Not being a huge “Game of Thrones” aficionado, I didn’t really know what to expect from the video game version. I did, however, know the following: Telltale Games has proven to be a premier developer in today’s industry, and an important one. Their focus on narrative and character development is precisely what this industry needs, beyond all else. I also know that Telltale strives to maintain the style and theme of any entertainment IP they choose to use for their next episodic series, which is why I’m convinced that what I’m seeing from Episode One – Iron From Ice is likely to satisfy fans of the show.
Because this developer’s emphasis is on the storytelling side, you might assume they sacrifice technical elements. After all, a budget only goes so far, right? But I’m always impressed with Telltale’s ability to deliver crisp, authentic, attractive visuals; the most recent example of their graphical expertise was Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One – Zer0 Sum . That proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Telltale knows what they’re doing. In Game of Thrones , we get excellent character detail, solid environmental design, and some nicely implemented special effects. No true bombastic set pieces but that’s okay.
The sound is a huge highlight primarily because we get the voices of many major characters. It’s much more effective to get the real actors, because it allows fans of the show to become easily immersed in the intense atmosphere. It’s the combination of these professional voice performances and the excellent soundtrack that makes the audio so damn invaluable. In truth, we’re telling a story here, and stories thrive on the sounds of the characters voices and the accompanying music. They add the right aura, a certain ambiance that enhances the experience. We get all of that here so I have very few complaints in this category.
Episode One begins with a bang: You’re faced with an absurdly difficult decision and it’s a decision you’ll remember throughout this opening adventure. At first, I thought the answer was obvious. But then, after sitting for a few moments and contemplating the possible repercussions of each choice, I considered and reconsidered at least three times. This sets the stage perfectly because it amps up the emotional and sentimental aspects right out of the gate, and it exemplifies the kinds of decisions you’ll have to make. House Forrester is in a dangerous political situation and it’s up to you to ensure your family’s legacy. This sounds stereotypical and even clichéd but really, there’s a lot more to the story.
The War of the Five Kings is beginning; five separate kings aspire to the Iron Throne and political tensions are through the roof. Just about everyone is at risk of saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and losing status is almost as devastating as losing a life. When absolute power sits at the core, dark plots will inevitably arise. It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy with a dark fantasy twist, where loyalty and love are traded like playing cards. Throughout this compelling chapter, you’ll play as three members of House Forrester (these three will change in each episode) and you’ll be involved in all sorts of dramatic tête-à-têtes. Some of these will degrade into fights but of course, it’s only “fighting” in Telltale’s world.
This means it’s not action, per se; at least, not in the way gamers have come to understand it. The action plays out via context-sensitive commands and button prompts, so you’re either slamming a button to break free from an opponent, or tapping the right button to execute a potentially fatal attack. This plays out as well as it always has in other Telltale productions; the only flaw is that it’s a little too familiar. Putting the spotlight on dialogue was the right move, of course, but there are times when the physical altercations almost feel forced. They’re still rife with emotion and excitement but the gameplay itself sometimes comes across as tired.
Same goes for some of the dialogue sequences, which can drag on a bit too long. For these reasons, this isn’t the best-paced or finest-honed Telltale adventure I’ve played. That being said, the sheer number of difficult situations, the amount of time you spend seriously wracking your brain for the best possible reply, and the quality of the performances keep you riveted throughout. Another huge bonus is that each decision you make really matters. In this way, none of these sequences feel tacked on, as each choice has a significant impact on you and your House. The number of branching plot points is quite impressive and you might want to replay the episode to see lots more interesting scenes.
The characters progress and change during the course of the opening episode, which sets things up well for future installments. In only a couple of hours, you really come to know each character and additional emotions creep in, too. You might fear certain characters while for others, you feel genuine sympathy or sadness. Author George R.R. Martin’s influence isn’t lost in this virtual reincarnation of his stories, and fans of the show will undoubtedly be intrigued by the wonderfully scripted events in this debut chapter. In retrospect, it made perfect sense for Telltale to select “Game of Thrones” because it really plays to their strengths.
Game of Thrones: Episode One – Iron From Ice is another great narrative effort by a rising development team. It’s full of drama and well-choreographed action scenes, each of which push the plot forward at a brisk pace. Some of the sequences drag on a bit too long and some of the combat doesn’t feel as gripping as in Tales from the Borderlands , but these aren’t serious issues. For the most part, Iron From Ice is appropriately named (you’ll appreciate it all the more if you’ve got an artistic streak in you) and fans of the television show are in for a treat. I’m expecting more top-notch entries as this episodic series rolls on.
The Good: Nicely detailed characters and a well-drawn environment. Outstanding voice performances and great music. Branching story keeps you thinking. Every decision feels weighty and important. Intense and dramatic; a roller-coaster of thought and emotion.
The Bad: Some sequences tend to lag. A few of the action segments feel a little dry and overly familiar. Hard to recommend if you’re not a fan of the show.
The Ugly: “There’s some definite ugliness in the undercurrents of political intrigue, but that’s part of what makes “Thrones” great.”