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Game of Thrones: Episode 1 - Iron From Ice

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

"What a good fit." My exact thoughts upon hearing that Telltale Games was working on their own treatment of George R. R. Martinís A Song of Ice and Fire saga. French developer Cyanide Studio took a good crack at the series, bringing us an interesting real-time strategy game and a more straightforward role-playing game; while those efforts did a good job to expand and enrich the already well-established lore, the games werenít very much fun. So with a philosophy like "remove the gameplay altogether," Telltale is able to focus their attention on what it does best: storytelling. And for the most part, Game of Thrones: Episode 1 Ė Iron From Ice is a success.

I would have absolutely loved to see Telltale Games share their own vision of Westeros. But alas, this is a licensed product, and it is following the show rather than the book. The cel-shading of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is minimized in favor of something more realistic-looking. For a series as dark and grim as Game of Thrones, it works well enough. Also worthy of note is the gamified recreation of (and addition to) HBOís award-winning opening credits sequence. Each season involves new locations, and each location is represented on the three-dimensional map with a delightful Rube Goldberg-esque animation. And Ironrath is done justice in that regard.

Authentic. That's how Game of Thrones sounds. While Ramin Djawadi's iconic theme is kept intact for the opening credits sequence, composer Jared Emerson-Johnson does a fine job of filling the gaps. All the horror and raw emotion of the show is replicated quite well. The voicework is faultless. Telltale has secured a sizable amount of voice talent from the show's cast, and none of them phone their performances in. Lena Headey (Cersei), Natalie Dormer (Margaery), and Iwan Rheon (Ramsay) all bring their television performances to this game, and Peter Dinklage's reprisal of Tyrion does a good job in helping alleviate the pain from his awful performance in Destiny. But the original characters rightly take center stage, and the cast is invariably excellent. Sure, the smattering of varied English-ish accents don't do much to establish a sense of place, but when the voicework is this good, it's hard to care about that.


Gameplay:

Game of Thrones: Episode 1 Ė Iron From Ice begins outside The Twins, during the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey. House Forrester (sworn to House Glover, and by extension, House Stark) has been charged with leading the vanguard to Casterly Rock. The camp is alive with excitement and revelry. Things are looking especially promising to young Gared Tuttle, the squire to Lord Gregor Forrester; the patriarch of Ironrath wishes to promote him for his loyalty and join him on the front lines with his son Rodrik. Not five minutes later, the Red Wedding massacre begins and the Freys begin slaughtering nearly everyone in sight. Gared is given a cryptic message from Lord Forrester intended only for the castellan Duncan, and is forced to leave the carnage as the Freys put both Lord Gregor and Rodrik to the sword. And it only gets worse from there.

With Lord Gregor and Rodrik dead, and eldest son Asher exiled in Essos, third-born son Ethan is forced to take up the Forrester mantle. Much like Robb Stark, Ethan isnít much more than a boy. And you get a good sense of that in his first scene, hanging out in the Ironwoods with his sister Talia and younger brother Ryon. And this segues immediately into his trial by fire with lordship when Lord Whitehall himself comes in, all bluster and audacity, to callously demand "justice" for the individuals who put Garedís family to the sword and (in my case) met their bloody and well-deserved fate. Itís a great sequence that has me eager to try my hand in Westerosi politics, something I have become very attuned to over years of reading the books and watching the show. I chose to be genial at best, but for the most part indifferent and disdainful. It was satisfying watching the bastardís blood boil, but I knew there would be consequences; after all, Roose Bolton is the new Warden of the North, and his bastard Ramsay (by far the most savagely evil character in the entire series) would soon be paying Ironrath a visit...

The third character is Mina Forrester, handmaiden to Queen-to-be Margaery Tyrell. That means she's in the most dangerous place in Westeros: King's Landing. From the start, it's clear that she's in a bad spot. Not only is she miles from home, but she's essentially in the home of those who have recently destroyed her family and everything they stood for. This leads to a tense encounter with Queen Regent Cersei Lannister, in which her loyalty to the crown and her loyalty to Lady Margaery are tested. It's a well-written scene, but I don't think it works in the context of the series. While Cersei is certainly one of the most detestable characters in the series, her line of questioning is uncharacteristically unintelligent -- it would have been better served to have this come from King Joffrey himself. Of course, having read all the books, watched up to The Complete Fourth Season and knowing what is to come for House Lannister, this storyline has my interest piqued.


Difficulty:

The difficulty in playing Game of Thrones: Episode 1: Iron From Ice is in how easy it is to become attached to the characters introduced. If you follow the series, you know what an unforgiving world this is -- especially to the most noble and just individuals who inhabit it. And to be sure, this opening episode wastes no time in delivering a healthy amount of pain to the player. Your heart will hurt once the curtains drop and the credits roll. I guarantee it. And that's how it's supposed to be.

Additionally, Iron From Ice gives you a number of difficult decisions to make, none of which I will spoil. The best of these have to do with having power and choosing how to wield it. While some of the most painful moments in the entire series come from watching innocent people suffer greatly and seeing the bad guys triumph, it makes it no less difficult to really feel like you've got the lives of an entire community in your hands. The morally correct answer is not necessarily the right answer, and you must learn this quickly. But still, you will get the sense that no answer is correct, and pain is in store regardless of how you choose. Such is the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, and Telltale gets this absolutely right.


Game Mechanics:

As in every Telltale game, mechanics are precious few and extremely simple; nothing is allowed to get in the way of the storytelling, and everything else is in service to it. You wonít be in control through most of this experience, and that is by design. However, you will be given the opportunity to make several important choices that will undoubtedly set the stage for the remaining five episodes. And many of those choices are tied to the classic series of four dialogue options. This system has always allowed the player to shape the playable characters into their own individuals, and it is also what makes each experience so personal.

Quick time events comprise the action in every Telltale game, and Game of Thrones is full of them. Special mention goes to Episode 1 Ė Iron From Ice, however; while the actual combat sequences arenít exciting or memorable from a gameplay perspective, one moment rises up to become perhaps the most disgusting quick time event since God of War IIIís infamous fingernail ripping sequence.

Youíll be given a handful of moments in which you can explore your surroundings, investigating things and gaining more insight into the world and immediate surroundings. And youíll want to do that; this is a deep and complicated world inhabited by deep and complicated characters. Any bit of knowledge you pick up about anything may come in useful in your adventures.

Game of Thrones: Episode 1 Ė Iron From Ice is more of a table setter than anything else. House Forrester has, until now, never been seen or really even explained in this fiction. It needed a good introductory chapter before plunging headlong into the Machiavellian nightmare that is Westerosi politics. And this is nothing if not a solid introduction. Check out the launch trailer in the Links Section below for a taste.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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