If you’re a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, you’d be right to worry about a new Game of Thrones game from Cyanide. The first PC title, developed by a different dev house within Cyanide, didn’t exactly set the world ablaze. Although A Game of Thrones: Genesis tried and failed to find unique and fun twists on the strategy genre, this second game, an RPG, takes a very different approach: Mimic what works. The result is a game that doesn’t quite stand up to the latest and greatest entries in the genre, but tried and true gameplay mixes with a good story to make for an enjoyable enough romp through Westeros.
Especially in the early going, Game of Thrones often feels like a poor man's Dragon Age, from interacting with dialogue wheels to slowing down combat in order to queue up different attack actions. But while the most basic framework is available and functional, you might find some aspects of Game of Thrones lacking, but especially if you’ve invested dozens of hours into Bioware’s blockbuster. Comparisons solely to Dragon Age aside, many textures and character models are ugly. The world doesn’t feel so open and alive (and lacks an abundance of side quests and activities). Combat can become repetitive. The events are more linear. The mini-map is nearly useless.
But then, Game of Thrones nails some of the more important features that an RPG needs. For example, you’re given lots of options for character customization, including selections of multiple skill trees and plenty of stats to pump points into. You may not get to build a character from scratch, but you do have some good control over how the main characters play and evolve.
Unfortunately, you may never find much use for many of the abilities you unlock. Game of Thrones features a combat system that adds a bonus for using the right type of weapon (cutting, perforating or blunt) against the right type of armor (light, medium or heavy), but battles rarely get tough enough on the normal difficulty that you’ll need to keep this in mind. It’s easy to latch onto two or three skills to use in every battle with successful results – say, an ability that knocks an enemy down followed by one that does higher damage to fallen enemies – which negates any need to experiment. This leads to many battles become rote displays of the same combat animations over and over again.
Much of what it lacks in technical achievement and gameplay originality, though, Game of Thrones makes up for in story. Don’t expect to spend time chilling with the Starks or exchanging quips with Tyrion Lannister, though. The game begins at roughly the same point as the novel and show, but the events don’t really intersect.
Throughout the game you will control two primary characters, switching between them during each chapter (similar to how the book series changes points of view per chapter). Mors, a long-time member of the Night’s Watch is from the icy Wall, while Alester has spent the past 15 years as a priest of R’hllor, a god of light and fire. So, yes, you might say bards would spin their tale as a song of ice and fire.
Two characters may sound like precious few when compared to other grand RPGs (or even the source material), but by focusing on just these two men, Cyanide is able to weave a much tighter and more compelling tale than the team would if they tried to juggle a huge cast. These heroes have histories. They have secrets. And most of all, they have pretty good motivations for everything they do. There are twists in their respective tales up to the very end, and the events feel like a fitting entry into the mythos.
If you’re just looking at the game’s script, the story is both interesting and well-executed. However, in trying to make the plot feel more choice-driven, Cyanide undermines the game’s dynamic story. After many lines of dialogue, character animations will make jarring cuts to new positions, as if a handful of canned scenes were crudely spliced together for every conversation. In a few instances, this carries over to the voice acting as well, with characters speaking calming one second before immediately switching to a panicked or excited tone with the next line. This can break the immersion of the story and mar what is otherwise generally good performances from the characters.
Furthermore, there are a great many instances where your choices are little more than illusion. You may be given two choices of dialogue that seem at least a little different, only to find upon replaying the scene that they lead to the exact same outcome in the given discussion. Even some of the more impactful decisions – ones that could potentially spare or kill multiple lives with just a few choices – aren’t given much weight outside of new dialogue. One particular set of choices determines the fate of a sizable battle (one you don’t even get to see, much less participate in). Poor planning could lead to a lot of civilian deaths, but the consequences boil down to a simple line of dialogue telling you, “A lot of people died because you did this instead of that. That sucks, huh?” The game moves forward without incident, failing to give much weight to what you’ve done. Not all choices play out this way. Some do have fairly significant consequences, which might include avoiding battles altogether or getting extra help when swords are drawn. But it’s unfortunate how many times you make choices that seem to result in little to no consequence.
The plot has enough blood on its hands without requiring you to make those decisions, though. In the spirit of the novels, plenty of people die. That said, the game doesn't quite take full advantage of its brutal and mature source material. On one hand, the game feels almost tasteful in areas where Cyanide could push the adult content much further than the team does—for a universe loaded with brutal violence and gobs of nudity, the lack of skin feels almost jarring, as though no one saw an episode of the TV series throughout the whole process. On the other hand, if you only care about the universe because of boobs and blood, there are better RPGs with mature tones that you can choose from.
Ultimately, while the world of Westeros has plenty of interesting locales and characters to offer, the ones who will get the most out of it are the ones already familiar with its terrain. There are many call-outs for series fans, including a cameo by series creator George R. R. Martin, who plays, well, himself, more or less. It’s cheesy, but it’s oddly self-aware enough that it passes as fun fan service, provided you’re actually a fan. Otherwise his character will just seem poorly acted and out of place. Similarly, much of the games dialogue probably drags on for too long on trivial details that could bore those who don’t care strongly about the world.
It’s far from the top of its class, and it has a lot of rough edges, but Game of Thrones is perfectly competent in most of what it sets out to do. It tells a good story that’s worth experiencing, but if you don’t care about the series or care more about the gameplay wrapper around a plot, there are a few better choices out there.