"[I]t's difficult not to suggest Game of Thrones to fans of the series, considering the entertaining combat found beneath the unpolished exterior."
Do you meticulously know the family trees of House Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, and Lannister? If so, Cyanide Studio has crafted a game that you're likely to enjoy. If you find yourself without a depth of knowledge of George R. R. Martin's world, like myself, however, you'll find an unspectacular, but entertaining, RPG modeled after BioWare's titles. Unfortunately for both parties, Game of Thrones is an incredibly rough title – glitches abound, and while few of them are game-breaking, they're still considerably frustrating. Still, it's difficult not to suggest Game of Thrones to fans of the series, considering the entertaining combat found beneath the unpolished exterior.
The game's rough spots begin with its two main characters, Alester Sarwyck and Mors Westford. Mors is a member of the Night's Watch, defending the Seven Kingdoms from wildlings and anything else from the other side of The Wall. Alester, on the other hand, is a nobleman who fled after Robert's Rebellion fifteen years ago and is only now returning to his homeland as a priest of R'hllor. They both fight for their convictions – Mors for the honor of the Black and Alester for his homeland – but neither character is particularly memorable. Both of their quests are filled with spectacular and brutal individual moments, as would be expected from Game of Thrones, but the overarching story feels like generic fantasy filler. Up until the last few hours of the game, little is engaging, though the end does make up for quite a bit of drudging through filler. As well, it's nice to have main characters that aren't simply adolescent archetypes, and both these characters feel like they have weight behind their decisions.
The biggest issue comes from the dialogue – major characters feel too one-dimensional and many minor characters are simply throwaway. It's great that Cyanide was able to weave these brand new characters into the canon, but nothing they do feels like it has any effect on the overall world. Of course, it could have suffered from Lord of the Rings: The Third Age syndrome – a group of nobodies fighting the same battles as Frodo and party. Regardless, the world behind these characters is a strong one, and it's the only thing that stands out in an otherwise pedestrian narrative.
This might be passable if the game's aesthetics were able to take up the slack, but both the audio and visuals leave something to be desired. The art style fits quite well with the game's world – it's bleak, it's dark, and it's dirty. However, the visual issues come not from the art style, but the technical aspects. This game's graphics are as close to broken as they get. There are massive clipping issues – your dog's attacks go directly through opponents, cloaks don't work particularly well, and doors... Everything clips through doors. Characters, weapons, even health bars find themselves cut through by an open door. This wouldn't be an issue if not for every other environment being a doorway-filled corridor. It's frustrating to say the least, and it's exacerbated by a poor camera and a general lack of detail on character models.
Audio fares slightly better, as many of HBO's actors reprise their roles, but most characters from Martin's world simply appear as asides mentioned in passing or codex entries. New characters run the gamut from bad to decent, and one character sounds just like a jolly, modern day American, while the rest of the game is filled with British accents and gruff speech. It's odd to say the very least. The music is unmemorable, but it does the job that it's supposed to do.
So a game with an average story, decent audio, and broken graphics? What would bring someone to play a game like this? One thing that Cyanide did well was the game's combat. It's modeled very similarly to BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, as you can queue up to three commands for each character and they play out in a quasi-turn-based system. The further you progress, the more abilities Mors and Alester get, and many of them work synergistically. Depending on if you make other characters bleed, knock them down, or set them on fire, for example, certain abilities do additional damage.
As well, different weapon types do an additional 15% damage versus specific types of armor. As such, there's strategy to consider, especially when fighting groups of enemies, who almost always have mixed types of armor. Things are almost always engaging, though they can get difficult in specific circumstances. Luckily, those who don't want to feel the sting of defeat over and over during escort quests or tough battles can ratchet the difficulty down a bit. Each character's abilities are also unique to their specialization, selected at character creation and again at level seven. The system works well, with the exception of surplus skill points; I maxed out my preferred weapon and armor skills around level nine, long before the end of the game.
Quests and exploration are solid, and many sidequests provide worthwhile content. My favorite bit of the story came not from the main plot, but by being played for a fool by a whore and being sent on an appropriately foolish errand. Not all of the sidequests are so engaging – several of them are merely fetch quests – but it's positive that the game has the content there. Most areas are fairly small and straightforward, but segments with Alester are full of secrets found by tapping a button and looking for small flames. It keeps you occupied, and should you desire to explore every nook and cranny of Castle Black or King's Landing, there are plenty of doodads to find.
Despite entertaining combat and worthwhile customization, however, there are some issues with Game of Thrones' gameplay. Occasionally, you're forced into the body of Mors' dog, usually to do some reconnaissance. These segments are by far my least favorite part of the game, as they combine stealth and button mashing into one arduous whole. The hound sneaks around enemies to kill them, and while he attempts to rip their throat out, you must mash the A button over and over again. To say the least, it's frustrating, and there are more than a few of these segments. Luckily, issuing orders to the hound during regular combat is much like using any other ability – simply tap a shoulder button to bring up a radial menu. There are bugs beyond the graphical issues as well – at times I lost the ability to move in dog mode, the game forcing me back the route I came, and other times I entered deathblow sequences for the final enemy, only to have him kill me while I was literally in the process of destroying him. It's unfortunate, but not entirely fun-killing.
I would love to say that Game of Thrones is a great introduction to George R. R. Martin's world, but that simply isn't the truth. There are quite a few references to A Song of Ice and Fire and only those who are already fans of the series will get a significant amount of joy out of this title. Solid combat and interesting gameplay systems prevent it from being a licensed throwaway, but don't expect a gaming masterpiece if you're not already rooting for one of the lords of the Seven Kingdoms.