Okay, I’ll admit it, I first loaded up Game of Thrones, a full-on Dragon Age-style RPG developed by Canadian/French developer Cyanide Entertainment, with some hesitancy. Like many Fantasy fans, I consider Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire to be a pre-eminent work of Fantasy and place it among my very favourite pieces of fiction, regardless of medium. Though there is recent precedent for the adaptation of the series into other formats (particularily HBO’s television series and the Graphic Novel, adapted in part my Daniel Abraham), videogames have always been a difficult transition due to the non-linear style of storytelling that they often employ. Added to this, developer Cyanide Studio doesn’t exactly have the strongest back library of games and their previous attempt at a Game of Thrones videogame, A Game of Thrones: Genesis was poorly received (so much so that the publisher of Game of Thrones, Atlus, very clearly points out in the press material that this game was developed by an entirely different team at Cyanide!)
So, then, I booted up my PS3, eager but also weary of what I’d find. First impression? A twenty-plus minute mandatory install to my PS3’s harddrive. No flavour text or history to read through, no stirring music or pretty screenshots. Just twenty-plus minutes of a bar slowly filling up.
The graphics are pretty dire. While the art direction is decent at times (if a little over-the-top for Martin’s generally reserved world), the first environment (Castle Black) is bland and lifeless, textures are poor, the characters animate awkwardly, and the faces are almost as bad as an Elder Scrolls game. Further, thought this might be a PS3 issue, which has always Framerate is junky and there’s a noticeable amount of tearing.
On first glance, battles seem fun, if janky and unpolished. You can queue up to three attacks at a time (depending on how much “energy” you have), or just auto-attack. So far, the battles have been simple and I’ve not needed to take over and control any of the other characters who fight in my party. I’ll comment more on battle once I’ve played a bit more, I expect.
The skill/character progression systems is deep and slightly overwhelming. I was asked to make a lot of decisions about my character before learning any of the systems or even starting the game. I felt like a fish out of water, even though I play a lot of RPGs. My favourite of the skill systems was the “perks” (or whatever they call them), which grant the player bonuses (5% increase in attack speed, 15% increase in potion effectiveness, etc…) but requires the player to balance those out with an equal amount of “disabilities” (poison effects last 3 seconds longer, 20% more damage from fire, etc…) You can choose to take a handful of these, balanced by negatives, take one or two, or take none. It adds some nice variety to building a character.
The constant name-dropping can feel overdone and reminds me that the game was written by fans.
The overall story, which is what most fans of the series probably care abour, is vaguely interesting, though unsettling for anyone who knows the story and the characters well. Fan service is in full effect, which can be amusing and it’s fun to find a sword that belonged to Brynden Rivers, or hear random brothers at The Wall talking about Benjen Stark, but at times the constant name-dropping can feel overdone and reminds me that the game was written by fans, regardless of Martin’s supposed involvement in okaying the story.
Robert Baratheon has a bastard child with the bastard child of Aerys Targaryen? Wait, what?
The first mission of the involves hunting down a long-standing member of the Night’s Watch for raping and murdering a young boy. Okay, fine. They’re trying to keep up with Martin and his often brutal world. The problem comes when Mors, the player’s character, gathers up several other brothers (at Mormont’s command), to hunt down the “bad guy,” anticipating that they might have to fight through some of the other member’s of the Night’s Watch to get to him. The idea that the Night’s Watch would fight each other in a pitched battle like this was so absurd, goes against everything that’s been established in Martin’s books, that it tore me right out of the story, reminding me that this all little more than fan-fic.
Even moreso, I don’t like the game writers add some fairly significant backstory to some of the characters. Most notably, Robert Baratheon appears to have a bastard child with the bastard child of Aerys Targaryen (yes, you read that right.) Now, it’s important to the plot, but you don’t think that a half-Targaryen, half-Baratheon bastard might not be significant to the events of the novels?
Similarily, the dialogue and writing just seems off. The characters seem gritty for the sake of being gritty. The men of the Night’s Watch are a hard bunch, but Martin provides them with tremendous depth to their characters, showing that even the hardest of Westeros’ men are real people. There’s none of the levity that Martin injects into these characters. Dialogue choices abound, but they don’t really seem to have an effect on how the plot plays out. Just whether you want to be a hardass, a badass, or a kiss ass.
Generally, the voice acting is poor. James Cosmo, who plays Jeor Mormont on the show, does a good job with what he’s given, but Conleth Hill, who plays Varys, phoned in his performance for the opening scene. The other random characters are no better than random characters in other videogames. I didn’t really expect any more, though.
I’ll continue to give it a shot, especially if it’s only 15-20 hours, as has been reported, but, so far, I wouldn’t really recommend dropping $60 on it, as much as I love Martin’s work and the HBO show.