George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire has become incredibly popular over the last few years, mostly due to the success of HBO’s V adaptation. Because of it’s critical acclaim, medieval fantasy setting and phenomenal popularity, it was only a matter of time before a development team started seeking out the rights to bring the story to games consoles.
As a fan of the series, both novels and TV series, I was in two minds about the news that developer Cyanide was working on an action RPG installment to the franchise (not least because of the critical slamming that the developer’s previous installment, an RTS based in the same world, received). After playing the game through to it’s conclusion, I remain in two minds. The game-play is, for the most part, utterly dreadful. The character models are bizarre and animations an be even more so. The voice acting is pretty poor but, as this is an RPG, you would expect a heavy reliance on narrative, and thankfully this is where the game really shines.
The plot centers on two main protagonists: Mors Westford, a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, and Alester Sarwyck, long absent son of a Westeros Lord who has become a Red Priest of Rh’llor. Sounds confusing? Don’t worry; the game manages to induct you into the world quite quickly and with impressive little patronising. Players will take on the role of either of the protagonists, dependent on certain choices that are made and which chapters are being played. Each character can be created to use one particular fighting style, and each have their own unique special abilities. I found that the best way to keep things fresh was to give both characters dramatically different fighting styles, though thanks to the game’s sloppy mechanics even that may not be enough.
The game’s combat system is a half-heated mash up of other titles’, with the most noticeable styles being from Dragon Age: Origins and The Witcher 2. In any combat scenario, the player selects which target they are going to attack and which type of attack they are going to use. Unfortunately, there are only two standard types: attack and defend. You can use stamina to use special abilities, selected from a skill wheel while the action enters a very Witcher 2 style slow-motion. The problem is that most of the special abilities use quite a lot of stamina, so you will inevitably find yourself using two basic ineffective attacks for most of the game, until you can progress enough through the levels to improve your base stamina.
Both the visuals and the sound really let the game down. Graphically, the game looks like a title from the previous generation with only a few half-decent lighting effects to improve it. Character animations have been based on the actors from the TV series where possible and these characters look fine, but it looks as though the developer couldn’t be bothered putting the same amount of effort into original characters who, including one of the main playable characters, look simply weird. Locations have, again, been based on those from the TV series and are well enough designed, if a little simple in their layout. The music is fair, not standing out in any way (though fans will recognize a few of the themes). The final nail in the coffin for the game is the voice acting which is, across the board, awful. Both of the main characters sound bored, even during emotionally intense scenes. Needless to say, this takes away a fair amount of the impact that this well written story deserves. Also, characters from the series aren’t voiced by the actors that portrayed them and, whilst this didn’t bother me too much, it is certain to rile some fans of the series.
All in all, if you play games for a rich and immersive experience, Game of Thrones is not for you. There is definitely a gem here in the form of the game’s excellent story, but I can’t imagine that many gamers will be willing to wade through the wreckage of the game to appreciate it.