If there were any series perfect for the Telltale treatment, Game of Thrones would have to top the list (possibly behind that Very Hungry Caterpillar adaptation where you get to choose what he eats). The weighty decisions and shocking consequences are hallmarks of Telltale’s previous games, both of which are staples of George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed books. With the backing of HBO, Telltale are able to tie into the TV series, featuring familiar actors and locations as seen via members of House Forrester, a family on the sidelines of the series’ more pivotal events. Releasing near enough alongside Tales from the Borderlands, a series totally different in tone and setting, could it be argued that the Telltale formula is becoming too thinly-stretched?
First impressions are encouraging, although newcomers to the Game of Thrones world will be lost. If you haven’t caught up with the latest episode, look away – set amidst the chaos of the Red Wedding, this is no introduction. As loyal bannermen to the Starks, the bloodshed at The Twins throws allegiances into turmoil and, as three members of the Forrester clan, it will be up to you to deal with the fallout.
All the trappings of HBO’s adaptation are present and correct – even down to the now-iconic clockwork title sequence, adapted to show the locations in the game. Ramin Djawadi’s themes are used sparingly by composer Jared Emerson-Johnson, adding power and legitimacy when they do underscore a scene. The production design matches that established by the show, from the rustic pragmatism of the North to the red-brick towers of King’s Landing. It’s a wonder that Digital Fix reviewer Steve McCullough doesn’t wander past in the background (given he’s an extra on the show) but then again, we haven’t visited the Wall yet, so there’s still a chance.
A handful of main characters from the TV series do feature, although they can seem as though they’ve been shoehorned in to pique the curiosity of the casual viewer. Thankfully their performances are solid – Peter Dinklage proving that it was Destiny’s atrocious script that should likely get most of the blame – and their appearance stylised but recognisable. Standout of the episode proves to be Iwan Rheon as Ramsay Snow, as mad and erratic as usual. Only Natalie Dormer feels off, her distinctive features not quite translating to Telltale’s engine.
Draped in HBO finery, it’s hard not to compare this episode to the television show. Were it broadcast, how would it fare against the peaks and troughs of your average season? Iron From Ice is a mixed bag; a strong introduction tailing into some intriguing yet long-winded exposition and expected choices. If you’ve played any previous Telltale series, you’ve no doubt learned the ‘formula’. Sure enough, the means don’t tend to justify the end, with your decisions not holding quite as much weight as you’d like.
What decisions are there to choose are in line with the source material – meting out justice, choosing advisors and attempting to appease those in power. Manipulation – choosing the right dialogue to keep favour – feels like a twist on the formula but doesn’t quite work. Game of Thrones prides itself on the delicate balance of words that characters espouse in the name of self-preservation. There were a few instances where Telltale’s dialogue wheel didn’t have the depth to convey this intricacy; you long for the freedom to approach situations with more control than a few generalisations. The storyline runs a tad too close to that of House Stark, dealing as it does with House Forrester swearing fealty to the King after a shift in the balance of power.
Certain scenes also fall flat. Most of Mira Forrester’s storyline – a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing – seems marginal. The whole episode has the air of set-up, something to be expected given it’s the first of the series. Bar a shocking moment too good to spoil it’s a slightly overlong but promising start.
Comparison to the TV show also raises other questions while revealing problems. HBO’s adaptation is well-known for its gruesome violence – something present here, as well as in most other recent Telltale games – but also its sexual content, added both for titillation but also as part of the spiderweb of manipulation between characters. It’s early days yet but Iron From Ice barely features anything of the sort; a disparity with the TV show which feels missing from the game.
A larger issue is likely budgetary – Game of Thrones isn’t afraid to show the odd vista or two; impressive CGI creations that imbue the world with life. The game uses static establishing shots of each location, but aside from this the ‘sets’ feel contained. No more is this noticeable than in King’s Landing where much of the framing takes place on a balcony looking out over the city. When the capital of Westeros seems emptier than Ironrath, a newly introduced small settlement, it only serves to highlight what’s missing. Perhaps this is down to the weak strand of plot that plays out in this area, but when compared to such astounding source material there is that itch to see more of the world than a balcony and a bland horizon.
Both of these qualms reveal something positive, though; without coming so close to the look and feel of the show, these issues would be overlooked. Fans of the show would be remiss in ignoring this opportunity to explore more of the world. It’s also an excellent gateway to gaming for fans of the show who may not be accustomed to the feel of a controller. It’s hard to say where the series will go from here. The TV programme is well-known for it’s ninth episode bombshells – will the game follow in that tradition?. A strong ending proves enough of a lure for the next episode but without a defined release schedule this excitement could well taper off. The content may change but the Telltale formula stays the same and it is this that really proves the crux of the matter. If the story draws you in then the choose-your-own-adventure gameplay won’t matter but those tired of Telltale’s approach won’t find anything revolutionary.