Read, then Play, Game of Thrones - I Beg Thee [Review]

By Rich Shivener in Reviews
Friday, June 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Just like George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, the eponymous video game presents an epic tale of traitors, familial turmoil and darkness spreading across the Seven Kingdoms. But unlike the book, the game's style is a little disenchanting, whereas its story is enchanting. It's like a book or a narrative with interesting characters and a high-stakes conflict yet one that contains poor grammar. Still, if you like the book and the subsequent TV series, you might enjoy the game, developed by Cyanide and published by Atlus. It's a role-playing game for Game of Thrones fans, which is why I have a stake in it. Those who haven't galloped through Martin's fantasy might feel a weaker connection to it.

After playing Game of Thrones for hours on end, I'm still curious about the lead characters, Mors and Alester, new blood in Martin's universe. Mors is a veteran of the Night's Watch; Alester, the eldest son of a fallen lord of Riverspring. Their narratives rotate, unravel and intersect over the course of 12 chapters, expanding our view of the Seven Kingdoms in Westeros. It said that their narratives run in parallel with the goings-on of Martin's books but they don't intersect or overlap. Which means that House Stark and King Robert Baratheon, among others, are missing. There are familiar faces, though, such as Varys and Queen Cersei. They at least keep the stories of Mors and Alester relevant.

Unfortunately, those familiar characters might mean very little to those who haven't read the book. I have the read the book, so Cersei and Varys have more resonance with me. I know they're poisonous. I know their dark secrets. I know I can't tell you more, lest I ruin the book for you. And I don't want to. The book, in my view, transcends its genre, focusing more on character development than plot, but its plot is certainly compelling in its own right. Together, they construct a rich tale, something I now encourage you to explore before you pick up the game.

I digress, though. Cyanide's game has compelling facets, too, including the fact that you, in a way, control the outcomes of the lead characters by selecting their lines during key scenes; you decide how awful or wholesome Mors and Alester will be, and the supporting characters won't let your decisions go unnoticed. When I was playing, for instance, there was a moment when a rebel knifed a hostage because Alester (me) made a threat rather than a deal. I decided to be more careful from then on.

But the most important facet, I think, is the story of Mors. In the game's time and space, the former soldier "took the black" 15 years ago, leaving his wife and children for a bone-chilling commitment to Castle Black; in the present day he's surrounded by despair, desolation and eternal cold, elements that seem to feed his ruthless combat skills. What's more, his voice sounds like ice cracking on a frozen lake, and he can possess his dog's mind for more covert assaults. He is unapologetically terrifying, especially when he carries out his duties in honor of Jon Arryn, a good friend from long ago.

Alester, on the contrary, needs more fire. As the eldest son and heir to a lord, he comes home to Riverspring after a long stint in the Free Cities, finding himself in the thickets of mutiny and a family affair gone awry, thanks in part to Queen Cersei. That said, the introductions to his first chapter are interesting, but the rest of it moves too fast for me. I just can't suspend my disbelief that someone missing from a city for years on end would, with very little resistance, suddenly join the ranks of a lord's army and establish some order. He is, after all, a priest compelled by a god of love and warmth. And knowing that, I was expecting a more gradual transformation of his character. I wanted a deep connection to his regret and redemption, but to no avail.

It's just too bad that everyone, including Alester and Mors, operates like mechanical puppets, their lines stiff and mannerisms repetitive. It's only appropriate to show a clip:

Looking for specifics, you only need play the first chapters to notice that everyone has a habit of putting their hand on their waist when they make a profound statement. You can call me a bastard for pointing this out, but it's weird, I swear it; I guess I expected a little more life in the graphics. In other weirdness, Mors and Alester can interact with some random NPCs, but most of them simply take up space. And neither character can climb, jump or truly explore their environments. Perhaps because of the understanding I have of neo-RPGs, thanks to games like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, I see so much potential in Game of Thrones.

And as I conclude my light assault on the game, I could unpack the combat system, another compelling facet, but I see no need. Game of Thrones is largely a game of character studies, inviting you to invest in them as you gain a deeper understanding of Martin's complex universe, or his master narrative. Read on.

The Official Verdict: 3 out of 5

This review is based on a Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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