Backlog Beatdown: Game Of Thrones

Welcome back to Backlog Beatdown, where I attempt to kick water uphill by playing and reviewing games on my considerable Steam backlog. Today, we’re going to talk about Game Of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series. With a new season from both the television show and the game series lurking on the horizon, I thought it would be smart to put this game to bed once and for all. Of course, when you’re talking about George R. R. Martin’s famous brutality machine of a series, the bed you’re putting it in might contain someone you’re related to, so watch yourself.

And that aforementioned brutality machine, combined with Telltale’s storytelling style might be this game series’ biggest downfall. As a viewer of Game of Thrones, you are allowed to watch it from the outside looking in, and while the loss of a favorite character or a painful plot twist might anger or disappoint, it’s nothing compared to living within the world itself and witnessing those pointless atrocities firsthand. And then you realize that that world is being told through the eyes and minds of the creative staff at Telltale.

Telltale Games has experienced some flack in the past few years about just how honest they’re being when they tell you that your choices affect the outcome of the game. For many, what is otherwise an admirable and distinct storytelling system is marred by quicktime events and the overall sense that no matter what choices you make, you’ll always end up where the writers say. And as a lifelong fan of TellTale, I’ll admit that these are completely valid criticisms. However, I’ve never minded in the past because the writers at TellTale are just so good at their jobs: they’re stories worth telling, even if my input only has the most minor consequence to them. And ironically, it’s this very feeling that left me feeling completely hollow by the conclusion of Game Of Thrones. It’s almost as if they followed the formula of the HBO series and quintet of fantasy novels too well.

During the six episodes of Game Of Thrones: A TellTale Game Series, you’ll find yourself playing the role of several different members of the Forresters, a family loyal to the house of Stark. Being that this game takes place around the end of Season Three of the television series, this loyalty is costing them harassment from those around them, not the least of which comes from their ancient rivals: the family Whitehill. You must play each of your family members to their strengths, sometimes choosing the proper way to raise an army in the North, and sometimes navigating the intrigue of the South.

Of all of the scenes in Game of Thrones, those moments of diplomacy and information gathering were my favorite. As Mira Forrester, you find yourself scrambling to choose the right words and the right level of deference in the face of royalty and commoner alike. These are the kind of moments that TellTale was made for, and ultimately my greatest wish was that the more subtle choices I made had a greater impact, rather than the two or three huge moments that steered the narrative.

Another highlight here is the chance to meet several of the main characters of the television series of Game of Thrones. Cersei, Daenerys, and Tyrion are just a few of the folks you can expect to meet, and they’re all very well voiced by their original actors. It’s a shame that the graphical quality doesn’t quite meet the standards that they set. The TellTale engine could probably use a makeover anyway, but the heavy cell-shading and dark lining just didn’t quite do it for me when it came to this universe in particular.

In the end, it was the trademark bleakness of Game of Thrones that left me cold with this game. Not to suggest that everything should have been dancing dragons and weddings. Hell, we all know what sort of track record Game of Thrones has with weddings. And that’s also not to suggest that a player shouldn’t have to work to get a satisfying outcome. But when every decision is between a turd sandwich and urine lemonade, why am I even playing the game?

Telltale Games was true to the fantasy nihilism of Game of Thrones. Perhaps even too true. Because the trouble is, when that nihilism works against a game player, it tends to piss you off. Which is fine. No one ever said that every game should have a happy ending. But when you suspect that that ending has little to nothing to do with your input, you grow furious. Say what you want about the bleakness of Telltale’s attempts at The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us—at least those had resolutions. The second season of Telltale’s GoT series has been renewed, but I don’t see that as an excuse. I feel like the viewing public deserved more than this.

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