birthplace of Game of Thrones? The answer depends on how much you like the franchise.
With a story co-written by the author of the award-winning Game of Thrones books, George R. R. Martin, you would expect the narrative to be a major highlight of the game. It is! The story, while not biblically original, is true to the Game of Thrones saga right through to the end.
What I love about it is that while Game of Thrones is a fantasy RPG, there are no spontaneous magic spells or prancing goblins to make the whole thing totally unrealistic. It is very grounded – knights complain about troubles and townsfolk moan about lack of food. The graphics help convey a scene of what life might have been like in the medieval times without being too close to the, what must have been, deeply unsettling and very harsh reality. Townsfolk seem malnourished in unwashed clothes, armour is not always glinting as if freshly polished and everything has a sense of “roughness” about it. Most people are very different to what you may expect. People are old, weary, often scarred and seem to have had a ‘life’ before the game begins – they have not just spurted into existence for the benefit of the narrative. Many of these characters drive the intriguing story forward with wonderfully well acted dialog. The only great shame is that the graphics are not high-quality enough for facial expression. Every time anyone says anything, they deliver it with a painfully bland face – ruining the impact of their violent tone. The stilted animation and occasional clipping issues don’t help either.
One other point of note is the swearing and harsh language. I normally like my games without many choice words but here it forms the soul of the game. Very few fantasy RPGs actually use the dark side of language. It may limit the target audience (the game is a lot more restrained than the TV series in terms of ‘adult content’) but the occasional swear word is a huge factor in the enjoyment this game provides.
The gameplay is ‘average’, which, if I’m honest, is pretty much the standard for everything else other than the plot and theme. I don’t mean that in a negative way, quite the contrary in fact. It is all good, fluent and enjoyable for an RPG, it just doesn’t pull any punches – there is no standout “wow” feature.
Combat is a good example that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the masterful RPG, Dragon Age. Combat has two phases; a slow-motion planning phase and a realtime action phase. When a character or other enemy becomes open to attack, the ‘realtime action’ phase begins. In this phase all movements are normal speed – you click on the enemy and your hero rushes toward them, weapon drawn. When in range, they automatically attack the enemy – you don’t have to do a thing. This gradual chipping away at an enemy will defeat weaker enemies who are not part of a group, but for grouped and tougher enemies you’ll want some beefier tactics.
After targeting an enemy, hitting the Space bar will enter the ‘slow-motion planning’ phase. In this phase, time slows to a crawl and a bar of hero abilities appears at the bottom of the screen. Clicking on an ability button changes the next attack your character performs from a regular blow to, for example, a deadly strike – a blow that does an increased amount of damage. In addition to using abilities, you can switch to control other characters if there is more than your hero in your group. Controlled group members can be given attack orders in the same way as the hero and each come with their own abilities and pre-set weapons. Groups are quite rare though, so it’ll mostly be the hero alone in combat.
Mors Westford has a dog – a particularly ferocious looking mutt sporting an unholy number of sharp teeth. This dog can be controlled in battle – not directly as you could a human group member, but you can issue it orders. The dog even has his own set of abilities including such wonders as the ability to bite an attacker’s legs to immobilise him and the ability to remove an enemy’s shield from their hands. I love the dog – use him well and he can sway the battle in your favour.
There are minor weaknesses here and there but the major drawback is the interface design. It is clunky and takes a bit of getting used to. For a start, the game’s camera is annoying. You actually have to hold the right mouse button and manually rotate it, often just to see where you are going. This is doubly frustrating in busy areas with many characters all performing actions. In this situation, the camera lags and becomes jerky. This can often make the camera rotate more than you actually want it to, requiring tedious readjustment. Thankfully, these ‘busy’ periods are infrequent.
The inventory is another area in need of polishing. Opening the inventory completely blocks out your view of the game – I assume the world is paused while you sort through your invisible backpack. Items can be equipped with a bizarre sequence of double-clicks and single-clicks which still baffles me after countless hours of play. These items are automatically and without warning, whisked away to a different section according to their type. This keeps trinkets, armour and weapons separated into organised groups, but can lead to momentary frustration as you forget the type of item you just picked up.
Does what it says on the tin
This is the game of Game of Thrones – there isn’t much more to say than that. Everything other than the story – the gameplay, the graphics and so on – are all standard RPG fare. Playing the game, you get the feeling it is really not trying to make you believe it is the best game you’ve ever played. While there are a few miner drawbacks, nothing leaps out at me so my job is brutally easy. If you like Game of Thrones – the books or the TV series – this game will not let you down. If you do not like Game of Thrones, avoid the game adaption – it does not contain anything an RPG fan has not seen before.