Game of Thrones – Episode One Review: Valar Morghulis
If ever there was a marriage of licensed property and game developer that made sense, it’s Telltale Games and Game of Thrones. With The Walking Dead series, Telltale showed that it could do series with dark themes, tough decisions and no-win scenarios. After some previous lacklustre GoT games, George R. R. Martin gave the okay for Telltale to have a go and assigned his personal assistant as a story consultant so you know this isn’t going to be a quick cash-in on the license.
Game of Thrones is the fourth series we’ve seen from Telltale this year and concerns about the possibility of the team being spread thin are unfounded. Episode One of GoT could be the best debut episode that Telltale has ever done and fits in perfectly with the rest of the world of Westeros.
First, let’s start with a little bit of context and a spoiler alert. Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is based on the Game of Thrones TV series rather than the books. That makes a bit of difference in terms of the timings of various events and the appearance of some characters. And if you’re planning to play this episode of Game of Thrones and you plan to watch the series, make sure you’re up to date through Season 3. In future episodes, you’re likely to need to be more up to date on the show.
The reason I bring this up is because the game will launch you straight into a major story event. It’s not the sort of thing that you want spoiled by a video game.
If you want to watch the show, you should make sure you’re caught up through Season 3 before starting the game, both for spoilers and for the development of existing characters. You’ll meet four characters from the series/books in this episode (I’ll get to them later) who are already well established and developed in the series. Telltale has written this game for Game of Thrones fans so the characters are introduced but they aren’t really developed or explained (apart from how to deal with Cersei and Tyrion). It’s up to the show to do the establishing work for the existing characters.
That allows Telltale to focus on their own corner of Westeros rather than reestablishing the already existing portions of the Seven Kingdoms. The game focuses on House Forrester, a small house in The North that is sworn to House Glover and in turn serves House Stark.
Similar to Tales From The Borderlands, there are multiple POV characters that you’ll be playing as in Game of Thrones. Telltale advertises five characters that you’ll control during the series but you only control three of them during this game.
The first POV character is Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Gregor Forrester. I can’t go into his time in too great detail because of spoilers but we spend the better part of the first third of the episode with him. He also gets all the action sequences in the episode. While the other two POV characters are talkers, Gared is forced into doing by the circumstances he finds himself in.
In the action moments, Telltale doesn’t deviate too much from their standard formula. QTE dodges here (which also act as sword movements at times). Click the circles to attack there. There were a few click and drag moments to grab items that I don’t recall from TWD or TFTB. Okay, TWD had click and drags but not in an action sequence. It made it feel different and a bit more tense.
The other two POV characters are talkers but they have some tense moments of their own.
Mira Forrester, the eldest Forrester daughter, is a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing. She might have the most intimidating role in this game as she quite blatantly acts as a Telltale replacement for Sansa (more on that in a minute). That doesn’t mean that her part isn’t entertaining. Mire is forced to navigate the dangerous political games of King’s Landing which is involves a series of conversations quite unlike anything that you’ll have seen in other Telltale games.
The best part of your short time with Mira is a face-to-face meeting in the Great Hall of the Red Keep with Cersei and Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is really just a bit player in that scene. The loyalties to your family, Maggie Tyrell and the King are all tested in front of the kingdom. Lena Headey is absolutely magical in this scene and you can see that she put just as much into this game as she does any episode. It only adds to an already tense scene in which you’re trying to keep everything from unravelling and your house from being destroyed.
Normally, in TWD, I’m trying to walk a middle ground to keep everyone happy. In Game of Thrones, there’s a middle ground but no one is happy when you try to toe the middle ground. Cersei in particular will walk all over you if you try to be diplomatic. It’s a fantastic little scene that probably took all of five minutes but felt so much longer because of how well written and acted it was. The episode is worth it for that scene alone.
The third POV character is Ethan Forrester. After the events of the start of the game, Ethan takes charge at Ironrath. While he doesn’t meet a challenge quite as intimidating as Cersei, considering the circumstances he finds himself in and the forces at work on all sides around him gives his scenes a bit more tension from the immediacy of the threat.
Unfortunately, while Ethan is the main focus of the episode, it feels as though he’s really just a bit player in his story. Everyone is arguing over, around and through him. Ethan doesn’t really assert himself until the end of the episode but it’s nice to see what he says seeming to make a difference by the end. One of the most common complaints about Telltale’s games is that your decisions don’t make a difference. That may be true for Ethan in this episode but it seems as though some differentiation may come through in later episodes.
If there’s one thing that bugs me about this game, it’s that Telltale seem to have carbon copied the Starks when creating the Forresters. Lord Gregor the Good is a pitch perfect replacement for Ned. There are six Forrester children with one in exile who could be a Jon Snow stand-in (Gared being the other possible Jon Snow stand-in). The eldest son is a great warrior and expected to lead the house to greatness and doesn’t like Robb. The eldest daughter was sent off to King’s Landing, befriended Maggie Tyrell and is tormented by the Lannisters over her family’s allegiance in the War of Five Kings. The youngest son is no help and the last one standing is thrust into a position of stewardship at too young an age and not particularly effective when flying solo as leader.
While everything that happens in the episode fits perfectly with the GoT universe and you don’t notice it while playing, the Forresters are a bit too on the nose for my liking when thinking back on the episode. Differentiation between the houses will come in time. It’s just not a particularly unique first impression from Telltale.
Anyway, on to graphics and such. Usually, Telltale attempts to copy the visual style of the properties they’ve licensed for their games, it clearly wasn’t possible for Game of Thrones. Expecting Telltale to go from comic-style graphics in their other games to photorealism for GoT would be completely unrealistic. Instead, they go for an oil-painting art style with some very aggressive depth of field that keeps the main characters in focus. It’s a rather unique and unexpected graphic style but I think that it looks rather lovely. The characters don’t look spectacular and some of the animations don’t translate well to this style but backgrounds and buildings look beautiful as paintings.
The voice acting is pretty good too. The voice actors for the new characters are all solid with no real glaring issues except from maybe the extras but I’d say that hardly counts. The real actors of each of the four show characters to appear to voice their characters in the game. Of note is Peter Dinklage who puts in a far better performance than what I’ve heard he did in Destiny. Natalie Dormer was pretty good in her appearance. Lena Headey and Iwan Rheon were just absolutely stellar in their turns as Cersei and Ramsay Snow, respectively. While they animated Ramsay perfectly, I can’t help but feel that they didn’t quite get Cersei’s facial animations to where I thought they should be and it hurt those scenes ever so slightly.
Having just played The Walking Dead: Season Two and Tales From The Borderlands, I think that Iron From Ice is the best start that Telltale has made with one of their recent episodic game series. Sure, it’s probably helped by leveraging established characters, settings and events to allow them to focus their efforts on their story in the GoT universe.
Still, as an addition to the Game of Thrones universe, Telltale hit this one absolutely perfectly. Take a step back and evaluate it as a game too, it doesn’t quite as perfect as their best The Walking Dead efforts. The story still has room to grow and the emotional highs haven’t been built to yet. You can’t take someone to the peak of the emotional roller coaster in Hour Two of a 12+ hour game. It’s really good but you know that peak greatness is just around the corner. All we have to do is wait a little bit.
And call me weird but I was cheering at the end of the episode. Then again, anyone who’s read my Game of Thrones reviews knows that I’m a huge Ramsay Snow fan.
Game of Thrones – Episode One: Iron From Ice was played on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and iOS. The review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and who you believe is the one true King of Westeros.