There’s a new fantastical phenomenon sweeping the world by storm, which you may have heard about. It tells the tale of a land known as Westeros, where political intrigue, conspiracy and turmoil have created unrest. As millions will answer, what has been described is Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Having been released almost two decades ago, the gigantic and masterful work of fiction has just recently been adapted for our home theatre systems, thanks to HBO. Since its debut, that gritty and incredibly adult small screen experience has become a household name, and the books it’s based on have become more sought after as a result.
Whenever a movie or television series becomes a phenomenon like Game of Thrones has, a licensed video game almost always follows. Although this trend has become a joke-based hot topic within the industry, due to the games’ predominantly short development times and general poor quality, there have been some licensed releases that ended up impressing those willing to give them a chance. Millions of video game loving fans of the aforementioned series were hoping for that to end up being the case with regards to Cyanide Studio‘s newly-released role-playing game that bears its name and fiction. After having spent quite a bit of time hacking away at the realm’s digitally created baddies, it’s nice to be able to report that the development studio did a pretty good job with its creative adaptation.
Though the game and television show share certain things, such as the titular throne’s design and certain likenesses, they do not tell the same story. Cyanide began its development process approximately seven years ago, and made sure to get permission from Mr. Martin before going ahead with anything. At that time, there wasn’t a Home Box Office epic to work with, meaning that the game is based on the book. At least, in some ways. This version of Game Of Thrones takes place during events showcased in the book, but it centres upon two new characters, one of which happens to be a man of the Night’s Watch. The other is a lord who has returned to his (newly-created) home town of Riverspring after a 15 year absence. Those two protagonists switch on a chapter-by-chapter basis, which is a design that us fans are very familiar with.
Over the course of what is a rather lengthy role-playing experience, fans are given the chance to interact with both new and familiar characters as they quest through both of its conflicted characters’ individual storylines. Things are not black and white, nor are they cut and dry, as choices that are made end up altering the experience. Both main and side quests present important moral decisions which must be made. The results of those dialogue-based decisions can end up changing the outcome of a riot, help players avoid unnecessary battles or greatly impact how the story plays out. That described design will be familiar to those who’ve spent hours upon hours with one of BioWare‘s games, and it happens to be a very good fit for Westeros’ role-playing debut. The chance to make an impact in the game’s world is one of its highlights, because its storytelling is of rather high quality. It also provides extra replay value, as some fans will want to return to the game, in order to find out what making different choices will result in.
It’s tough to thoroughly describe the interwoven storylines that this release presents without spoiling anything, so we’ll stick to the bare minimum here. What you need to know is that, with the help and blessing of George R. R. Martin, Cyanide created its own tale that is quite authentic. This Game of Thrones adaptation focuses on two men who are from different areas of the region, and happen to live quite different lives. Alester Sarwyck is a devotedly religious man who has decided to follow a new god of fire, which has given him the opportunity to use the element for combat, resurrection and healing spells. Conversely, Mors Westford is a well-known and distinguished warrior who ended up having to take the black of the Night’s Watch after making a tough decision. Due to plans set in motion by a well-known character with questionable morals, the two end up on a similar path as they battle demons related to personal and familial issues.
As is the case with its genre peers, combat plays a large role in Game of Thrones, much-like its dialogue-based storytelling. Instead of going with a real-time system, the development team decided to implement a turn-based mechanic. Its retro design relies upon an energy meter, which can be used to queue up certain offensive, defensive and immobilizing maneuvers. However, since a character’s energy is a finite resource, one must strategically pick from the available list of skills, as it takes time for the energy meter to fill up. Those skills happen to depend on the upgrades that are chosen during level-up opportunities, where each character has two different trees that must be managed. One relates to his basic combat skills, while the other manages his special skill (Alester’s fire essence and Mors’ ability to have his dog attack, knock down or steal shields from enemies). That same pet is available for user-controlled sniff searches during open world and dungeon exploration attempts, allowing secret scents to be found and unsuspecting enemies to be pounced on and killed. Alester is not left out, however, as he can summon a flame that burns hidden objects located nearby.
Two weapon sets can be selected, and switching between them can be completed with the click of a joystick button. However, only certain weaponry will work with characters’ skills, and that is dependent on their selected class type. For example, there’s the water dancer archetype, which fans of the series will be familiar with. If Alester is set-up as one of those dancing swordsmen, he can’t use his abilities with a shield equipped, or while using an incompatible weapon. It makes sense, but can become somewhat frustrating, considering how much emphasis is placed on using those ever-important skills. Switching is a necessary evil, though, because weaponry comes in three types: cutting, perforating or blunt. Each one works best against a different type of armor, with enemies’ protective layers being shown through a tiny icon. It’s a neat idea, but one that could’ve been implemented better. The icons are quite small, and strategically switching weapons during hectic combat scenes against groups of foes can be challenging, even though you can slow down time to pick abilities.
Where Game of Thrones excels is in its storytelling, which is the reason why Cyanide Studio felt that the book would be a perfect candidate for a video game conversion. However, its overall presentation doesn’t achieve the same heights. After being in the works for seven years, the final product looks rather old by today’s visual standards, lacking the pop and definition that we’re used to seeing. It’s overly dark at times, earth tones are over-used, dark areas look a bit muddy and it suffers from an abundance of bloom. That aged look is accentuated by bland menus and text that is tough to read in HD. Still, graphics aren’t the most important thing in gaming. Despite being dated, the utilized engine does its job, and offers occasional pops of colour, as well as authentic character and structure designs.
Upon inserting this title’s disc into their consoles, gamers will be treated to the easily-recognizable theme song from that show everyone is talking about. It sets the tone well, and also adds an air of familiarity to the project. That soon-to-be-iconic tune is flanked by some decent original music, solid combat sound effects, plus quite a bit of hit and miss voice acting. The characters who’ve migrated over from HBO‘s sets have thankfully received voice acting from their well-known stars. Those performances are the best of the bunch, which isn’t a surprise. That’s not to say that some of the other actors didn’t do a pretty good job; it’s just that quite a few of the game’s non-playable characters are portrayed through rather forgettable means.
Game of Thrones has a gigantic fan base, but it’s not the most accessible fantasy series of all-time. The books are gigantic, and their television adaptation is complex, involved and incredibly violent. This game follows that trend, but is much more of a niche experience than its peers due to the use of an RPG design that we don’t see much of these days. It’s a lot like a 1990s computer game, requiring lots of strategy in order to come out victorious in difficult combat scenarios. It’s because of that retro design and an occasionally high amount of challenge, which is caused by occasional uneven peaks, that casual gamers may become turned off by this title. However, those who don’t mind trying out something different, and enjoy methodical combat systems, will be the ones who should enjoy this game the most. Of course, the series’ fans will certainly appreciate the interesting new storyline that it presents, but they should identify whether they fall into one of those categories before making a full-priced purchase. That’s not to say bad things about the game, however, as it’s a pretty good and authentic licensed release.
This article is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.
Cyanide Studio has created an authentic and well-written Game of Thrones RPG, which fans will find interesting. However, its dated mechanics, high challenge level and uninspired visuals may turn some folks off.