Telltale’s latest project is for it’s biggest property yet. That’s saying something when you’ve already walked with giants like Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, and The Walking Dead. Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones however is unique for a few reasons. The show is on the air and about to return with a new season, arguably the most anticipated of 2015. Actors from the show are lending their voices and likenesses to the game. The plot of the game and show are intertwined. The timing certainly works in Telltale’s favor. Hitching up to the phenomenon that is GoT’s will expand their reach as a studio like never before. However they’re constrained in the kind of story they can tell. Rather than chart new territory in George RR Martin’s world, Telltale must work within a limited arena.

Telltale’s other games thrive on creative freedom but here the studio is forced to color strictly within the lines. The result is an experience that feels like a tug-of-war between originality and fan service. The game shines when it’s original and compelling but gets overshadowed by the show’s major players. Our story begins the night of a fateful wedding. A squire, Gared, from House Forrester escapes the betrayal of the northern armies by Walder Frey. Gared returns to the Forrester stronghold of Ironroth. The small house is bracing for the consequences of their loyalty to the Stark family. The show leaves much of what happens to those who rallied behind the Stark rebellion to our imagination, making this an area of the story ripe for exploration.

The Forresters control a small province of the north but a special one, as it’s the only place ironwood trees grow. This vital natural resource is the only thing standing between the Forresters and certain destruction, as their people are the only ones with the skill to harvest it. Their neighbors and rivals however, the Whitehills, have made a deal with the conquering southern powers. Their fealty to the crown will buy them a terrible revenge against their blood enemies, the Forresters. This small clan is outnumbered, outgunned, and hanging by a thread politically. The direness of their situation hangs heavy over this first episode and strikes those same resonant chords as the show. Despite only being with the Forresters a short while you feel the pain of their losses and the uncertainty of their future. Their fates hang in the balance, making each choice a heavy one.

ethan

Being a Lord is not easy

You can feel the burden on the shoulders of Ethan Forrester, the newly minted Lord. He looks barely 16 but must assume the head of the house after the death of his father and older brother. With the psychotic Ramsay Snow on his way to secure the Forrester’s loyalty, you can feel just how high the stakes are and just how woefully unprepared the Forresters are to match them. Telltale is taking a new approach by splitting your experience among different playable characters, five in all but only three in this first episode. The weight of your decisions will adjust the scales accordingly when you switch perspectives. Through Mira Forrester, a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, we see what’s happening in the capitol of King’s Landing. Will she ask for Margaery’s help influencing King Joffrey to intervene on her family’s behalf? Or will she navigate palace intrigue on her own?

The game falters when the situations begin to feel familiar. The Forresters are basically the Starks. They look like them, talk like them, and face very similar circumstances. I could even sense direct connections between members of each family. Gared is John Snow; Lady Forrester is Lady Stark; Ethan is Bran; Mira is Sansa; and Ryon is Arya. If you can understand that last sentence, the congruities will be obvious to you after playing this first episode. That both Mira and Sansa could be northern nobles held hostage in the south is too coincidental. And Mira being besties with Margaery begs the question of why have we never seen her on the show.

If Telltale can bend the rules when it suits them then that begs another question, why such devotion to the show’s events and timelines? A hybrid of a current running TV show with a game makes these troublesome 4th wall-breaking moments almost inevitable. This is especially true in your brushes with Queen Cersei and Tyrion Lannister. The cognitive spell of the story can’t help but break when you hear them talk. It’s Peter Dinklage you’re hearing, not Tyrion. I can’t help but feel the game struggling to achieve escape velocity from the show’s orbit.

tyrion

Hey! It’s the guy from the show we all like!

“Fan fiction” is a dirty word and not one I’d easily associate with Telltale’s body of work. It suggests a shoehorning of characters into an already established story. And yet this game at times feels like fan fiction. Telltale have clearly paid very close attention to the show and done their best to weave it and their game seamlessly into one experience. And yet we can see the strings attached, a problem of immersion not suffered by the very excellent Walking Dead games, or the phenomenal Wolf Among Us. It’s too soon to tell how the rest of GoT will fair but it doesn’t look like the strings will get any less visible.

Something should be said too about the design of the game. It’s certainly pretty enough and the style of the show is on point, but there are a few issues with graphics and sound. The audio stuttered a few times and there’s this glaze covering background objects that looks like air shimmering over hot asphalt. Telltale also misses a big opportunity to add more game to their game. The GoT world with all its horses, swords, bows, and arrows is ripe for some swordplay at the very least. Quick time events however are all we get. For Telltale to recycle the same mechanics that are now 2+ years old is troubling to say the least.

I wanted to get into the micromanaging of the Forrester household, to see if I could manage resources in a way to tip the scales in our favor. I think Telltale needs to realize that play can be a storytelling device just as important as any other. When I play X-Com, for instance, I genuinely feel the loss of my favored squad members ex’d by xenos. For a good part of this first episode of GoT I felt powerless, unable to do anything but navigate the dialogues as best as I could and let the story sweep me along. We’ll see if it’s a ride worth taking.

Game of Thrones: Iron From Ice Review
Game of Thrones struggles between fan service and creative freedom. We'll have to see how the rest of the season shapes up but so far it looks like this journey through the seven kingdoms will be a rough one.
Positives
  • Compelling characters and situations
  • Tip-top voice acting
Negatives
  • No new gameplay mechanics
  • We've seen all this before
  • Forrester = Stark
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
9.3

About The Author

Staff Writer

Alex is from New York, is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and once played a Call of Duty Deathmatch against himself.

  • LTRAIN

    Where can I get this image that is the title background?