HBO’s Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on television. It accomplished that by giving screen time to mature themes, well-developed characters, and an excellent story. Now, adventure game studio Telltale Games is trying to do the same thing in a more interactive medium.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is a six-part episodic yarn set in the same world as HBO’s megahit. The first episode, which is what we cover in this review, debuts this week for PlayStation 4, Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac, and iOS. As the studio did with its Game of they Year-winning adaptation of The Walking Dead comics, Game of Thrones follows the story of a different group of people than on television. And unlike The Walking Dead, you get to see the story from more than one person’s perspective.
Telltale is in a tough position with Game of Thrones. It’s not only a beloved TV show, but it also has to deal with diehard fans of the A Song of Fire and Ice books that the show is an adaptation of.
But as it has with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Telltale has taken the source material and mashed up its best parts with the strengths of the video game medium. And the result, at least in this first episode, is brilliant.
What you’ll like
It’s more Game of Thrones
It’s best if you’re caught up with the show
Telltale’s Game of Thrones will spoil you on the show if you’re not caught up, and I think you’ll get more enjoyment if you know what happens through the fourth season.
In fact, Telltale wanted to make sure that the reviewer had seen the show before playing this game. The studio nothing about the books. So keep this in mind before you buy it.
Game of Thrones’s fifth season doesn’t start until April. That is months from now. But one of the best things about Telltale’s take on the series is that you don’t have to wait to get new stories from that universe.
And Telltale definitely set this up as an extension of the TV program. You don’t just meet characters from the show — all voiced ably by the real actors — you also get a gaming re-creation of the opening credits.
While it doesn’t follow any of the stars of the show, it does a fine job of bringing you into the world. The events of the story take place during the end of the third season. Tyrion Lannister is Master of Coin. Cersei Lannister is queen regent. And you are present for the infamous Red Wedding.
As a fan of the show, I loved getting alternative perspectives on these events, and they helped ease me into the true story, which follows the Forresters. This is a family from the North that had pledged allegiance to Robb Stark and has clashed with a competing family known as the Whitehills for centuries.
Now, with Roose Bolton in charge of the North and under protection from the King, the Forresters must struggle to maintain control their land and their valuable ironwood trees, which are similar to the incredibly heavy and hard Quebracho trees that grow on Earth.
It’s a surprisingly interesting story, and one that I cannot wait to continue following in episode 2. And by the time the final act rolls out, since Telltale often sticks to a monthly schedule, we should be in the middle of the next season.
Its multi-character structure gives it a thrilling pace
Telltale’s The Walking Dead, its previous big adaptation, has players controlling one character in each of its two seasons. But that’s not how HBO’s Game of Thrones works. It has multiple storylines that all follow different characters simultaneously. Wisely, the developer decided to bring that type of storytelling to its game.
You follow multiple Forresters. Each has a different perspective on their troubles, and all of them can help the family in its fight with the Whitehills in different ways.
This ensures you will not have time to get sick of any one character. You’re in and out and on to the next scene very rapidly. Hell, I think one segment of a character’s story was so fast that it only took up maybe five minutes of screen time. That is crazy, and I love it.
The choices — oh, god! What have I done?
Watching Game of Thrones is one hell of an experience. You get to see characters grow and interact and make decisions. And those decisions can often lead them into interesting or fatal situations. It makes for engaging television.
And it makes for an even better game.
Telltale’s quick-decision engine is back. You get into conversations, and you face multiple choices on how to respond — but you have only a limited amount of time to decide. It works as well as ever.
While it can sometimes feel like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, that’s not how you play the game. Instead, Telltale has made something that unfolds primarily in the player’s head. You know the choices will change the story and how other characters see you, so you end up mentally weighing their wants and desires in an effort to predict how they will respond. You know in your gut that if you can just out-think your current situation, you can find the best outcome for everyone — only that’s not how it goes. Every choice has an unintended consequence that makes you feel helpless, but also makes you want to get right back into the action to see how you can fix the new problem that has arisen.
And because it is you making the choices, and not some independent character, you bare the responsibility of everything that goes down. Remember how you felt during the Red Wedding? Now imagine if your actions led to that event.
I’m sick about what I did in episode 1, and I just want the next episode to come out so I can see if I can make it right … and maybe make this guilty feeling go away.
What you won’t like
Tough to keep track of characters and settings
Forresters and Whitehills and Boltons and Fantasyname McGees. I’ve read A Song of Ice and Fire, and I watch the show, but I barely know who is on the screen half the time. That happens here as well. I kinda know who they are, but I’m not necessarily sure how they relate to one another or the wider world.
Maybe you’re better at that than I am. Maybe you’re the author of the Game of Thrones Wiki. But if you go blank on character names like I do, you’ll probably have the same issue with this game.
You feel a bit like ‘Barry Skywalker’
Game of Thrones fans will know Tyrion, Jon Snow, and King Joffrey, but have you ever heard of the Rodrik Forrester?
Westeros, the home country for much of the action of Game of Thrones, has many interesting stories happening in it, but this game definitely starts off with you feeling like you are off on the periphery. It’s kinda like if someone made a Star Wars game about Luke Skywalker’s cousin, Barry. Sure, the story and the characters appear familiar, but they start off feeling like cheap replacements for the real thing.
I want to emphasize that they start that way because Telltale quickly builds your interest in what is happening. By the end, I didn’t care that I hadn’t heard of these characters before.
Give me more. Let me undo what I have done. Telltale, I need to see what happens next, and I need to make sure that I can fix it.
When I finished The Walking Dead’s first season, I never thought this style of game would work two years into the future. It was my favorite game of 2012, but I thought that Telltale’s conversations would probably grow old in The Walking Dead’s second season and subsequent games. I was wrong.
I don’t know if Game of Thrones the video game is better than Game of Thrones the television show as a whole. But the choices I’ve made are sticking with me way more than any scene that HBO has aired.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series is due out Dec. 2 for PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac and on Dec. 3 for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, and iOS. Telltale Games provided GamesBeat with a downloadable Xbox One code for the purposes of this review.