Game of Thrones: Episode 1

"Regardless, Game of Thrones is still worth exploring..."

Game of Martin Kills Whoever He Wants Whenever He Wants, Episode 1 made its long-awaited appearance today, about halfway between seasons of the TV series, and who knows how long until the next book. Regardless, more of the world of magic, deceit, and Tyrion can hardly disappoint. Or can it? Grab a glass of your favorite definitely-not-poisoned wine and join me on the journey.

Game of Thrones, Episode 1 takes place near the end of Season 3 around a certain celebration. The plot centers around a Northern family, House Forrester, who's remained loyal to House Stark for generations. I can't say much more than that, for fear of spoilers, but rest assured that the series' famous sense of intrigue, mystery, and backstabbery line the experience. In this episode, players take the perspective of three different characters aligned with the family, so no worries about shifting one's motives and the complications that might bring. Regardless, changing perspectives between three characters certainly affects gameplay and how one might choose dialogue options. This style of storytelling is similar to the newly released Tales from the Borderlands, which we recently reviewed, and mirrors that of the show. While I can't say it hurts or enhances this two to two-and-a-half hour trek, the attempt at something novel and risky is noticed and appreciated.

The way one approaches the story is a stark difference from Tales from the Borderlands, The Walking Dead, and The Wolf Among Us. For the strategists out there, picking what one perceives to be what someone else wants to hear isn't always going to work — but it will sometimes. Remember, this is Westeros, land of trickery and surprises. Some characters test your mettle while others are just looking to take advantage of you. Unless they're not. Who even knows?

Although I've said this about Telltale's Walking Dead series, it is truer here: dialogue options matter. I can't say if they drastically change the plot, but given the kinds of decisions players have to make, I don't see how the future of Westeros won't be changed at least slightly by unintended consequences. That's part of why they matter so much, actually — results and intentions are not always aligned.

Which makes the control and gameplay annoying at times. Telltale couldn't do the simplest job: making sure players can select the proper choice without hindrance. For some reason, the box detection isn't intuitive, unlike previous titles. As a result, my characters were sometimes left silent during crucial dialogue options. Rather than reload my game and replay five to ten minutes of gameplay, I pushed on, hoping that my involuntary silence wouldn't affect gameplay too drastically. Having a dialogue timer has worked for Telltale in the past because this wasn't an issue.

In terms of presentation, Telltale takes a trip to the uncanny valley, another departure from their norm. That said, Telltale hasn't really tried to emulate real human faces in the past. At times, the people look astonishingly like the actors, but when characters speak, lips do not always line up with dialogue and facial expressions are odd — as if the whole face is not moving like it should while a person talks. But there's more. The environments blur together and don't respond well to the edges of the character models. For the most part, the textures are beautiful, but occasionally a woman's back looks pox-ish. As usual, the sounds and voice acting are superb. The absence of music is noted, but since the game revolves heavily around dialogue, that is hardly a criticism.

In some ways, Game of Thrones, Episode 1 is a bit of a surprise. Telltale has shown consistent improvement, but the team in charge of presentation should revisit how graphics are rendered, though this may be too late. Although the substance is pleasing and genuine Westeros fan service, adventure titles are all about immersion, and when windows become blurry blobs once a character walks by, that takes me out of the story, if only just a bit. Regardless, Game of Thrones is still worth exploring whether you've read the books, watched the show, or done neither. If you haven't done either, prepare for spoilers. Here's to six episodes of impending winter.

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