When youíve played as many video games as I have, you come to expect that watching fungus grow on a toenail would be more enjoyable than playing a video game based off a movie, TV show, or book (with the obvious exception of Arkham Asylum). Which is why, when I learned that a video game based off of the popular fantasy novels/HBO series A Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) was in the works, I was about as interested as I am in anything Jack Thompson has to say. However, when I heard that some French video game studio that Iíd never heard of was developing, and that George R.R. Martin himself was involved, I thought that there might be a chance that it would be more than a 10-hour travesty designed to squeeze as much money out of naÔve fans as possible. Plus, nothing good was coming out that week.
Seeing as my expectations were so low, it would have been very hard to disappoint me. Luckily, with the help of Mr. Martin, the story was anything but disappointing. If youíre a big fan of the series, Game of Thrones the video game is a must-have. If youíre like me and you read the first two books, and despite enjoying them were unable to go on because theyíre unbelievably depressing, I do have to warn you that the gameís story is definitely true to Martinís style. That is, you will find yourself with your jaw hanging open in absolute horror over the things that the writers do to your favorite characters. It doesnít matter which character you happen to like in this game. Bad things happen to all of them. If you consider that a spoiler, then you are obviously not familiar with the Game of Thrones franchise.
In the case that you are not familiar with the Game of Thrones franchise and are looking for a quality RPG with lots of exploration and balanced, innovative combat, look elsewhere. The best way I can describe the game is thusly: imagine Cyanide snuck into BioWare headquarters and stole an early, unpolished version of Dragon Age: Origins, then slapped some Game of Thrones fan fiction on. Donít get me wrong, itís good fan fiction. Itís the gameplay thatís mediocre. Itís as linear as Dragon Age, with fewer areas to explore and fewer side quests. Most of the gameplay is a lot of walking down a corridor with a couple alternate paths every now and then and coming across groups of enemies to fight every thirty seconds. Any part of the game that you actually get to play feels like padding between each chance to further the plot. Itís a lot like Final Fantasy XIII, only the plot is actually good and the characters likeable.
Game of Thrones the game follows the intersecting stories of two old war buddies who have ended up on opposite ends of the world for reasons that they will hint at relentlessly but not fully reveal until the end. War buddy number one is Mors, a grizzled, battle-scarred, heavy smoker-voiced old man who is absolutely devoted to his post at the Wall. He is a man of the Nightís Watch, a group of men who guard a giant ice wall that separates the land of Westeros from the North for reasons that arenít adequately explained in the game (and are too complicated to explain in a review). Alester is a bit of a dry fellow who values his family above all else, but for some (horribly awful) reason, he left them to sail across the sea and become a Red Priest in the Free Cities. The good news is that his new God gave him some neat fire magic powers to fight with.
Mors and Alester are both likeable and complex characters whom you will grow to love (and later be horrified by the terrible things that happen to them). Most of the other characters are believable enough. Although the main bad guy is kind of cartoon-y evil, and itís hard to take him seriously with that bowl cut, no matter how many people he slaughters heartlessly. The game switches back and forth between Mors and Alester until they are brought together by events surrounding the fate of some chick. Itís all very elegant, I assure you.
Each old guy has his own set of special abilities. Alester has his Red Priest fire magic, with which he can discover hidden stuff somehow. Mors has an ugly old dog, and is also a skinchanger. This means that he can enter his dogís mind, and you get to run around from the dogís perspective and sniff out enemies and loot. Morsí ability is a lot better.
The combat system is real-time, with the familiar ability wheel that you can bring up with the R1 button. The best part about the combat system is that time slows down when youíre navigating the ability wheel, which can result in amusing slow-mo mid-battle banter. The abilities are pretty unbalanced, with some being useless and others being the ones that you will use over and over. Less than halfway into the game, I had two abilities for each character that I used over and over. One to stun the opponent, and another that caused extra damage to stunned opponents. I was pretty much unstoppable at that point.
The game also gives you way too many points to put into combat strengths. You can choose from the three standard armor types and a number of weapon types. Of course, you get double points for which ever type of armor and weapon specialty you choose at the beginning of the game, so thatís pretty useless.
The voice acting is of a higher quality than I expect from most video games. The actors who play Jeor Mormont and Lord Varys in the show even voice their characters in the game. Unfortunately, I think Cyanide may have spent all of their HBO sponsor money on these two actors, since the voice acting of the minor characters is lacking. Is it just me, or do developers have a tape of whiney peasant talk somewhere that they pass around? The soundtrack and riot sound effects are repetitive and slightly annoying, both of which cut out periodically, which really hurts the dramatic effect during those tense moments. Not to mention the times when youíre just wandering around town and the music gets really intense for no apparent reason.
When it comes to the graphics, Cyanide was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Combined with the occasional cutting out of the music, it can make the cut scenes awkward and disturbing for reasons other than George R. R. Martinís writing. But the worst part is that the game tends to lock up whenever too much is going on. For example, when the game auto-saves. That happened to me a total of three times. Fortunately, I only lost my save once. But all three times I was terrified that my save data would be corrupted. Itís pretty much the worst thing that a game can do to you.
As Iíve said many times, being a writer automatically makes me appreciate a good story. Game of Thrones the game has a story so effective that I was visibly upset about one particularly harsh scene for over an hour after Iíd stopped playing. Itís not as good as the actual books, but itís one of the best Iíve encountered in a video game yet. However, a video game is a game, and if a game isnít fun to play, you canít call it good. The exploration aspect is well below average, and the combat is decent but uninspired, and the RPG elements are not well-thought out. If youíre a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I highly recommend picking this game up. If youíre a huge fan of good RPGs, I recommend saving your money for the next thing BioWare puts out.
Make sure to check for Game of Thrones cheat codes when you play!