Some complain that epic narratives like Game of Thrones suffer in the middle in order to set up the dramatic conclusion — this is the nature of storytelling. Telltale squints at those critics, sponges up a bit of tobaccy in its mouth, and spits. Episode 4 of this six-part series begins the second half of the journey, but as Telltale has demonstrated with its latest episode, the plot thickens into a satisfying stew of treachery, cooperation, and second-guessing allies.
Episode 4 doesn’t contain any stark revelations, forwarding the plot with modest reveals and interactions with potential allies and foes. Although this appears pretty ho-hum on its surface, every character evolves as they stride on toward their “truer” selves. I felt successful and tactful because the decisions I made — or didn’t make — had weight.
For instance, instead of training to be a ranger or merely sweet talking Margaery, I actively had to decide whether or not to protect an ally who explicitly told me not to. In this way, inaction appeared to be the best course of action, and even as tempting as clicking the big red circle Telltale had laid before me would have been, I had to think. Similarly, I felt the pinch deciding between my family or a loyal friend. These decisions didn’t feel like cheap tricks, either. Telltale genuinely approached me with a binary decision that manifested itself naturally. Never before in this series was I so pleased to be displeased.
In terms of gameplay, Telltale slyly approached me with those roaming parts that I frequently complain about in adventure titles. Although I experienced a few of these this episode, they felt so purposeful and naturally woven into the design that I didn’t even stop to think about them. Not until I began writing this review did I realize the episode contained quite a few of these, but that alone speaks of their quality.
As stated earlier, the decisions held weight, but weren’t the critical life-or-death sorts of dilemmas we’re used to seeing. In fact, some of the decisions were almost coin flips, as I was expected to predict an outcome. With so little knowledge, I went with my gut, thinking that the decision mattered — or did it? Telltale seemed to have too few important decisions for players to make in this episode, so they shoe-horned in these choices. Were they fun and did they provoke thought? Sure, but they didn’t hold gravity as previous decisions had, and seemed more like dartboard guesses.
Mechanically, Game of Thrones has made grand strides. I rarely felt as if the controls didn’t function properly, but I took issue with how Telltale presented some of the combat quick-time-events. Sometimes a giant, sweeping arrow would appear, queuing me to act. Other times a keyboard “A” or “W” would show up. Both the arrow and letters requested the same action, but because the signal was different, I faltered in my decision as I used my mouse and pressed on arrow keys. As a result, I performed sub-optimally and got a little annoyed. Regardless, the controls have shown vast improvement.
I’m still having trouble getting out of the uncanny valley and always wince a little when I see Margaery on screen or get a glimpse of Tyrion. In fact, even some newcomers freak me out a bit, but I can get past it with relative ease. The dragons look wonderful, though! In terms of audio, the voice actors do a wonderful job, and the light tunes slightly accentuate scenes. The focus, of course, is on the voice acting and expert delivery of lines.
Episode 4 manages to up the ante in modest ways, and continues to indicate that Telltale knows what they’re doing. Although their start with Game of Thrones was met with some stumbling, they’ve displayed vast improvement. This could, in part, be because Game of Thrones demands some setting up before completely shocking us, but then I reflect on the TV show and immediately disagree with that assumption. Rather than make excuses for Telltale, I look at Game of Thrones as it’s presented here, and what I see is my anticipation for Episode 5.