Join Tom Mc Shea as he delves into the George R. R. Martin inspired world, Game of Thrones.
The appeal of a novel is readily apparent. Fascinating characters and intricate plots suck you into elaborate worlds, and you furiously flip pages to find out what happens next. But video games are more complex than that. Stories are just one aspect of the total package, and the balance of the various elements determines how effective the adventure is at getting you invested. In Game of Thrones, the story deftly carries the mantle of the book (or the show, for that matter) it’s based on, and the addition of moral choices gives impressive flexibility in how events play out. However, the other aspects struggle to keep up their end of the bargain. Confined exploration and entertaining bouts of shallow combat are adequate enough, but are hardly a draw on their own. Thankfully, Game of Thrones pushes its story to the forefront, creating a flawed though memorable addition to the Song of Ice and Fire universe.
Game of Thrones doesn’t retell the story of the novel. Rather, the game’s story travels a parallel path to the cataclysmic events that rocked a kingdom. You view Westeros through the eyes of two separate characters created just for this adventure, Alester Sarwyck and Mors Westford. Alester returns to his home of Riverspring after spending the last 15 years in self-imposed exile. Merely walking through the gate should, by rights, make him the ruler given that his lord father recently passed, but his conniving bastard brother, Valaar, stands between him and his rightful seat of power. Internal conflicts flare up in Alester as he tries to wrestle power away from Valaar without succumbing to the dirty influences whispering in his ears.
Way up in the north, Mors calls the Wall home and the Night’s Watch his family. Trapped in his own exile after he disobeyed orders during the war that placed Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne, Mors mercilessly slays wildlings and deserters to stay true to the sacred oath he swore. When a letter arrives from the Hand of the King commanding him to protect a mysterious woman, he travels to southern lands to keep her safe.
Both Mors and Alester are strong figures that have a clear idea of the difference between right and wrong. Alester puts his family and townsfolk above all else. He would rather be humiliated at the feet of Queen Cersei than suffer the wrath of her displeasure. The greater good is a burning flame in the back of his mind, always reminding him that things are better for everyone if he doesn’t let his pride get in the way. Mors couldn’t be more different. He acts with his rigid view of morality in mind at all times. To kneel at the feet of evil is to align yourself with wickedness, so he takes the punishment for his choices without wavering in the slightest.
Dialogue choices determine how others react to your characters. If you approach a prostitute in Mole’s Town with insults on your lips and violence in your heart, she may run away instead of offering you the valuable information you require. But if you appear to be a pushover, a clever villager might talk himself out of punishment for a murder he committed. There’s no morality judge to keep you in line. You respond in conversations with whatever you most want to say and bear the consequences of your actions. Regardless of what card you play, the world changes slightly as you get deeper into the story. Alliances are frequently forged and destroyed, so choose carefully. There are five different endings based on what you do in the last chapter, but the bigger changes occur throughout the adventure as characters are either present or absent based on how you treated them earlier.
For the most part, Game of Thrones stays true to the world George R. R. Martin created. A web of intrigue stretches from the crown in the Red Keep all the way north to the Wall. Black Brothers fight wildlings, Gold Cloaks keep peace based on the Lannisters’ whims, and everyone mutters quietly of the Others who reside where snow flourishes. Occasional missteps feel out of place for those intimately familiar with the source material, but aren’t egregious enough to take you out of the experience. For instance, as in most role-playing games, you have a healthy assortment of armor to clothe your characters in. However, draping a Lannister cloak over Alester’s shoulders is just strange, and there’s no reason Strong Belwas’ gauntlets should be in a Westeros dungeon. Plus, why are street vendors selling wild fire? But such discrepancies are nitpicky considering how true to the books most of this game is.
The only time the story stumbles is in the dialogue. Certain characters are dangerously close to being gruff caricatures rather than fully realized people, existing only as easy straw men to tear down. And though the main cast is well acted, supporting characters are woefully inconsistent. Thankfully, the dialogue is good most of the time. And the villains are just as fleshed out as the heroes. Valaar is particularly well crafted. A bastard who was spat on for most of his life, Valaar has a thirst for power that’s so overwhelming that he performs any act, no matter how insidious, to curry favor with the queen. Violence bubbles under the surface of every conversation with him, making you yearn for the moment when you can thrust your sword through his throat.