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Dark and full of terrors

Like all of the games Telltale makes, Game of Thrones Episode One: Iron From Ice is a game of choices. But those choices are never Right or Wrong. No, that would be too easy. You choose between respect or fear. Strength or smarts. Saving those who serve you or saving yourself. Each choice has consequences, both obvious and surprising. Your actions ripple outwards, altering the direction of the characters around you. One thing you can be sure of, this game taking place in the Westeros of HBO’s Game of Thrones (and George R.R Martin’s books, but it is directly set in the world of the show, as numerous actors reprise their roles here), is that your choices will cost you. As Cersei Lannister so elegantly once said “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die”.

That quote informs the direction Telltale have wisely taken with this foray into the Thrones universe, and it will keep repeating in your head as you play through the game, attempting to safely maneuver your characters through the devious plots and machinations of those in power. The first episode revolves around three characters of the Forrester family, Ethan Forrester, Mira Forrester, and Gared Tuttle. The episode opens with Gared, a squire to the lord of the Forrester house, as he attends the infamous Red Wedding (it’s worth noting that if you aren’t up to date with the GOT show, or haven’t read up to the end of the third book, then you won’t understand a lot of what is happening here. There isn’t any catch up or primer, you are simply dropped mid point into the story and expected to know what is going on). Things soon turn for the worse and this section functions largely as a quick time event action sequence. It is exciting stuff but nowhere near as tense as the verbal sparring that occurs in the later scenes. Once this is over… TITLE SEQUENCE, dah, dah, dah-dah-dah dah, dah-dah-dahhhh… ahem.

The rest of the episode is light on action and heavy on set up. As a first episode much of it is spent arranging the pieces that will pay off down the line, which in lesser hands could be a little dull or frustrating, but Telltale handle this with aplomb. We cut back and forth, mainly between Ironrath where Ethan is struggling with his new found lordly duties, and Kings Landing where Mira is attempting to juggle her responsibilities to her family in the north and her loyalty to Margaery Tyrell. Both have difficult decisions to make throughout the game, and both have fantastic interactions with existing characters which prove to be the best, and most unbelievably tense, moments of the game. Mira’s comes when meeting the Queen Regent, Cersei Lannister, and has to prove to her that she is loyal to the King and not the traitorous Starks, whom her family long served as banner men. Ethan’s comes when meeting the scenery chewing, skin flailingly insane Ramsey Snow. Both of these scenes had me sat on the edge of my seat holding my breath. The reason Telltale games are so dramatic and engaging comes down to the fact your choices last. They impact everything going forward, or at least successfully create the impression they do. And in every scene I felt like I was. Fucking. It. Up.

Big time.

I quickly came to like these characters, and so I would take time on every choice, weighing up the outcomes and possibilities, and then once I was satisfied I was making the right choice, or at least the choice I was most happy with, I went with it. Only to watch as a something I didn’t foresee smash my plans to pieces. I knew Mira had to appease Cersei so I told her what she wanted to hear, only for her to be clearly aware of what I was doing and distrustful because of it. Every character has an agenda, and most of them are smarter than you. As much as I was playing the game, it often felt as though it was I getting played, “when you play the game of thrones…”

Weight is something very few video games bring to their storytelling. In most cases (not all, but most) they are built around gameplay mechanics and set pieces and the characters and story are merely dressing. Telltale takes the opposite approach. By removing much of the control from the player we feel that much more responsible for the choices we do have the power to make. I finished the game hours ago and I’m still thinking about things I could’ve done, or what would have happened if I’d done this instead… It’s powerful stuff.

If I had any niggles with the game, they are far from damning. As I said previously, the pacing is a little off, with one or two scenes going in circles or treading water, but that is mostly down to the fact it’s a first episode and it will only pick up steam as it goes on. The other thing that I wasn’t entirely sold on was the visual style. Telltale’s character models are similar to their other games, being cartoonish but emotive, but here look a tiny bit more realistic. This is probably down to the fact they had to capture the look of the actors from the show. And it looks great. Every face is wonderfully expressive. Cersei looks spot on, down to her permanently arched eyebrow. But the backgrounds are rendered as if they were an oil painting. When those backgrounds are way off exteriors they can look beautiful, but when they are up close interiors, such as some of the scenes in Kings Landing, they look odd and distract slightly from the experience.

But overall this is a great first episode that introduces some interesting characters and plots into an already established world without missing a beat. Telltale and Game of Thrones are a perfect fit, and manage to wring out as much drama and unease as an episode of the show. Plus, there’s no awkward sexposition scenes.

Sing with me now, DAH, DAH, DAH-DAH-DAHHH DAH, DAH, DAH, DAH

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