The most popular fantasy TV show going gets the RPG treatment - but does it live up to the name or is it another disappointing licensed game?
You don't get much bigger, or better than Game of Thrones, easily one of the most talked about and watched shows on television and one of the most popular book franchises since Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Why the massive appeal? The fans I know cite the insanely detailed world, the wealth of complex characters, and the sheer unpredictability of it all. On those terms, and those terms alone, this Game of Throne RPG developed by Cyanide is a massive success. Unfortunately, on virtually every other front this video game adaptation of Game of Thrones is a frustrating wreck.
Song Of Fire and Ice and Darkness
The game takes place during the first book, A Song of Fire and Ice and follows two characters; Mors Westford of the Night's Watch and Alester Sarwyck, a priest of R'hllor. It's unclear from the beginning just how these two characters are linked, but as you progress and switch between playing as each you'll discover a vast backstory and an intertwined future that pays off in many ways, though almost always in depressing ways. Cyanide uses much of the literature at their disposal to paint some very convincing characters with deeply engrained flaws and history. Because you customize each character to your choosing they're easy to follow and be invested in, but I'm not sure you'll like either man by the end of the game.
I chose opposite paths for my character builds - Mors was a sword toting tank while Alester was a ranged tactician. There's a real strength in the opening as you choose your build, deciding on perks that must balance positive and negative traits. So you can pick to have a bonus in health recovery, but you may have to take a susceptibility in bleeding damage and poison to offset it. It's an intriguing system that makes the character creation more engrossing than most RPG's. You'll also have the usual skill trees to pick through, and build upon as you level up throughout the campaign.
But leveling is an oddity because you're never really sure how much XP you're getting from enemies, quests or encounters. I went an hour or two without any progression at all, and then during a single mission I leveled up three times simply from battling enemies. This makes you really choosy for the first part of the game, worried that these choices all matter, but by the end you'll have almost every skill tree fully completed. The result becomes less about the character you want to make and more about what skills let you destroy large groups of enemies the quickest.
Give Me A Second Here...
This is in large part because the combat isn't fulfilling. Mostly it's just stiff and laden with awkward animations that don't properly tell you if you're actually hitting a target, or why. The system itself is uncommon; you can pre-load up to three attacks, either regular or special skills. Skills require energy, which usually allows you to do two special attacks before your energy is wiped out, sometimes three depending on what you use. Healing potions and energy boosts also use up one of the three slots. Each time you attack the skill takes a set amount of time, usually only a couple seconds. As soon as it's complete you can add another. In theory it's actually pretty interesting. The bad news is that we've seen this done way better by other games.
The main problem is that each time you want to load a skill you press down on a trigger button and choose the skill with your analog stick, slowing the action down to a crawl. It's good only insofar as it lets you do what you need to do, but by the end of 15 hours you're going to bemoan every battle, of which there are many, because they simply take too long. There's just never a flow to the action, it's stop and go, stop and go. By the time you are leveled up each battle plays out the same. You target the low health enemies, which can be taken out with one or two hits, and then move on to the enemies that require more attention with your disrupt skills or area damage. It's a system that will have a few fans, but many detractors, specifically anyone that was looking for a heavy action slant to the game.
About That Darkness...
As dark as the story is in Game of Thrones most players will immediately be hit upside the head with just how dreary the overall look of the title is. Seeing the characters in all the different equipment you acquire throughout the game does have its appeal, but by and large this is an ugly game, with environments and animations that strike much closer to last generation titles than anything we've come to expect out of modern games. Mors' companion, Dog, look atrocious, almost as if the animal was intended to be a bad joke. It's actually mentioned how ugly the pup is, but I'm not sure the dialog was meant to be so pointedly literal. Coupled with audio that cuts in and out, music that seems to have been scored in chunks and simply thrown together, or the misguided voice acting that takes you out of many of the biggest scenes in the game, and you're left with an overall audio-visual dud.
Game of Thrones is a property ripe with content almost tailor made for video games, and buried under a mostly ugly mess you can see moments of potential. But for every idea that sounds good on paper there are a dozen more staggeringly poor design choices that halt whatever enthusiasm you can build for the game. And it's a shame, because as bleak as the story can be it's also genuinely surprising in ways that games usually never are. Though story matters, and I wish more games would strive for this level of narrative, it can't be a substitution for gameplay. Game of Thrones might appeal to the most die-hard of fans, but due to the constant problems that undercut every moment of potential - I can't recommend this game.
Final Score 45%
Too Bad -- We can no longer recommend this quality of game in its current state. Even its fans wouldn’t be able to. Whatever redeeming qualities it has are only ever brought up with “yeah, but at least It…”