I was sceptical when I heard that the first book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire was being adapted for television. I just couldn't see how his tome would be translated to the small screen, and yet, in spite of my reservations, HBO managed to deliver a marvellous and addictive TV series. It captured the gist of the first two books (over the last two seasons), without alienating too many of my fellow bookworms - granted, there'll always be grumbling from the peanut gallery.
However, ever since reading the first book, I always wondered how the series would fare as a role-playing game. I secretly wished that whoever was making it would take advantage of the novels' premise of dangerous political subterfuge, personal ambition, underhanded dealings and a healthy dollop of moral grey. After all, even the really despicable characters are motivated or guided by motives that are fairly reasonable. For instance, you may not like Cersei Lannister, but you can understand the lengths she goes to, to protect her children.
Given the success of the TV series, when I discovered that Cyanide Studio was at the helm of two "Game of Thrones" games, I was understandably excited. At the time, it seemed that whatever form the "Game of Thrones" took, it was bound to be a success. Sadly, the French developer stumbled with their first release; Game of Thrones: Genesis turned out to be an abysmal and deservedly maligned strategy game. It's a title that left many of us (contemplating) storming the Bastille. However, the second title caught my eye. It was going to be a role-playing game. I immediately had visions of Dragon Age: Origins, but set within the Seven Kingdoms. I was literally on cloud nine (while my computer background showed off my allegiance to House Lannister).
Fast forward a few months, and the reality leaves much to be desired. Cyanide's role-player is not a pretty game. The characters and their animations are hideous. The textures are ugly and blocky. There is rampant clipping, and the lighting effects are dire. It's actually astonishing that the game was built on Unreal Engine 3. If you're not aware, this is the same engine that was used for Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and the Gears of War trilogy. It's hard not to be disappointed. Worst of all, every once in a while, the game shows a glimmer of hope. You'll find Scottish actor, James Cosmo's face digitally transposed onto the neck of Jeor Mormont, the Lord Commander of the Night Watch. Occasionally, you'll even find a set of armour or a sword, that takes your breath away, but just as you're about to appreciate it, in pops a series of muddy textures (to ruin it) or polygons from 1992.
Where the game shows promise is with the two playable characters of Alester Sarwyck and Mors Westford. The two men are virtually polar opposites in mannerism and creed. Mors has spent the last 15 years as a loyal member of the black-cloaked Night Watch (in the cold northern wastelands), whereas Alester forsook his noble birthright to become a Red Priest of R'hllor. He is forced to return to Westeros when his father is killed and House Westford's future hangs in the balance. Their stories are told almost reminiscently of how the chapter structure works for the books. Each chapter tells a portion of their individual stories, but eventually the two seemingly separate paths head towards an explosive meeting. As expected, there are plenty of twists and turns, that makes this particular story feel like a genuine part of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” franchise.
The game's combat system is interesting. It's a combat system that shows immense promise, however, it becomes increasingly laborious as you face larger groups of enemies. Battles are round-based, with multiple actions or commands assigned to a character (and your allies). Actions and commands can be selected and queued from a radial menu. Once the menu is selected, time is slowed down, which means you can swap between allied characters. Even so, the system breaks down when you face a large group of enemies. There is a slight (but noticeable) delay in cancelling actions or when changing targets. When you're playing as an archer, it's also nearly impossible to move out of range from your attackers. The only course of action is to repeatedly stun-lock enemies (with stunning attacks), running away, healing and repeating the former. It's just such a pity that what should have been an interesting system (that delivers old-school and strategic battles) descends into a frustrating and clumsy mess.
While the Game of Thrones struggles to impress, it does feature a handful of brilliant design ideas. During character development, you're asked to select positive and negative attributes to ensure balance. Positive traits may award extra skill points at level, or even a damage boost against bleeding targets, whereas negative effects may include a fear of blood, blood lust, susceptibility to poison or even terrible leadership qualities. What is impressive is that when you choose positive traits, a score is displayed and to ensure balance you need to choose a number of ranked negative traits to balance out the positives. It's an interesting addition to character crafting. In addition, Mors and Alester have very different skill sets. As a Red Priest and a follower of R'hllor, Alester is given a separate tab on his radial menu for fire-based attacks, whereas Mors can assign commands to his dog. These special skills also extend to additional gameplay options, with Alester being able to find secret passages through the power of the red god, and Mors, who is also a "skinchanger", having the ability to take control of his trusty and mangy mutt. As his dog, Mors can follow scent trails, find additional loot and even participate in stealth attacks on unsuspecting enemies.
It's actually amazing that all it takes to appreciate the handful of exceptional voice actors (like Nolan North, Jennifer Haile, David Hayter, James Taylor etc. ), is to find a game that has a voice cast that leaves you cringing. I actually couldn't believe how awful the voice acting was in the Game of Thrones video game. The game is littered with lazy and uninspired voice acting. It's the kind where you can literally picture the actor reading from a script. The pauses are unnatural, and even how the lines are delivered will leave you scratching your ears till they bleed. And it's not like the dialogue is badly written either. While the main actors do a fairly decent job (even though Mors growls through his lines, as if he's a medieval Batman), it's the supporting characters that delivers some of the most shocking performances I've heard in a long time. On the plus side, it does take terrible voice acting to remind you that voice acting is a skill, and one that requires dedication and talent. But for a game like Game of Thrones, it's also a sad reminder that good voice acting can make and break a title.
I used to think that a good story can save even the most atrocious of games, or at least be enough to carry a title beyond mediocrity. It's one of those sugary sweet “glass is half-full” notions, with the idea being that even though the game itself may be a dud, at least you're left experiencing a decent or an entertaining story. Cyanide's latest dip into role-playing territory shatters my naivete with a conceptual broadsword (that left me cowering in the foetal position). Cyanide's Game of Throne is a lumbering beast of outdated polygons, dismal lighting effects, bad animation and ludicrously awful voice acting. It's a real shame though because while this title fails as a role-playing game, the tale of Mors and Alester fits perfectly in the mould of George R.R. Martin's Westeros. However, even for its story, it's difficult to recommend Game of Thrones to either series fans or role-playing veterans. At the end of the day, it's a terrible waste of subject matter and two brilliantly conceived characters.
- An excellent story that compliments the books
- Interesting characters
- Decent length (20 – 30 hours)
- Inconsistent and disappointing visuals
- Poor voice acting
- Sluggish controls
- Clunky combat