Review: Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – All Men Must Die
“The night is dark and full of terrors” — so describes Melisandre in the second book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings, in the realm of medieval politics, bloodshed, and betrayal that are the hallmarks of Game of Thrones. Characters evil and good, brave and cowardly, and just and unjust live and die by the sword in Westeros: its justice is often cruel and unfair.
Being no stranger to the harsher ways of life through The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Telltale Games’ next adventure in the Game of Thrones universe proves that the political intrigue and medieval setting of Westeros and the dynamic, choice-driven gameplay of Telltale’s titles are (very nearly) a perfect fit.
With its world fitting well to some of the dynamics of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us previously and its focus on character and story more-so than action and thrills, fans of the hugely popular HBO television series are in for an exciting journey through Westeros with Telltale’s rendition of Game of Thrones, even if the trail does feature a few bumps along the way starting out in the first episode.
Based on the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones takes the events of the TV series as the larger backdrop for a more intimate story, seeing the world through one of the series’ minor clans, House Forrester. In the fashion of the books and television series, the first episode, titled “Iron from Ice,” shifts players through the perspectives of several POV characters, often setting each situation in largely different places and circumstances.
With the initial episode putting players into the roles of Gared Tuttle, a Forrester Squire, Ethan Forrester, the young and newly-pronounced Lord of the House, and Mira Forrester, the eldest daughter of the House serving as a handmaiden in King’s Landing, “Iron from Ice” keenly establishes the world and the many powers and politics at play; in true series fashion, no character is safe from death, and playing the “game” often leads to some dire circumstances and grave consequences.
Similar in scope to previous Telltale titles, players switch between each of these three characters and interact through environments by engaging with other characters in dialogue-driven cutscenes, where players are given a limited amount of time to select a dialogue option or the next course of action. With many of the conversations leading to potential new alliances or deadly new enemies, Telltale faithfully recreates the tension and sense of danger that lingers in every corner of Westeros.
Though conversation is frequent, each decision feels vital, whether it be setting up an alliance between Houses, or in more extreme cases, deciding the fate of a character between life or death. Game of Thrones heavily revolves around politics and intrigue, with backstabbing and beheading more frequent than the numerous instances of graphic sex and nudity (though, just barely). Though the first episode is pretty tame in the sex and nudity department so far, it’s not afraid to pull any punches when it comes to graphic deaths and shocking displays of violence.
Previous Telltale titles have done well in bringing newcomers to the worlds of The Walking Dead and Fables with little need for prior backstory, but Game of Thrones finds itself a bit more of a difficult hill to climb for those uninitiated with the series prior. Setting its opening minutes right at the outbreak of the infamous Red Wedding massacre, Telltale’s version roughly corresponds with the end of the TV series’ third season and will promise to trail events up to its upcoming fifth season.
It’s safe to say that even though the game could still be enjoyable to those who roughly know of the story or are experience with previous Telltale games, it will be a much more enjoyable experience to those already caught up and familiar with the television series/novels at its best, and might even be a difficult experience to follow for newcomers.
Though the title comes with a bit of a warning sign when it comes to bringing in those new to the series, this episode establishes a look and feel that many fans will cling to immediately, along with plenty of familiar faces to boot. While keeping in check with Telltale’s established style, Game of Thrones differs itself from the more cartoonish stylings of The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and Tales from the Borderlands by making its world nearly a living oil painting, with elaborately detailed backdrops and beautifully rendered environments keeping in check with the grim but iconic locations of Westeros.
The Forrester’s home of Ironrath gives way to melancholic but lovely greens and forest hues, with Mira Forrester’s trek to King’s Landing bringing in sun-kissed locations of reds and oranges, making each location feel just like those from the novels and show.
Alongside Telltale’s faithful recreation of the world of Westeros comes several familiar faces from the TV series, with the game’s opening episode bringing in major characters from the TV series such as Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, and Ramsay Snow.
Each is given a detailed in-game recreation and all performed by the TV series actors. Easily one of the highlights of the series so far, “Iron from Ice” features fine vocal performances, including the newcoming Forrester and Tuttle characters as well as veteran performances from the TV series cast (unsurprisingly) perfectly bringing Tyrion, Cersei, Margaery, and Ramsay into the game. Never dipping into the realm of quick cameos, each of the TV series characters has a specific role within the story that makes sense, avoiding the pitfall of making their appearances feel arbitrary.
While the episode does look incredible accurate in its visual portray of the world, it takes a few missteps and various technical issues do make the experience feel less polished than some of Telltale’s previous efforts. In particular, while the art direction and style recreate the series faithfully, some of the game’s textures and objects feel rough and bland (in particular with some of the character models and animations looking jagged and feeling especially in need of refinement).
On occasion during some scenes character models would disappear or hang, and while previous Telltale titles have had their share of technical issues and glitches, this title in particular seems to have had the brunt of more issues than usual, whether it be due to a rush to release or any other reason. Overall, the issues are often very minor and take away little from the experience.
Those who have been following the series already know what to expect; certainly not a bad thing, but merely a precaution for those that don’t. The world of Westeros is cruel and unkind, as the just receive death and punishment while the unjust even more so receive riches and good fortune regularly. The game of thrones is never fair, whether you win or die, and so far “Iron from Ice” has established this well with Telltale’s video game adaptation of the series, and proving more than anything that Telltale and Game of Thrones are nearly a match made in heaven.
The first episode of the game series is a finely crafted adventure game adaptation — it’s a good blade with a few imperfections, but with some polish and sharpening, it will be keen as a blade in the night.