As the credits rolled, my face was still buried in my hands. No matter how many times I read GRR Martin’s stories or watch the HBO show based on them, “something” will always shock you. The first episode of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series ended just like many of the shows before it, only this time the weight of the last scene is only intensified thanks to your involvement. It’s twist has me pining for the next installment in the series.
Admittedly, this is the first Telltale game I’ve sat down to play. Not being a fan of zombies, I never really was into The Walking Dead, and while The Wolf Among Us is intriguing, it’s not enough to push it to the top of my shamefully large backlog of games. Being a fan of both the books and the HBO show, I was very eager to try out Game of Thrones.
It did not disappoint.
If you’ve never watched the HBO series or read any of the books be warned: this is not for you. Iron from Ice takes place near the end of season 3 of the show and fully expects that you’ve been caught up on your Game of Thrones happenings. As the opening scene began, I had a sneaky suspicion as to where I was, only to be later confirmed thanks to a wide shot of The Twins. As the shot widens, the Red Wedding appears at the bottom of the screen, which to a neutral onlooker might not make any sense (assuming you haven’t recounted that famous episode around the water cooler at work).
Telltale’s game has you take the role of House Forrester, and over the course of the episodic series you’ll see the game from five points of view. Within episode one I took the helm with Gared Tuttle, squire for Lord Forrester; Ethan Forrester, the Lord of Ironwrath while Lord Forrester is at war with Robb Stark; and Mira Forrester, handmaiden to Margery Tyrell and daughter of Lord Forrester. Seated in Ironrath in the north, the Forresters have always served as loyal Bannerman to the Starks, something that Queen Cersei is all too willing to point out. Their keep is coveted by the Whitehills thanks to the Forrester’s ability to cultivate Ironwood, a strong wood that is next to impossible to burn.
The locales within Westeros are presented in a beautiful painterly style that really lends itself well to the art direction of the HBO series. Each area, from the Red Keep in King’s Landing to the wooded, dark beauty of Ironrath itself is gorgeous to behold, and my PC (AMD FX-8300, HD 7950 and 16GB Ram) had no issues rendering. The keyboard controls are also great, using the standard WASD to move, while using the mouse to interact with objects. Q and E are used in quick-time events, but more often than not you’re simply interacting with dialogue.
Game of Thrones is likely the least action-heavy game I have ever played, yet few games have ever been able to completely encapsulate my attention as it did. All of the characters are well voiced, and the inclusion of the HBO actors reprising their roles within the game really adds to your immersion. Lena Heady and Peter Dinklage don’t skip a beat when Cersei and Tyrion banter back and forth in the Throne Room of the Red Keep. Iwan Rheon is every bit as derranged, yet hauntingly in control as Ramsay Bolton that I often forgot I was playing a game, while Natalie Dormer brought the elegance that allowed her to play both Ann Boleyn and Margery Tyrell with utter ease. And while others might discount the series for it’s overabundant, yet utter reliance on its dialogue, as someone who finds the political intrigue more interesting than most aspects of the series, I felt utterly enthralled by the game. In fact, the quality of Telltale’s writing might be one of the crowning achievements of episode one, and one can only hope that this is recapitulated in future episodes.
There are moments, however, where you need to be on your toes. Gared has the unique distinction of being the only person to wield a sword out of your playable characters, and it does help to break up the long spells of dialogue. His decisions, while they don’t seem to matter much as they happen, influence the decisions and choices presented to the other characters within the game. However, I felt I enjoyed Mira’s scenes the best, though it might be because, as I stated above, absolutely love the political webs spun at Maegor’s Holdfast. Every choice you make also has weight to it, especially as it influences how the other characters interact and think of you. Mira will likely be misconstrued as “dull,” especially since her scenes have really no action, yet I clung to each rebuttal made to the Lannisters while interacting with them. In fact, few scenes in all the games I’ve ever played made me feel the weight of each of my character’s footsteps as I did as I walked Mira through the throne room of the Seven Kingdoms.
However, it is the scenes with Ethan where the game it simply at its best. Having just replayed and reviewed the Android release of Stoic’s The Banner Saga, I didn’t think another game would be able to emulate the Viking saga’s ability to make you feel the weight of your actions. Game of Thrones surpasses this feeling as each decision feels not only more important than the last, but also has a heavy finality as I pronounced my Doom as Lord. It’s one thing to cry for judgement, another to mete it out. Do I kill this man, or let him live? Save this person, or abandon him to save others? Not so easy when you have to decide within the heat of the moment. More than once I felt my stomach churn in nervous anticipation of the outcome of my decision, and more than once did I feel as though I might’ve screwed everything up as a result.
Telltale weaved an amazing first tale that feels right at home within Westeros. Few games have made me care about the characters like Game of Thrones has done, and I can’t wait to get back into Episode One to see how House Forrester would fare had I made some other choices. Each time my index finger crashed against my left-mouse button, I felt a tinge of regret, wishing I had chosen another answer, or simply said nothing. As Cersei warned Ned Stark: “When you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die;” I couldn’t help that the same could be said of House Forrester against the Boltons and Whitehill. This small house is playing the Game of Thrones from every angle, and with the sudden twist at the end of Episode One, it has me hopeful that the Telltale series will continue to enthrall and surprise every step of the way.