Telltale Games has been busy. The San Rafael-based studio has been developing adventure games since 2004, but it wasn’t until 2012’s The Walking Dead: Season One that they became a household name. Since then, they’ve continued to release such games with some regularity, covering franchises like Fables, Borderlands and of course, Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series is based on the popular HBO series, itself based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels by George R. R. Martin. The game’s adaptive origins from the TV series are clearly evidenced by its faithful reproduction of the opening theme. Series regulars like Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke lend their voice and likeness to their respective characters.
Each episode follows the personalities of House Forrester, a northern house loyal to House Stark. We’re introduced to squire Gared Tuttle on the evening of the Red Wedding. Chaos ensues when the Freys betray the Starks and Gared scrambles to save his lord, his lord’s son Rodrik and himself. In the aftermath, the new power of the north is Roose Bolton. Gared must join The Night’s Watch or face the judgment of Ramsay Snow, which is most certainly death.
Not long after, a rival house favored by the Boltons encroaches upon House Forrester’s supply of ironwood, and the Forresters are quickly put in a precarious position. Lady Elissa reaches out to her children—her daughter Mira in King’s Landing, and her son Asher in Essos—in the effort to secure support for the house.
The game, much like the books and the TV series, tackles its story across different locations, with the playable character changing with each shift in perspective. It’s not the first title which sees Telltale experimenting with multiple playable characters—that honor goes to Tales from the Borderlands, which features two protagonists instead of one—but it remains an interesting touch that allows the player to experience the different circumstances of each character.
Dialogue choices are interesting, but can be somewhat limiting. There are times when my internal reaction was not well represented by any of the listed choices, though silence is always an option.
The quicktime events (QTEs) that pop up during the game’s action sequences haven’t changed much, but Game of Thrones’ QTEs are perhaps most similar to 2013’s The Walking Dead: Season Two. Their control schemes are practically identical, except for the former’s addition of a “hold and drag” mechanic, where you hold a button then drag the mouse or push the left stick in a particular direction. They’re also very similar in terms of aesthetics and resolution of tense decision point moments, where players must make difficult choices on the fly.
Game of Thrones takes on the cel-shaded look that has become a consistent hallmark of Telltale’s work, but isn’t as visually striking as it could be. Cel-shaded graphics are appropriate for translating elements of the linework in graphic novels, which games like The Wolf Among Us have been based on. But when applied to real-life models, there are limitations (excepting the case of Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister, who looks very faithfully reproduced in the game). The painted look of the backdrops of various locations is gorgeous, but can look a little muddy when the camera zooms in.
Longtime Thrones fans have a saying: don’t get too attached to anybody. The series’ many twists and shockers certainly reinforce this view, and the game is no different. The sense of dread that seems to hound House Forrester from start to finish is similar to the plight of the Starks. In fact, it can be a bit too similar.
Of course, House Forrester is not nearly as integral to the series’ plot as House Stark—with the latter’s presence largely front and center of many of the series’ major events, while the former merely resides in the periphery of such instances. This has its interesting moments—learning more about Mereen’s fighting pits, and how its participants reacted after Daenerys’ siege, for example—but by and large the story is most entertaining when it isn’t intersecting with the major plot arc, but rather is presenting a situation that is unique to the Forresters, as a smaller house that is fighting for survival.
One of Telltale’s strengths is that their ability to remain consistently faithful to their respective licensed universes without necessarily taking us to places we’ve already been to, or showing us events we’ve already seen. But in Game of Thrones’ desire to show players as large a swath of the universe shown in the TV adaptation or in the books, the journey can sometimes take on a feeling of “been there, done that.”
All that being said, Game of Thrones has little appeal for outside of fans of the novels or HBO series. While it’s an easy recommendation for existing fans, the unitiated will likely find it a confusing, perhaps even frustrating, experience. The game doesn’t brief you on the universe in any way, and it won’t change anyone’s opinion of Game of Thrones. Still, the ability to essentially manage a Westerosi house is tantalizing, and can lead to tragic and/or hilarious situations, even if results often reinforce the series’ trademark sense of fatalism.
Jaykie Lazarte has been writing for publications since high school, which has made his mother very proud. His favorite games are Excel spreadsheets and various activities involving balls.