Review: Game of Thrones
I, like a fair few others who are reading this, have not seen the popular HBO series Game of Thrones shown on TV, nor have I read the original books that the show and game is based on, written admirably by George R. R. Martin. With this in mind, I was looking forward to learning a little about the world it is set in and the main characters that are involved. If you’re in this self-same situation and are considering buying the game to give yourself a flavour of the TV series and books, here’s why, perhaps, you shouldn’t.
Being a fan of the fantasy genre and an even bigger big fan of action RPGs I was looking forward to playing this. Having played some brilliant games in the past, such as Baldur’s Gate, I had such high hopes that this might do the TV series proud. The sense of disappointment the game has left me in is, well, worthy of a sword to the gut. It seems a shame that in this imaginary world of immense battles and endless possibility, Cyanide have taken these possibilities, including my hopes for a decent RPG and wrapped them up in the Game of Thrones hype and hidden what is a mediocre game under the glitter of the popular books and series.
Why? It all seems to start so well, the opening menu is simple and you get the usual audio, controller, difficulty and visual settings to change and everything seems innocent enough. That is until you start the game. It all kicks off with a cut-scene, a deserter from the Night’s Watch is being tracked and at first it isn’t clear who you are going to be – the tracker or tracked. A short-ish dialogue later and you find out you will start as Mors Westford, a veteran of the Night’s Watch, charged with capturing a deserter, a friend, and taking him back for punishment. In the next chapter of the game you are Alester Sarwyck, the son of a Lord & priest of R’hllor, who walked out on his family 15 years before. They swap in alternate chapters, which adds a nice dimension to the game but fractures the gameplay initially.
It needs to be said right from the start, the language used is adult, and most of the time it feels like it’s been scripted in just for shock value. The cut-scenes are many and lengthy and although you do get to interact with them, you don’t get the feeling that you are getting involved in the game before you are let loose on the World.
It takes 15 minutes until the character is yours to control with the cut-scenes, character set-up and more dialogue and when you are given control, it’s not clear what your next move should be. The Heads-Up Display has a small ‘radar’ device in the top right corner which shows doorways and the positions of people to interact with, yet it somehow fails to give any waypoints to aim for. I spent the following 6 minutes looking for the correct gateway to meet up with a team of recruits to track another veteran accused of desertion.
In between this you are introduced to the combat mechanism by way of a small test of arms of the squad of raw new recruits to the Night’s Watch you find yourself in command of. The combat really lets the game down. I’m used to the type of combat Champions of Norrath and Baldur’s Gate could offer. Game of Throne’s developers appear to have over-complicated the controls. Maybe this was in an attempt to give the game a unique selling point. Maybe it just isn’t explained in detail, maybe its impatience, as by the time you get to a combat section you’ve had a gut-full of cut-scene and want to get stuck in. In the end, it cripples the playability. The combat uses the bumper buttons to turn on ‘Active Pause’ where you can then select a series of actions. These were chosen during character setup and can stun, defend and attack your opponent. You only have a certain amount of energy and three queued slots to perform these, however, and filling the slots up is an easy task, as is running out of energy. You can refill the energy bar by tapping X but quite how this magically restores your energy isn’t really explained. Neither is the purpose, during character set-up, of the need to find a balance between good and bad character traits, it simply seems to have been added in for the sake of being added in as it makes little or no difference to the combat at all.
Graphically, the game is left wanting. Face rendering in the cut-scenes is adequate at best, reminding me of the level that was being developed several years ago on the PS2. The hands on the male characters, for example, are vastly out of proportion and Mors’ ever-present dog, Hound, seems to have been modelled from clay. The animation of the cut-scenes is jerky, especially if the subtitles are turned on. Every subtitle change instigates a jerky movement of the character in focus. This becomes frustrating very quickly. The combat animation and in-game movement is the only saving grace, with the fight scenes themselves being fairly smooth, but this is ruined by having to utilise the ‘Active Pause’ to select your next move. This gives the game as a whole a thoroughly disjointed feel to it. You never get the sense that you’re getting into it before something takes you away from the action, be it cut-scene, annoying in-game help or the battle pauses. Interaction with the scenery is minimal, at one point, playing as Alester, I opened a door to have the character pass through it as it opened. It’s the simple things, like having the door open inwards, which could improve the look and feel instantly.
The ambient music is non-intrusive and flows with the game, although the voice-acting and regional UK accents are nothing short of embarrassing. The spoken dialogue sounds like it was read from a hastily compiled script and edited together in a hurry, which is disappointing given that two of the cast of the TV series reprise their roles and although the twin storylines are engaging, it simply doesn’t encourage the feeling of being immersed in the tale. The storylines themselves are solid, set alongside the first book on a very loose scale, spattered with casual mentions of the book’s main characters, who then play incidental parts in the quests laid out for you. The dual mission scenario works well, to a point, with Mors’ quests being mainly focusing on combat and brute strength, and Alester’s being more focused on diplomacy and political maneuvering.
Overall, Cyanide, best known for its sports management games, could have made this into an epic RPG, along the same lines as Baldur’s Gate and PS2’s Champions of Norrath. Epic in the fact that the storyline is good, but it gets sucker-punched and at roughly 20 hours it’s not overly long, but I would be surprised if anyone stuck with it long enough past the comical dialogue and poor graphics to finish it. If there was a highlight, I’d consider it to be the fact that you can play as Mors’ dog, in ‘Skin changer’ mode, which is unlocked as you progress through Mors’ quests. If I could, I would have played as Hound constantly, as this is first-person perspective and saves you the agony of the animation. That and you get to rip people’s throats out. £30-£40 for this feature alone? Just wouldn’t be worth it in my book.
Review: Game of Thrones Results
What we liked:
The storyline is well constructed and engaging
You get to play as Mor's dog, Hound
Dual character plots give a good variety
What we disliked:
Graphics and animation are shabby
The voice-overs and regional dialects are cringe-worthy
The combat gameplay is over-complicated and disjointed