Game of Thrones (PC)
Coming just on the heels on the second season finale of the HBO TV series, and based on the very popular 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series by George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones is a new single player role-playing game served up by Cyanide studios.
With fans of the show now in a holding pattern until next year does this release give them something to fulfil their need to visit the lands of Westeros and immerse themselves in the rich and detailed world that George R.R. Martin has crafted? Today we find out.
For anyone who has read the books from the series, Game of Thrones being the title of the first one, or watched the excellent HBO show based on the books it will come as no surprise that the Game of Thrones game follows a similar narrative structure, with us bouncing between the two main protagonists in the game as we uncover more of their story.
The story begins just as the events of the first book begin, therefore meshing well with the first season of the TV show. John Arryn, has been found dead and we play two characters, Mors and Alester on their epic quests to uncover what really happened and to reclaim lost lands.
Mors is a crow, a sworn brother of the Nights Watch who is sent a personal note from John Arryn just before his death. Alester is a Red Priest of the R'hllor, on a personal quest for redemption. As we play through the game we switch from Mors to Alester chapter by chapter, just like the books.
Along the way we intersect with many of the well-known characters from the books, such as Jeor Mormont the High Commander of the Nights Watch or Verys the spy master and expert manipulator in Kings Landing. While we skirt with the main story as outlined in the first book and TV series we don't just replay those events, rather two new stories are told which complement the plot fans are already familiar with.
The storyline is one of the strongest aspects of the Game of Thrones, as one would expect when using such rich source material. Like the books however it does take a little time to get going and just when we were getting into one story we switch to the other. Fans of the books and TV show will enjoy this faithfulness to the original narrative however newcomers might find it a bit frustrating.
Game of Thrones tries to walk a different path when it comes to its combat system, not a hack and slash game and not quite simple turn based combat either. Game or Thrones uses a scheduling combat system where we can stack up our next three attacks and utilises a time lapse feature to give up more thinking time to deal with multiple attackers, set up special attacks and to control other non-player characters in our party.
It is this time lapse technique which is most important to master if we wish to succeed in the game. Often we are facing multiple attackers and if we have not learned how to best use this capability, where time slows down but does not entirely stop, then we will soon find ourselves cut to ribbons.
Although Game of Thrones doesn't offer any avatar customisation we do have the choice to pick one of three classes for Mors and Alester. These offer us a different style of gameplay for each of the characters. For Mors we can select a Magnar, Landed Knight or Hedge Knight. The Magnar is a one on one fighting specialist and utilizes a weapon in each had to take the fight to the enemy. The Landed Knight is a traditional defensive fighter using a sword and shield to absorb lots of damage. Finally, the Hedge Knight favours attacking groups of enemies, while wielding a massive two-handed weapon. Mors also has access to the Skinchanger talent which allows us to control his dog during a fight.
Alester can be a Water Dancer, Sellsword or Archer. The Water Dancer is a highly skilled swordsman, using his agility and dexterity to land massive damage after avoiding incoming attacks. The Sellsword is a master assassin, using poisons and preferring to take his enemies from behind. Then we have the Archer, a fighter who prefers using bows or crossbows and keeping his enemies at a distance. Being a Red Priest Alester also has access to the R'Hllor talent, giving him a number of fire based spells and attacks that he can use in a fight.
As our characters advance through the game they will gain experience and skill points that we can allocate to talents in our chosen class, making us a much more powerful fighter. We also find new equipment and weapons that we can use or sell for coin.
Political intrigue is an important part of the books and TV show, and so in the game our choices impact the outcome of certain events. During dialogue scenes we have different responses open to us, and the choices we make directly impact the outcome of the scene. For example if we choose to be merciful we may be seen as wise and just by some, and weak by others.
Graphics & Audio
The graphics in Game of Thrones are created using the Unreal Engine 3, which had been around for some time now. We found that the player models looked ok, with some nice detail in some of the equipment and weapons however the general environment looked flat and wasn't very interactive. The animation on the player models was average and during combat, although there were some nice effects, we didn't really feel involved or connected to our character through the on screen action.
Additionally we also noticed some glitches in the PC version we played, where we would be having a conversation with a character that would then walk off, only to reappear a second later. Also we seemed to float down stairs, which took us out of the game a little.
The audio used in Game of Thrones is a bit of a mixed bag. We loved the music, some of which was taken directly from the TV show of course and some of the voice acting was good, especially from the known actors from the series. However, some of the voice acting was just awful, especially on the bit part characters we came across.
The storyline is strong, and one of the best aspects of the game. However the combat system isn't intuitive and takes some getting used to. The time lapse technique is interesting, however it would have been better used a tad more sparingly as we found we had to use it almost constantly to keep our character alive.
The graphics and audio are a very mixed bag, some of it is good however a fair amount is only average at best. While we loved the music and some of the detail in the equipment, the character animation and most of the voice acting let the game down.
Ultimately we expect that Game of Thrones will appeal more to fans of the books and TV show than role playing gamers in general. While the game remains very faithful to the source material, which fans will love, its slow pace especially at the beginning may well prove to frustrating for other players.
So, a decent attempt to bring the world of Westeros to life and definitely one for fans to check out however some flaws in delivery take away from the final product.