The land of Westeros. An island of lords and serfs, castles and whore houses. One fat and lusty king rules seven kingdoms which threaten to tear themselves apart at any minute if endless hordes of wild folk, the walking dead and worse do not pour over a 500 foot-high Wall and destroy everything in their path first. And here I am walking from tedious cutscene to tedious cutscene and occasionally hitting men until they fall over.
This is the Game of Thrones ‘action adventure roleplaying game’ by Cyanide Studio. Confusion is understandable. So far there is this; the real-time-strategy game Game of Thrones: Genesis; a collectible card game; a living card game; and a board game (which is like Risk+ and is awesome, by the way).
GoT is set from a year before the beginning of the books/TV series up to about half way through the first book/season. It is an intertwining story of two primary characters: a Nights Watchman called Mors (he of the men who guard the gigantic wall of ice in the North) and Ser Alester, a knight of a minor house sworn to House Lannister and a red priest of R’yllor who has recently returned from a self-imposed exile across the sea. In the game’s fifteen chapters, control and story is alternated between the two characters.
The bare bones of the plot is intriguing and, not to give any spoilers, ties in interestingly will the machinations in George Martin’s story. A few familiar characters make appearances – Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Varys “The Spider”, voiced by their respective actors, and Queen Cersei with a new voice actor – for better or worse. While it could help to root the game in the wider world of Westeros, the characters are ill served by their scripts. Varys, for example, is far too directly involved with acts which do not seem to serve the realm and Cersei demurs and flatters without a hint of sarcasm or façade. In short, they do not feel quite like themselves.
It is a problem suffered by much of the setting in this game. Locations, names and imagery from the books are everywhere, from Castle Black playing a major role in Mors’ chapters to character quotes appearing in the loading screens but much of it feels like cardboard sets and, all in all, it is a strangely unattractive game. I was amazed to learn it is made in the Unreal3 engine. While it is stable and I found no graphical or engine bugs, the flaws are in the elements that were built by Cyanide. The character models are limited, especially the females who seem to have only three, and the models are low detail with blocky textures. For all their simplicity, people are strangely few and far between. King’s Landing, the most populous metropolis in the Seven Kingdoms, is practically empty and remarkably quiet. Here and there, handfuls of citizens or guards stand silently in groups but no more and no-one walks anywhere.
You, however, will run back and forth across cities and towns, through obligatory anachronistic sewer systems and strangely extensive tunnel networks to sit through long, dry dialogue scenes delivered with all the life and naturalness of first year drama students. Conversations, especially with new characters, take a predictable route: ‘Here is my character. Here is my backstory and motivation. Here is the subject we will discuss. Confirm information we learned five minutes ago. Here is the subject again. Here is the next breadcrumb in the quest chain. Now I die/run/fall asleep in my gruel.’ Usually this is simply tedious though it takes on a vaguely humorous style when the voice actor does not match up with the character appearance – such as a weedy, bookish voice issuing from a brick out-house of a man – which is not uncommon.
One conversation does stand out as being rather… adequately done. The game tasked me with questioning some townsfolk and the guards who had accused them of various crimes, finding out what had happened exactly and assigning blame and sentences to be carried out. It would have been entertaining had it been more complex than ‘ask townsfolk #1’, ‘ask guardsman’, ‘render judgement’. Throughout the scene I was screaming to myself just why we I was conducting investigations in the middle of a town riot, but then I suppose that is adventure game logic.
The character-creation and levelling up elements of this RPG are rather cumbersome and will take some explaining. The combat systems are two-fold. Firstly, a rock/paper/scissors mechanic of which damage type is most effective against which armour. Slashing, piercing and bludgeoning weapons get a minor damage bonus against leather, chain and plate armour respectively. The second dimension is the use of powers to inflict statuses upon foes. You have a limited, recharging energy bar which you use to fire off powers that inflict bleeding, stun, knockdown or similar effects or perform attacks with special effects. The most useful powers are ones which combo with statuses to inflict extra damage if a target is, say, bloodied or which interrupt powers which enemies are currently readying. So there is some tactical elements to the combat but once you have worked out the pattern necessary to defeat a given enemy, the fun is over. It is not what I expect from a Game of Thrones which is quick and bloody with a real difference between armoured brutes and agile fencers. In this game, the difference comes down to which weapon to use and how long it takes to whittle down their health bar until they collapse.
When you first take control of Mors and Alester, you are given three sub-classes for each character to choose from. Each choice corresponds to different combinations of slashing/piercing/bludgeoning and one-handed/two-handed/ranged weapons, and also determines one of two skill trees each character has access to. Whichever option you select for either character, both Alester and Mors are capable of wielding any weapon and of effectively fighting any foe.
Attempting to specialise in ranged weapons is not practical as almost all combat takes place in very limited quarters and, unless you have a support character with a ‘taunt’ ability for that mission, you will very quickly be swamped by foes. For all the complexity of the skill system the variety of play styles available is essentially non-existent: whatever choices you make, you will end up fighting in melee face-to-face with the enemy. As you can see from these screenshots, it’s not even a particularly pretty fight.
All that having been said, one element of combat is quite clever: possessing Mors’ dog. It is an available talent almost from the beginning, which is very strange given the exceedingly long build up to wargs in the books, allowing Mors to take direct first-person control of his pet pitbull. In this mode, Game of Thrones transforms from a generic medieval-fantasy hack-and-slash to a stealthy canine-Batman simulator. By taking suspiciously handy dog-sized tunnels and paths, and by carefully observing guard patrol routes (oh, look, they’re moving!), you can get behind a guard and take them out in a flurry of gnashing fangs and a hammering of the mouse-button. If they notice you, you get a swift hard kick for your trouble and are ejected from the dog’s mind. It is rare that the event comes where this is useful, however, and some combat scenarios will flat out refuse to let you perform these stealth-kills.
In summary, and while I know some people will find enjoyment in this game, I urge you to stay away. When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you get bored and go find something better to spend your time on. Maybe revisit Dragon Age: Origins?
Verdict: Off Target
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Reviewed on: PC
This game was reviewed from a Steam copy donated to The Reticule by the publishers.