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Information, misinformation, strength, gold, power, lineage, loyalty, subterfuge, diplomacy, betrayal, death – these are the mechanisms in the machine that construct the game of power. If you win the game, then you can sit on the Iron Throne. Often the forces at the heart of the game for power effect many, some don’t know they’re playing and some are willing participants, but everyone is a gear in The Game of Thrones machine whether they know it or not. If you ever wanted to be an interactive part within the fight for power to sit on the Iron Throne, then Cyanide Studio’s Game of Thrones may very well be the best example yet.
The RPG is an expansion to the George R.R. Martin Game of Thrones universe and picks-up prior to where the first book and television series begin. The narrative offers two completely new characters within the Game of Thrones mythology and the story was crafted especially for the game. You’ll be learning new insights about Robert Baratheon’s first Hand of the King, before Eddward Stark, and the story covers much on the Tygarieans, a Brotherhood, and the Lannisters. There is also an extensive library of lore for those who wish to fan the flames of knowledge on everything Westeros. But obviously, the focus is on the two new characters.
The tale jumps back and forth between two different protagonists that come from separate walks of life. One such protagonist is Mors of the Night’s Watch – a brotherhood of exiles who vanguard a gigantic frozen barricade to keep the terrors that are north of their wall from venturing into the south. Once you “take the black” the men of the Night’s Watch are forbidden from owning lands, having children, or retaining connections to their family and past life – the brotherhood is their family and life from then on. Their altruistic way of life gives to the idea that friendship and comradery are amongst their most precious possessions.
The relationship between the men in the Night’s Watch puts perspective on the magnitude of Mors’ occupation, besides being one of their most seasoned rangers he is also their best bounty hunter. Death is the only way to leave the Night’s Watch and when a brother of the black deserts the wall; Mors is sent to retrieve them. Hunting a friend is a distasteful deed, but Mors has a strong inclination to honor and when he has to be, he is just as cold and ruthless as the lands he protects.
Mors is simply a well-written bad ass, he has been tempered in the chilled forges of the frozen aloof northern tundra of Westeros and he is as cold, keen, and deadly as the weapons he wields. Mors is death manifest, as his tale progresses he begins to blur the line between what is life and what is death.
The other protagonist is Alester, a Red Priest. Red Priest don’t worship the seven Gods that the main populous of Westeros do, they worship R’hollor the Red God of Flame. Alester returns home to an impoverished city after a fifteen-year absence to attend his father’s wake. Unlike the men of the Night’s Watch, you will soon discover that Alester’s father was a Lord and Alester has inherited many responsibilities, along with the castle, lands, and headaches that go with them.
Alester is the counterbalance to Mor’s cold exterior. Alester burns with great conviction and puts his family above all else. Mors and Alester each give an alternate perspective into the moral dilemmas of the world, political standings, level of wealth, and they each offer origin stories with strong beginnings that develop into even grander destinies as the game goes on.
The antagonists who oppose them are written just as well. Valarr’s grandiose persona of self-importance complements his arrogant and pompous nature. His pursuit of stature and power are only exacerbated by a complete disregard for value of life or those that he sees are beneath him. He is truly a villain, a believable one at that, and you can’t help but love to hate him.
The story’s multi-leveled characters, great use of foreshadowing future events, growing narrative, and the mistrust developed through much of the dialogue places you at the heart of Game of Thrones. The characters will compel you – it’s hard to resist the urge to slide a sword into Valarr’s gut or to not respect Queen Cersei’s silver tongue and her masterful maneuvering through the game of power. These characters will bring out the worst in Mors and Alester and conflicting desires will often challenge your resolve. The tensile strength of your character’s moral fiber will be tested from start to finish.
But there is no morality meter. Instead, you must simply make decisions based on your moral inclinations or what you believe is best for those who are important to you, regardless of your ethical proclivities. The conversation and choice system simply feels authentic and the choices you make genuinely affect the game in major ways throughout its entirety. For example, a man you saved from execution in the first chapter may offer aid at the end of the game or you might lose a fantastic family shield because you fed some beggars and were then forced to sell the shield to restock your preserves. Cause and effect, give and take – these aftereffects are always present with your choices.
