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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Telltale Games' Game of Thrones E2: The Lost Lords.

Telltale Games' Game of Thrones
Episode 2: The Lost Lords.

It's been a while since the last episode came out (well, almost exactly two months) so allow me to refresh your memory of what I thought of the first one.

Long story short, I wasn't gigantically impressed. The graphics were monstrously poor, and not for lack of money and effort thrown into them; the storyline awkwardly wedged into the TV series' story and utterly incomprehensible if you aren't familiar with the source material (a particular bugbear of mine, since barely a few days earlier I had been praising Telltale for how easy to understand their stories were); and if I'm disclosing everything here, I wasn't gigantically keen on any of the characters.

In this episode, we get introduced to two new viewpoint characters to replace the one abruptly stabbed in the neck at the end of the last episode. The first is Asher Forrester, the exiled Forrester son, now a sellsword in Yunkai, who in the aftermath of Daenerys' conquest of the city is catching slavers for their bounties, only to find himself and his partner caught up in the Forresters' troubles as his uncle comes to him, hoping to acquire a sellsword army. The second is Rodrik Forrester, presumed dead at the Red Wedding: Alive but scarred and crippled, he returns to Ironrath and takes up his position as lord - much to the vexation of the Forresters' enemies - and attempts to secure a marriage. 

Meanwhile, Mira Forrester's position at King's Landing grows ever more tenuous, as her relationship with Margaery Tyrell grows more strained, and her alliance with Tyrion Lannister puts her in danger. Gared Tuttle, meanwhile, arrives at the Wall intending to become a ranger and find the North Grove, only to find himself clashing with abrasive Night's Watch trainer Frostfingers and a violent bully amongst the new recruits.

Oh, and Ned Stark's bastard gets his obligatory cameo.

I did, by and large, enjoy this episode more than the first. The graphics are still distractingly bad, especially when it comes to recreating characters from the television series, but that's something I can cope with. 

The story, however, takes a sharp turn for the better. I feel that while the last episode might as well be written in code for people who aren't familiar with canon, this second episode is, bafflingly, a lot more accessible. Maybe that's because instead of relying quite so much on plot developments from the series, this episode builds on plot developments from the previous episode instead. Maybe it's because there's a smaller concentration of canon characters sticking their oar (four in the previous episode - three of which were focused entirely in Mira's story and all of which had major roles - compared to three in this one - two in Mira's story, and only one with a major role). Maybe it's some combination of the two.

I like our viewpoint characters in this episode a lot more too. Mira and Gared are given a lot more agency, with Mira taking up a role as her family's business representative to the crown and Gared getting sucked in to the brutal dynamics of the Watch. Asher and Rodrik are a lot of fun, too, and have a lot of personality. The episode seems to focus mostly on Rodrik, which is just fine by me: His arc in this episode of trying to cement his position as lord during a tumultuous time provides a lot of opportunities to show off the varying aspects of his personality.

Here Asher is showing his 'sunset-lit drama queen' personality trait.

One thing that felt oddly lacking in this episode was meaningful choice, though. In Gared's storyline, most of what you're doing doesn't seem at all likely to affect future events, and the same is true of Asher's storyline, where you're pretty much just quicktime-eventing. Mira and Rodrik have the bulk of the choices - and in Mira's case, they mostly seem like ones that will come back to haunt her later - but they can't have more than two or three important ones each. For a nearly two hour episode, that doesn't feel like many, and for a series and company that markets itself on choice, that's not a great impression to come away with.

But maybe I'm just getting a bit cynical of Telltale's games. The constraints of the medium, after all, require a certain amount of railroading, and there is at least one instance in this episode where that becomes very obvious - if you had Mira reject Tyrion's offer of an alliance in the last episode, he'll come to her again in this one, and this time, the episode doesn't give you the option to refuse. 

You also don't get a 'don't meet up with the suspicious man who broke into
your room' option.

Still, I enjoyed this episode a lot more than I did the previous episode, and if the series continues to improve at this rate, then episode three - in which we'll be seeing the arrival of Gryff Whitehill at Ironrath, Gared taking his vows, a murder inquiry at King's Landing, and Asher encountering what seems to be a dragon.

So that should be interesting. Possibly terrible. We'll see, I suppose.

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