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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Telltale Games' Game of Thrones E5: A Nest of Vipers.

Telltale Games' Game of Thrones
Episode 5: 
A Nest of Vipers

We are very nearly at the end of what I still hold to be the least of Telltale Games' episodic offerings, having reached the fifth episode of six. While the series has, so far, been a valiant effort that did manage to win me over somewhat with its later offerings, it'll still always be remembered, for me, as 'the Telltale Games' series that came out more regularly but wasn't as good as Tales From The Borderlands'. I mean, seriously, we can at least say that for it - that it came out on a nice every-two-months schedule rather than having staggering delays.

In this episode, Rodrik is visited by Ramsay Snow with intent to teach him the consequences of disobedience - a lesson that could have dire effects on Rodrik's alliance with the Glenmores. Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Mira falls even further out of Margaery's good graces, and is approached by Cersei with an offer that she literally can't refuse. Beyond the Wall, Gared attempts to convince Cotter and his sister to accompany him to the North Grove. In Essos, Asher, left at a loss after Daenerys' reneges on their deal and running out of time, attempts to recruit a gang of pit fighters to his cause.

Let's start by talking about the big thing: After years of making games where your choices are functionally meaningless, this episode offers you a choice that would seem, on the surface, to drastically affect how the final episode will play out - or, at least, how one viewpoint in it will. At the end of the game, you're faced with the option of sacrificing either Rodrik or Asher, with the remaining one escaping the battle they're caught in. That's huge: The game goes out of its way to highlight that one or the other of them being the lord of House Forrester would have massive knock-on effects for their war effort against the Whitehill's, so it's difficult to see how this decision wouldn't massively change the plot of the final episode.

Also, how does Asher get from Meereen to the North so quickly?

If Telltale Games follows through on that, and has this be a truly meaningful choice, then this game will rise a lot in my estimations - there is, after all, a reason these games work more on the illusion of choice than on actual cost, after all, and those reasons are 'time' and 'cost'. Programming, animating, and voicing multiple branches of a storyline is a time-sink, and that becomes even more true when every branch has its own branches. This is, both in terms of the finished product and in terms of the work that must necessarily go into doing it properly, very interesting.

Which is good, because apart from that, this is an aggressively mediocre episode.

You could pretty much cut out Mira and Gared's parts altogether and not notice - they barely show up, having maybe ten minutes of screen time each, and they don't do anything when they do. Gared's sections have a few quicktime events (woo), while Mira's has her chatting with Cersei and Tyrion (with conversations that can really only go one way, meaning that you, the player, may as well not even be there). 

In terms of which is worse, it's definitely Gared's storyline taking the Tin Cup for Lack of Effort this time, because at least Mira's storyline has Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey putting on some absolutely sterling performances. Gared's storyline doesn't even have that - all conversation is with unenthusiastically acted, boring characters who I have no reason to care about, and that's only in the few short minutes where you're not just pressing whatever keys the game tells you to press.

Mira's storyline, meanwhile - which gives us the most hilarious walking animations in all of video games, as Cersei hobbles down corridors on tiptoes with her back hunched - does not even try to pretend that you're actually an active participant in either of the conversations in it. Attempt to mislead Cersei or Tyrion and they'll just roll their eyes and obstinately act like you didn't; attempt to argue with them and they'll just roll their eyes and obstinately act like you didn't; be completely silent and they'll just keep talking. There is a script, and if you deviate from it, the game will pretend that you didn't. So Mira's storyline takes the Bronze Cup, saved only by Gared's being worse.

Sad imp.

Asher easily takes the Silver Cup, with a storyline which is pretty much fine, but not especially striking. Things happen, there's movement on the plot, and apart from that it's very workmanlike. You get some conversation, you get some quicktime events, it's all very much what you would expect. You could probably slot it into any of the other episodes, or any other Telltale game, and it wouldn't stand out too much.

Which leaves Rodrik with the gold, and I say that very reluctantly. It's true that his storyline has most of the major plot beats: We get to see Ramsay, and we find out who the traitor is - and it's pretty unsatisfying when we do. Maybe it was that they'd never really played up the traitor plotline, and it would actually have been pretty easy to just forget that there even was a traitor plotline. Maybe it was that who the traitor is seems to be decided based on your choices throughout the game, and the game makes this painfully obvious by having characters hedge around ever mentioning him by name, and that just saps all the fun out of it. Maybe it's that, regardless of who it turns out to be, it's always the most obvious choice possible, making it less a twist and more a confirmation of what every player suspected. 

That is a painting that you've stuck a boat model in front of.

Whatever it is, finding out the traitor's identity is just boring, and the confrontation scene lacks any sense of dramatic weight.

To be honest, this episode is one of the weaker of the series, being beaten out for the weakest only by episode one, which was a travesty and a sham and just generally awful. Here's hoping that Telltale Games ups their proverbial game for the final episode.

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