Playing through Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is an extremely stressful experience. Every single time your playable characters appear to have the upper hand, the rug is pulled from underneath your feet and death, destruction and ruin will soon follow. The sheer number of awful, awful things that happen to each of the likeable protagonists is enough to make even the hardiest of gamers bawl into their handkerchiefs, and it made me uncontrollably angry at times.
And yet, I was even angrier at Telltale Games. After completing all six lengthy episodes, it became evident that they don’t give a damn about you, the player. Their story, while excellent, will still spiral toward its inevitable conclusion, leaving the hundreds of different dialogue options you’re given to choose between pretty meaningless — in reality, your only choice is to sit back, relax and watch hell be rained down upon your kingdom.
And when I say watch, I really, really mean it. Telltale Games pride themselves on creating episodic point-and-click adventure titles around various popular IP — you may have played their Back to the Future, Borderlands and Minecraft releases — and they’re all very much passive experiences, with only the occasional quick-time event and dialogue selection putting the “game” in “video-game.”
Luckily, watching is a joyous experience across the board. Telltale are known for imbuing their games with strong characters, intense emotion and a wonderful plot, and Game of Thrones is no different. Every single character is given their time to shine, and while the game jumps between various subplots and locations, it never feels lost.
And that’s quite impressive too, considering everything it had to fit in. Game of Thrones tells the story of the Forrester clan — Rodrik and Ethan at their home in Ironrath, Mira in King’s Landing, Asher in the city of Meereen and loyal squire Gared Tuttle, sentenced to a life at the Wall. Despite me never having seen an episode of the show — there’s just two of us left on planet Earth, I believe — I found most of this engrossing, particularly Ironrath. The Forresters’ extremely poignant, blood-drenched tale of revenge and hope frequently hit the sweet spot on my emotional spectrum.
It’s not all fun and games however, with certain story points failing to hit the correct notes.
Game of Thrones enthusiasts probably lapped up the endless politics in King’s Landing, for instance, but to me they felt like a chore to sit through. This also extends to recurring characters from the show — Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, to name a few — who felt shoehorned in purely to service the hardcore fans, when in reality, paying more attention to the game-exclusive characters would’ve given the story far more depth.
That’s not to say there isn’t any depth at all — at one point, I became so invested in a particular character’s storyline that I sent a number of angry texts to my partner, swearing vengeance on one of the game’s main villains. Indeed, you’ll grow incredibly attached to a number of different people and their plights, but don’t get too fond — in true Game of Thrones fashion, anyone could be next for the chop.
Unfortunately, in this regard, the game does not disappoint. The Forresters are slammed through the seven circles of hell, and just when it seems prudent to bring out the champagne, something will come along to upset the peace. Game of Thrones is known for its undying commitment to violent storytelling, but Telltales’ series is doused in so much sorrow that it appears the developer misjudged just how much influence the TV show should have on its tone. At times, it became downright exhausting to play through.
This would’ve been fine, had we been allowed to carve out even a tiny slice of victory for ourselves — not an unreasonable expectation, given that episode one opens with the quote “this game series adapts to the choices you make.” Sadly, it’s all false hope. The curse of the branching dialogue rears its head once again, with your choices having little to no effect on the ultimate outcome of the plot — or what you can do within it.
It’s incredibly frustrating to have three choices pop up on screen, none of which reflect where you think the character should go.
In the end, I stopped caring — I would frequently choose what I thought was the funniest (or crudest) comment, rather than considering a rational course of action. If there was a time I wanted to fight, yell, run or talk smack, but the game didn’t allow me those options, I was at its mercy. It left me feeling helpless.
In a similar vein, a tonne of technical errors does not help proceedings, leaving me to suffer every whim of Telltale Games’ notoriously glitchy engine. Noticeable frame rate drops, stuttering and texture pop-in almost ruined several key moments, much to my chagrin. I even noticed an amusing error whereby the game would display Xbox controller commands, and given that I played on PS4, this was very much a lazy oversight.
All this combined, it’s an experience of two halves. There’s so much stuff to praise — excellent vocal performances, strong multi-gender protagonists, a largely entertaining narrative — but there’s also much to discard. Poor technical performance, boring subplots, a sequel-bait ending and worst of all, the illusion of choice, all put a significant damper on an otherwise enjoyable package.
Midway through episode three, a question was posed of me. “I wonder if you’re ready to play this game?” asks Lord Morgryn, attempting to unnerve a stubborn Mira Forrester. This struck me as quite meta — it appeared as though Telltale was taunting me, questioning my ability to cope with the ramifications of my decisions.
And yet, I felt without guilt. Yes, you’re pushing the buttons, but somebody else is holding the strings — Telltale Games themselves. Much like the Forrester household, your destiny is out of your control — all you can do is have a tough time watching it unravel.
• Strong vocal performances
• Confident storytelling
• Technical glitches
• Victory is out of your hands
• Illusion of choice