EDITOR'S NOTE - We'll be doing something a little different with episodic content of this sort from here on out. Rather than establishing individual scores for each subsequent episode, we'll be having a consistent reviewer play each episode and write a review sans numeric score. When the entire season has finished, we'll compile a synopsis of the season and establish an official score.GENERAL SPOILER WARNING - While this review is presented free of spoilers for the game experience, this game does take place near the end of season three of the HBO television series. Those who have not gotten that far should proceed at their own risk!"Well f*ck all that."
I'm not one to swear (much), but the ending of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series "Episode 1 - Iron from Ice" left me in a state that many fans of Game of Thrones experience all too often. Unlike many of Telltale's other experiences, their most-recent interactive story has me itching to replay my choices to see if the ending that I've experienced can be avoided or improved... but I'm not going to give in, and I hope I'm better for it.
Opening shortly after the developments of the infamous "Red Wedding", "Iron From Ice" initially places gamers in the shoes of Gared Tuttle, squire to the Lord of House Forrester. Those familiar with the hospitality of House Frey already know that the outcome of the night is less marital bliss and celebration and more... well... you know. Needless to say, the events that occur during the wedding feast set the action of the first episode in motion and House Forrester is changed forever.
As a fan of the series (fully caught up on the show and in between books one and two, if you're dying to know), I was immediately invested in the game's story. Telling a story that is ancillary to one of the most impactful and shocking events in the series is an instant way to draw in fans. On the other hand, players who are unfamiliar with Thrones lore are bound to be more than a little lost, especially when series favorites like Tyrion Lannister are playing with new characters and "colorful" characters like Ramsay Snow are doing... well... Ramsay Snow "things". This is not a game for those unfamiliar with the HBO show or books.
That being said, the fan service here is beyond compare. Coupled with a lovingly-recreated homage to the series' opening credits, the game kicks off in style, grabbing the attention of fans and never letting go. Like the source material, "Episode 1" bounces between three different protagonists (Gared Tuttle, and two Forrester children, Ethan and Mira, the latter of which being squired away at King's Landing as the handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell) and three different settings. While each protagonist is (ultimately) a cipher for the player's intentions, Telltale has done a fantastic job of allowing each character's scenario to breathe and come to life in the maelstrom of a nation at war.
As with all Telltale games, Game of Thrones isn't so much a "game" as it is a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story. They haven't reinvented the wheel in terms of gameplay and, in fact, after the game's introduction, action scenes are virtually non-existent. The majority of the gameplay is defined by walking around sets, looking at items, and talking to other characters. Making another quasi-welcome return is the conversation timer so, for most conversations, you'll only have a limited amount of time to make your character's conversation choice. As Telltale has done recently, the option to remain silent is present and relatively useful in certain conversations. With conversations being as deadly as weapons in Game of Thrones, the pressing of the right conversation button can be as satisfying as pulling off virtually any headshot.
Playing on the Xbox One, the art style doesn't aim for high realism, but does hit the mark on a cohesive style. Unfortunately, some of the television show's characters don't look quite right in their recreations. While stunning in real life, Lena Headey and Natalie Dormer might want to contact their agents about their digital likenesses here. Fortunately, all of the show's performers lend their voices to their characters and turn in fantastic performances.
Experienced Telltale fans and achievement hunters probably know exactly what to expect here; an easy completion. All of the achievements are automatically unlocked through natural progression, so players can sit back, "relax", and "enjoy" the story.
And what a story it is. While my ending left my jaw on the floor and a burning desire to "set things right", it held me captivated for just over two hours. There's nothing here to convince vociferous Telltale detractors from picking up the game, but this is by far one of their best and most ambitious stories to date. The source material is perfectly suited to Telltale's storytelling style and, rather than being a passive observer to George R.R. Martin's insatiable, sarcasm-worthy bloodlust, fans finally have a chance to have some effect on the story. In short, if you're a fan of Game of Thrones this is a story you should not miss and should not wait on.
The reviewer spent just over two (all-too-short) hours in Westeros, popping all of the achievements and scratching the itch for more Game of Thrones. The Xbox One copy of this game was provided courtesy of the developer for the purpose of this review.
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