Although the consequences of your choices can be felt and the tale is compelling, the gameplay is impart a victim of the storytelling style – jumping back and forth between Alester and Mors makes for a gameplay experience that stagnates the pacing. As soon as gameplay allows one character to reach a new level in rank, his section of the story might end. The ending of a chapter will then lead you to resuming the role of the other character who is a lower level once again and you’re forced to do the exact same character progression over again. Despite the riveting story that propels you, the game is unable to shake the feeling that you’re continually taking two steps forward and then taking a step backward.
The pacing can also make the combat feel repetitive and limited in the beginning chapters of the game as well. Because of the way your characters tandem through the story, you’re stuck using the same few skills for a while and you’re character progression is very slow at the start. But the character progression picks-up steam later in the game and the pseudo turn-based is quite enjoyable.
Combat consists of controlling either one or two characters at any given time. Issuing orders and attacks is simple and keeps tensions high. Combat is kept moving because when the interface is opened to use skills, the game does not pause time, it simply slows-down to a crawl. When a battle begins you must be quick on your feet, taking notice of what armor enemies are wearing and what weapons they’re wielding. This is because certain weapon types do extra damage to different armor types. For instance, perforating weapons, like daggers or spears, are more effective when striking chainmail, or slashing weapons, like swords and axes, do more damage against leather-armored foes. The weapon-damage amplifications apply to you as well when enemies strike your characters. So, it’s a good idea to kill the enemies that have weapons that can hurt you more and to also strike-down the foes that you can do increased damage to due to their armor type.
In combat you will also need to utilize various different effects to stun, knock-down, hemorrhage, or even set your foes ablaze. These effects in combination with other skills can amplify damage or induce various other harmful effects on your enemies. The combination of skills and working together with your other teammate can make for a satisfying and tactical experience. If you don’t time stuns correctly to interupt enemy attacks or prioritize your foes, you can die fairly easily. The combat scenarios are entertaining and make for some interesting strategy and cerebral gameplay, but once you acquire powerful gear and the talent tree skills to match, you become too strong. You’re easily able to keep foes locked in a loop of stuns or fighting amongst themselves with confusion tactics. This can make the combat become predictable because the battle situations and variety in foes never really throw anything new at you throughout the entire game. It becomes too simple to find your rhythm and your go-to skills to finish most late-game battles with ease. Intellegent use of skills and party tactics ensure that combat is never bad, but it’s repetitive and unchanging nature never really let the combat shine either.
At times fighting can look good with sweep takedowns, brilliant flashes of light and stylish finishers, but there is plenty of general laziness in the visuals. Instead of having an animation of your character opening a door you might simply click on the door and it will pass right through your character, amongst many other glitches and oddities. Also downplaying the visuals is the absence of strong highlights or deep shadows, which make environments, and the characters that inhabit them, look muted, monotoned, and muddy. The environments are very much like the combat – not bad, but not that good either.
The environments will take you to a handful of different locations that are located across Westeros – the land of the Seven Kingdoms – where The Game of Thrones takes place. With only a handful of locations you’re frequenting the same landmarks over and over again, repeatedly revisiting the same locations leaves much to be desired. The minimal locations and fast-travel system make the locations feel condensed and don’t give to the idea of a sprawling nation.
If you’ve got an itch that only George R.R. Martin’s universe can scratch and you enjoy decent turn-based combat, then The Game of Thrones should not be ignored. The tale of Alester and Mors is fantastic, multifaceted, and enthralling, it’s what pushes you onward to see the game from start to finish. The ending and the way the story develops, I can truly say, is one of the most unique and satisfying experiences I’ve ever had with a gaming narrative. Make no mistake, the narrative takes the wheel here, combat and technical polish is definitely in the backseat. If you’re looking for a game that plays more like an interactive novel and you can’t get enough of the Game of Thrones universe, then you shouldn’t overlook this good role-playing game with an excellent addition to the Game of Thrones mythos.