Seven years is a long time to be working on a game, and Cyanide Stuidos hasn’t exactly given us something of the same quality as Diablo III, even though they decided to release the game at the same time, which made the release something I would call “catastrophically overshadowed” by gamers looking for a new RPG.
That doesn’t mean that Game of Thrones is bad though, but poor decision making does seem to crop up over and over in what could have been a truly excellent and memorable RPG. For someone who is not already a fan of Game of Thrones, this is a mediocre introduction to the lands of Westeros, but fans of the series will find the story to be an enticing jem painted with old graphics and annoying combat gameplay.
Game of Thrones starts off well, as soon as the title theme music from the HBO series starts playing, adding a nice little touch of immersion for those familiar, and the opening cinematic voiced by Conleth Hil, who plays Varys in the TV series and lends his voice to the game, goes a long way to making players feel like they are in fact in the proper setting.
Unfortunately, this immersion is quickly broken as the camera pans up from a map to Castle Black, an iconic location, but poorly textured in what is not the best showing for a game using Unreal Engine 3. The graphics look and feel like something that would have, and perhaps was meant to have been, released a few years ago. The scene following where we first meet the character Mors tracking down a deserter from the Night’s Watch was a good bit of story introduction, but I found it hard to get past how ugly and blocky Mors’ dog was.
The level design team should be commended, though, for their efforts. While the areas are small and not always how we might have imagined them from the TV series, they are well laid out and detailed with plenty of room for exploration, but not enough clutter to get lost in. I found the branches hanging over the snowy paths and roads near the wall to be a very nice touch.
Characters, however, are a different matter. While the voice actors from the series playing their characters did a fine job, such as Jeor Mormont and Varys the Spider, others were quite dissapointing. I couldn’t tell if Queen Cersei had a different actor than the one on TV, or if she was just drunk, but it didn’t sound right at all. Qhorin Halfhand, the Night’s Watch’s best ranger, was also reduced to a vanilla hooded NPC rather then using his voice from the series.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all visually was the indecisiveness. Iconic characters were matched to the series for the most part with great detail, while other NPCs such as the goldcloaks of the City Watch looked nothing like their TV counterparts. I couldn’t have faulted Cyanide for taking the game in their own artistic interpretation from the books and ignoring the TV series, but doing 50/50 just clashes horribly and ends up being confusing.
The story is really the game’s one redeeming quality, and for an RPG, that’s good to have if nothing else. While I went in thinking Mors and Alester were going to be pretty minor characters, with no real bearing on the greater story. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the two were blended in to the pre-series story in a way that felt meaningful.
Game of Thrones is one of the few games where your social choices have a real impact on the game, beyond just a few paragon/renegade interrupts and a different colored ending like Mass Effect 3. Your choices will have a real and immediate impact on how the story plays out, and the story draws you in enough that I found myself willing to play the game over again to try out different choices, easily turning the twenty or so hours I spent playing the game into thirty or more.
If replaying isn’t a good enough compliment for the game then I would have to say it also has what might be considered the least annoying escort mission I’ve ever seen. While I don’t want to spoil anything, because it is a good story, I will say that when you’re escorting a girl, she follows you, hides during combat, and does not disappear or die after an arbitrary time limit. It was just one of those quests that made me smile and thank my character’s seven gods.
Speaking of quests though, the game does have some very interesting side quests. The arena under Kings Landing was probably my favorite. While much smaller in terms of size and scope than the arena in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion it did have an interesting feature with a corrupt maester that allowed me to bet for or against myself, and as long as the crowd was on my side, they’d let me live, thus allowing me to build the odds then take a dive, and bring in tons of coin.
Others weren’t so fantastic though, and often this is where the game’s rough edges were found. In one I was sent to talk to a possible recruit for the Night’s Watch down in a brothel, but when the girl took me to the room he was in, the door didn’t open. No matter how many times I reloaded a save or left the area the result was the same, making the side quest impossible to complete and preventing me from getting an achievement. While the main quest was well polished, the side quests often had small issues.
Finally on to combat, which has to be one of the game’s weakest areas, and that is unfortunate. Cyanide had a good idea with the real time combat that can be slowed down at any time giving you time to make decisions on abilities. While the system is complex as hell, the game does make a valiant effort to indoctrinate players to it, introducing the system bit by bit over time. Unfortunately it just ends up boiling down to tank and spank.
While the system rewards players for switching weapons to counter armor types, and gives a truely dizzying array of powers to kill enemies with, the low amount of ability power my characters had meant that I spent much of my time trading basic blows and using my saved up energy to interrupt enemies’ power attacks. This was also essential because the AI controlling your allies never uses any abilities, meaning I had to constantly micromanage each of the heroes in my group.
I do have to compliment the combat system for being largely skill based, though this may just be because character creation and leveling is so bare bones. For each character you can pick a class based on their background; one of three variations. For instance, with Mors I got to choose between heavy armor, sword and shield tank, a knight with claymore meant for DPS, or a lightly armored berserker with two small weapons. The rest is just stat allocation, except for a mildly interesting character traits section which allows players to pick a few weak perks and flaws.
The most innovative part of the game could have been Mors’ skin changer ability, allowing you to scout ahead and find secrets while playing as his dog, unfortunately the execution just wasn’t there. The quicktime event for the dog killing an enemy by going for the throat was buggy and unreliable, and the loot you could find was worth next to nothing in most cases. I ended up just playing as the poorly textured mutt whenever the story made me, and little else.
Ultimately I think Game of Thrones suffered from the same illness as Duke Nukem Forever, an overextended development time. In seven years there was more then enough time to do bug fixes It’s likely that the game just didn’t receive the attention it should have until they were trying to shove it out the door. By the time it did hit the market, the technology it used was old and left a poor first impression on contemporary players.
The core story of the game is rock solid, and if you’re willing to put in the time to get through the combat portions of the game and ignore a few bugs, then Game of Thrones is definitely worth picking up, especially for a fan of the series. I cried at the end because of the emotions that I had built up for Alester, his story and finale was gripping and memorable.
For someone who isn’t a fan of the Game of Thrones series though, this title isn’t likely to be nearly as immersive. If you’re not invested in the story the game is telling, then the bugs and low quality graphics make the game much less worthwhile. On its own, this game is sadly forgettable, another scar for Cyanide Studios like the RTS that came before it. I have to give them credit though, at least I never saw a Targeryn dragon flying backwards.