Backlog Redux 2014 #30 – Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

May the Others Take Your Engaging RPGs!

I’m trying to think of a great reason to recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the book series (or hit TV show), but aside from a story that is at times mildly interesting, I come up blank.To say that the game is “based on” George Martin’s fictional Game of Thrones universe is really the most correct way of stating it; a few familiar faces and places make appearances and there are occasional references to established events from the lore, but the story is entirely stand-alone, and really does nothing to expand or add to the already existing canon. I say this in a way that sounds critical, but – honestly – how else could it possibly work? If it were to contradict or simply reiterate what we’ve already read (and seen), it would have been crucified for it. As an existing intellectual property, the range of available options is pretty limited.

Despite having heard some…unflattering things about this game after its release a while back, I was still enthused to get my hands on it. In fact, I received it as a birthday gift that I specifically asked for last year. The reason for this determination is that I was relishing the opportunity to get interactive with the world of Westeros, now that I’ve gotten stuck into the book series a ways. Also, you know that feeling when you’re just in the mood for a gritty RPG, and need something to scratch that itch? But I didn’t want to spoil any upcoming events (hence the reason I stay away from the TV series), so the game had to wait quite a while on my shelf while I slowly worked my way through the book. Alas, I am a pretty slow reader.

The story, without giving away anything vital as it really is the sole reason to play the game, follows two separate characters: Mors Westford, a Black Brother stationed at The Wall, and Alester Sarwyck, son of a noble house now turned Red Priest. The plot follows each of them as they get embroiled in a nefarious scheme that has roots reaching all the way to the Red Keep and the royal throne. For much of the game, the two protagonists take turns, with alternating chapters focusing on first one then the other.

Game of Thrones

Going to the Wall and hanging with the Black Brothers was one of the more enjoyable parts of this game!

The game isn’t shy on embracing the lore established by George R.R. Martin, and familiar people, places, and events are often mentioned or encountered. A pivotal scene near the game’s end even takes place a stone’s throw from the execution at the end of the first book. With that being said, the story stands by itself, and has no bearing on – never even intersects – the events of the novels. Which makes it, to be blunt, a little throwaway. The magic of these stories is how all the tiny details weave together to form an intricate narrative. If I already know nothing I’ve read is really impacted by what I’m about to play, it begs the question why even set the game in this universe at all? Nevertheless, there were times when I looked forward at least a teenie smidgeon to what would happen next.

Being an RPG, the battle system is obviously a huge part of the gameplay, as you’ll be spending the bulk of your time in open conflict. I was very much reminded of the battle system in Dragon Age: Origins, not necessarily a good thing. I hated that game specifically because of its battle interface, which, on consoles at least, seemed broken at best. Game of Thrones uses a similar approach, though much less complicated due to its greater dearth of customizing options. You’ll still only ever directly control one member of your party during battle, while the rest of the squad responds on auto-pilot or to commands you input in the heat of combat. To do so, you can press a button to bring up the command menu, which slows down the action and gives you a few moments to recalibrate. (The less intricate system means combat doesn’t need to be completely frozen each time.)

I found myself relying mostly on melee attacks, with a few standby moves thrown in for good measure, such as stun, damage over time, knock down, etc. Most of the time it was a simple matter of making sure each person was attacking the target I wanted them to take on, either everybody piling on the same foe or splitting my squad in two to take on weaker groups of enemies without being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. I progressed through most of the game’s battles without incident, with only a few of them needing to be replayed, and then likely due to invisible behind-the-scenes dice rolls not going my way. An extra twist forces you to pay attention to enemy armor type, as different weapon types – cutting, blunt, sharp – work better against certain defenses, like cloth, leather, and mail.

Game of Thrones

In general, the graphics look sort of washed out and blurry.

The combat system works in the same vein as the graphics: practicality over elegance, not too pretty but it works. Overall, the game’s look offers a very dirty feel to the game – environments are splotchy, city layouts are dull, the color palette is subdued and limited to boring browns and grays much of the time, and characters…hooh boy, Westeros seems to have been populated by the descendants of one guy who long ago fell out of the Ugly Tree and his every branch on the way down. Honestly, looking at the citizens populating places like King’s Landing, it’s hard to wonder why I shouldn’t just wish for a firestorm to reduce it all to ashes, and good riddance! I think it’s just as difficult and labor-intensive to design a character who is ugly as one who is easy on the eyes. So why was this alternative chosen so unilaterally?

The voice acting fared not much better, with the notable exceptions of the actors who played the leads Mors and Alester, as well as the game’s main antagonist Valarr, and some of the original actors from the TV show popping in here and there, like James Cosmo as Jeor Mormont.

Overall, there wasn’t a whole lot keeping me glued to this game version of Game of Thrones, and now that it’s over I’m likely to just want to move on and forget all about it sooner rather than later. Too bad, because the source material is a universe rife with places that would be a blast to explore in an interactive setting, and tales to be told that have more of an impact on one currently immersed within the books, such as myself.

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