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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Telltale Games' Game of Thrones E1: Iron From Ice.

My deepest apologies for how late this is, guys. I had computer problems, and getting them repaired took three and a half hours. It was an experience.

If you've not read my Tales of the Borderlands review yet, you may want to. It'll put a few things in this review in a slightly different light. 

Telltale Games' Game of Thrones
Episode 1: Iron From Ice.

Aw, yeah, I've been waiting for this for months, you guys. Finally, a game that combines two of my favourite things - series by Telltale Games and Game of Thrones. I've been a fan of the books for a few years, a fan of the TV series for longer, and when I heard about this video game (as opposed to the terrible, terrible RPG), I was excited.

I was, apparently, wrong to be excited. That is unfortunate.

Iron From Ice is set at the Red Wedding and its immediate aftermath. At the wedding itself, the squire of Northern noble Lord Forrester, Gared, escapes the bloody nuptuals and returns home to Ironwood, only to find the Forresters' rivals have killed his family. Meanwhile, Lord Forrester's heir, Ethan, assumes his father's position after the death of his father and brother. In King's Landing, the eldest daughter of House Forrester, Mira, appeals to her mistress Margaery Tyrell to help her family, and comes under suspicion from Cersei.

(Telltale are, as you might note, doing the whole multiple viewpoints thing.)

I'll be honest, as much as I was looking forward to this, it wasn't a very good first episode. Not by a long shot.

Let's start with the graphics, as they are what will no doubt leap out at a player first. They look cheap. That's the only way I can describe them. In a time when small indie games companies can produce graphical masterworks like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, large indie games company Telltale Games has produced something that looks like it came from the year 2005. Characters are plasticky looking, their features oddly distorted, and they only look worse in motion. The Red Wedding section of the game had several sword fights in which swords, held tremulously between open hands like somebody had attached them to their owners' palms with sellotape, were vanishing in mid-air and then reappearing, clanging against each other despite being two feet apart.

Auton Margaery Tyrell.

No part of the game more aptly demonstrated the graphical failure than the episode's attempt to reproduce the opening credits from the television show. It is truly a sight to see. Look it up on Youtube.

But hey, graphics is fairly far down my list of concerns as a gamer. Story and gameplay are much more important, so how were those?

The gameplay was - fine, but only fine. Coming right after Tales From The Borderlands, which innovated while still staying true to what made people love Telltale Games' stuff, Iron From Ice doesn't innovate at all. In fact, I think the gameplay is actually less varied than The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. You talk. Sometimes you walk around. There are a couple of quicktime events.

But surely, story will make up for all of this? The graphics might be poor, sure, but the gameplay is okay, and a strong story can save a game all on its own. Well, here's the thing: This story will be totally incomprehensible for you if you haven't watched Game of Thrones or read A Song of Ice and Fire. You will understand literally none of what is going on. It will be approximately two minutes before you are completely bewildered. This is not a failure on your part: As a games company, Telltale Games should be creating games that are accessible to people who aren't fans of the source material. They have not done this.

Who's this guy? We hope you watched GoT, because this game will
literally just throw out a name and explain nothing.

I absolutely have to bring that up as a major problem, since only last week I was effusively praising Telltale Games for how accessible their games were.

If you do know the source material, then you will understand the story, and you will be irritated. The original characters are shoehorned into the narrative with the subtlety of the Industrial Revolution. Mira especially, as she is in King's Landing, and a friend of Margaery, and thus completely undermines Sansa's 'I'm totally alone storyline.' Did Margaery never think to mention to Sansa how she had a Northern woman - from a close ally of the Starks, no less - in her service? Mira literally meets Tyrion in the story, why does Tyrion not arrange for her to meet Sansa? 

More glaring a shoehorn than Mira, though, is the reason why the Forresters are so important: Their control over forests of possibly-magical wood that is as hard as metal. One would think that such a thing would have come up in the books or television show. Apparently not.

Does that child have a pompadour.

Here is my earnest suggestion for anyone trying to write a side-story into the story of Game of Thrones: Make your principle characters unimportant. If they're in King's Landing, make them merchants, or spys, or assassins - people who might interact with the main characters of the source material, but who aren't important figures. If they're in the North, make them a noble house, but not a noble house that has some kind of massively important and possibly magical resource only they can have. Give them mines. Give them forests of regular wood. Give them horse ranches. If they're beyond the Wall, make them members of a Wildling village.

I will be playing the second episode, and I'm interested to see what happens. But god, am I disappointed, guys. I really am.

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