With its season finale dropping last week, and the physical retail release arriving yesterday, Telltale’s Game of Thrones has come to a close. This series has been an interesting experiment for Telltale Games as it is set during the events of an ongoing property, HBO’s Game of Thrones television series, rather than prior to the original source material ala The Wolf Among Us; following it like in Tales from the Borderlands; or during it but completely separate from the core cast of characters like in The Walking Dead.
For the most part the experiment was a success and allowed for the game to function as its own thing while also being interwoven with the show, however issues did later present themselves as the finale drew ever closer. Having said that, Telltale’s Game of Thrones is still a stunning example of Telltale Games doing what they do best: getting under your skin and forcing you between a rock and an absolute dick of a hard place.
Note: I’ll be keeping spoilers for the game to a minimum here, but I will have to reference plot points from the HBO show.
Telltale’s Game of Thrones focuses on a noble house that has not been seen in the HBO show or the novels, only referenced to: House Forrester of Ironrath. Loyal to the Starks of Winterfell, we first meet the Forresters as they share a drink in Robb Stark’s garrison outside The Twins, the stronghold of Walder Frey, while he is inside attending a wedding. That’s right, Telltale begins their game right outside the Red Wedding and we all know that that event doesn’t turn out well once Frey and Roose Bolton start murdering the Starks and all their soldiers. Lord Gregor Forrester does not survive the slaughter, giving his loyal squire Gared Tuttle the vaguest of final orders as last words: “the North Grove must not be lost.”
With Lord Gregor slain, House Whitehill, rivals of the Forresters, make a play for control of their territory and this makes up the central conflict for the entire season. Gameplay switches between the remaining members of House Forrester in Ironrath as they deal with the Whitehills, both diplomatically and violently; handmaiden Mira Forrester over in King’s Landing, whose position among the royal family may let her assist the conflict from afar; Asher Forrester across the Narrow Sea, who was banished and is trying to return home to join the fight; and finally Gared Tuttle as he joins the Night’s Watch in order to attempt a journey north of The Wall to find the North Grove that Lord Gregor spoke of.
Man, that is a lot to take in. And that’s just the premise of the season!
Like all of Telltale’s games, Game of Thrones revolves around primarily point-and-click gameplay, choosing dialogue options and occasionally bringing out button prompt/quick-time events to guide you through the action. What you do in any given situation can influence how events play out later on, although events usually result in the same conclusions anyway. We’ve written about the illusion of choice in Telltale games before, and they aren’t necessarily a bad thing as the subtle changes still give a uniqueness to a person’s particular playthrough. This how Telltale rolls, and Game of Thrones, much like previous games, doesn’t disappoint in delivering agonising choices.
But Game of Thrones has a slight twist when it comes to making decisions, a twist that might divide some players: if you’re up to date with the TV show then you know how things are going to play out. Not major plot points in the whole Forrester/Whitehill debacle, but side ones in regards to the TV show characters who appear in the game.
As an example, Mira has an opportunity to work with Tyrion Lannister in striking a deal that may help her family in Ironrath, but given we know he will soon be carted off to jail on suspicion of murdering King Joffrey we might not be so inclined. Mira couldn’t possibly know this, but we do as players. We know that not much will go down between Gared Tuttle and Jon Snow up at the wall, because we’ve never seen Gared on the show so he must leave eventually. I also knew no matter what I did, I wouldn’t get to stab Ramsey Snow in his smirking face.
Don’t get me wrong, the tie ins were a delight to spot, but it did sometimes make me think I was clairvoyant and rigging the game a little.
Once the cameos are done away with though, around two thirds of the way in, the game really starts to shine. Don’t get me wrong, there are some gut punching moments early on in the season, but once the ball is well and truly rolling, things get rough (in a good way). The stakes get higher; pursuing revenge for the many, MANY slights against House Forrester could very well spell their doom, and Telltale really put your personal sense of mercy to the test. I won’t lie and tell you I never once did the reckless thing out of pure loathing for my enemies, because I very much did. I was weak, and sometimes it was much to my detriment.
That’s what Telltale does: they use your own feelings against you.
I only wish the season concluded in a more satisfying way. In a manner very much akin to the show on which it is based, Telltale’s Game of Thrones ends its first season by giving a little closure that only raises more questions as to the results of characters’ actions. And that works great for the show, but given this was influenced by my input over the past year I feel there needed to be more of a pay off regarding the choices I made.
There is some resolution, or at least a pay off, regarding the battle of the houses, but the North Grove story infuriatingly keeps you in the dark about information that would be very relevant to your choices, and Mira’s shenanigans kind of just stop right when they’re getting hectic. And the game’s relation to the show only makes me wonder how much any of these plot points can mean in the grand scheme of the story, since HBO surely won’t go ahead expecting its viewers to have all played through the game. Can the North Grove really be anything important?
Telltale are working on a season two though, so much like discovering the fate of a certain character on the TV show, we will just have to wait and see.
Pros: Intense conflict, Telltale patented gut-punches, really plays off your emotions,
Cons: “Clairvoyant” problem, not much pay off,