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Game Of Thrones Review
- Categorized in: Reviews
The Game of Thrones franchise has proven to be one of the most enduring and absorbing fantasy franchises in recent years. The novels have been keeping many a fantasy fanatic, myself included, wholly entertained thanks to George R.R Martin’s excellent storytelling skills and overall disregard for his character’s lives and wellbeing. These novels have formed a great springboard for the HBO series of the same name, which is now in its second season and showing no signs of slowing down. So what is it, then, that prevents Game of Thrones from translating properly into the medium of video games? Last year Cyanide Studios put out A Game of Thrones: Genesis, a weak and forgettable RTS set within Martin’s universe. Now Cyanide has returned to take a second swing at the property with Game of Thrones for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC. Although the story was supposedly created with heavy input from Martin himself, this Game remains one that you should avoid.
Game of Thrones is an almost shockingly dull role-playing game in the style of Dragon Age before it. Like in Bioware’s epic fantasy, you will control a party of several characters as they engage in pseudo-real-time tactical combat and work their way through the lengthy story. When I say “pseudo-real-time,” I simply mean that, like in Bioware’s recent games, you can pause the action at any time in order to give your team orders. While paused, you can also switch between characters in order to get a new perspective on the battle. It’s not a bad approach to tactical combat; it certainly worked well enough in the Dragon’s Age games. The thing is that the combat is just so boring in Game of Thrones. It isn’t often that you’ll actually need to pause the action to give specific orders. Most of the time, especially during the first half of the game, you can simply mash the attack button and let the battle sort itself out.
Even when you do need to think more about the individual encounters, the combat itself lacks punch. Many of the animations feel a little sluggish, and the finishing moves, supposedly gruesome and violent executions, come across as toothless thanks to a lack of detail in the animations. A number of design issues also hold back the combat. The biggest problem was in the way that the archers functioned. Instead of sticking to the back of the group and firing off arrows from a distance, archers will run in close with the rest of your soldiers and fire their projectiles from a mere few feet away from the target. It’s completely absurd to see one of your archers take aim directly at an opponent’s head from less than two feet away, only to somehow whiff the shot and end up blasting the enemy in the kneecap. Allied pathfinding can also get muddled during combat when lots of enemies are involved.
In the spirit of continuing to pluck the lowest-hanging apples from Bioware’s tree, a conversation wheel will allow you to respond to NPCs in numerous ways at key points in the conversation. Although the concept remains sound, the choices or lack thereof that result from the conversations typically are not. It can often feel as if your dialogue choices have little to no impact on the events that occur throughout the story. Further dampening the fun is the length of the conversations, as many of them drag on for entirely too long. The dialogue has your typical Game of Thrones grit to it, but that only helps so much.
The story is actually one of the game’s strongest points, though, and once events finally get moving you will likely want to see how things turn out for the game’s dual protagonists. The stars of the show are Mors, a skinchanger on the Night’s Watch, and Alester, a red priest who makes a rough homecoming after a 15-year exile. The two disparate stories intersect at various points, but only very lightly so. Events will only come to a significant head towards the end of the game, and this long-fought merging marks one of the game’s highest points.
As the game’s stars are already predefined, you won’t be able to do a whole lot in the way of character customization. Each character’s appearance and overall combat style are already set. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense for a red priest to run headlong into battle like some sort of berserker. With that in mind, each character will have three different classes to choose from, but each will be united by overarching themes and playstyles. Mors is the more physical of the two characters, and as such he can wield various combinations of swords and shields. Alester, on the other hand, is a more crafty ranged character. His classes focus more on magic and finesse than on brute force.
Perhaps recognizing the lack of customization options, Cyanide has included a few different ways to make your character your own. The most significant of these comes in the form of Strengths and Weaknesses. During character customization at the beginning of the game, you can choose any number of Strengths for your character. One might make you more resistant to poison, while another might give you more stamina to use in battle. Each Strength will have a rating of one through three, with three being the most helpful. You will then have to balance each of your strengths with equally powerful Weaknesses. Some particularly memorable Weaknesses include one that will make your character drop one out of every few potions as he is trying to drink it, and one that makes your character more nervous, and thus weaker, when facing off against larger pools of foes.
There are certainly some interesting systems at work behind Game of Thrones. The Strengths and Weaknesses system is an aspect of character creation that I wish more role-playing games would include, and the disturbing story has the potential to hook fans of dark fantasy. That said, the gameplay is largely toothless and sterile, conversations can go on for far too long, the story’s beats feel largely out of your control despite the presence of numerous conversation options, and the options for the physical customization of your character are lacking, to say the least. Sadly, the only way to win this Game of Thrones is not to play.