Game of Thrones is a hugely over-ambitious game. It wants to tell you a grand story worthy of the universe it borrows, but it struggles against its limitations. Animations are stiff and unconvincing, as are the majority of the voice actors. The visual style is passable at best and genuinely ugly at worst. The engine is, for whatever reason, severely limited, unable to meet the demands of the script – a peasant revolt is represented by only three people, cities feel like ghost towns, and pivotal battles take place entirely off-screen.
The shocking thing is that, despite everything, the story does shine through. It’s a marvellously engrossing tale, with fascinating and often hugely sympathetic characters, that remains gripping throughout the game’s 30 hour run time.
The story concerns two scarred veterans of the brutal civil war that precedes the events of the television show, each in their own way returning to the world from self-imposed exile. Alester Sarwyck is a charming nobleman, returning home on the day of his father’s death to inherit the lands and titles that are rightfully his, despite his fifteen year absence in strange lands and the mantle of foreign priesthood that he has taken on in that time. Mors Westford is a grizzled soldier of the Night’s Watch, compelled by forces beyond his control to return south, to the homeland he reluctantly abandoned on pain of death. Each has their own path – but it soon becomes clear that these paths will overlap, interweave, and eventually merge. The game deftly switches between the two characters as story beats are met, ensuring you never tire of the current narrative thread, and allowing for some fun and inventive cliff-hangers.
It’s not your typical RPG story set-up – like the source material, it avoids the tropes and clichés. It’s hugely refreshing, after having played essentially the same story so many times across so many games, to come across something bolder, braver, and wholly unique.
The story is small-scale and personal – it’s not about saving the universe, or defeating ultimate evil, it’s about where the needs and desires of these characters have led them, and what they’re willing to do to reach their goals. It’s not about a bright, young Chosen One striving for a better tomorrow – it’s about two damaged, middle-aged men confronting their pasts and struggling against those more powerful than themselves. Problems are resolved with blood and steel, not magic and spells – or, often, they aren’t solved at all.
In a medium so often unwilling or unable to do anything other than retread the same ground over and over, it’s wonderful to see someone breaking the mould so expertly.
The game makes excellent use of the setting of the TV show, capturing the required atmosphere and weaving the story in with the prevailing narratives of the series.
The big themes and beats of the show are all represented – civil war, incest, royal succession, duty, the intricacies of politics and the scheming of the powerful, to name but a few – and each are given their own spin, such that it never feels like a simple aping. And, like the show, it’s powerfully bleak. Brutal, unjust events transpire near constantly, but always manage to avoid feeling mawkish or juvenile – they feel natural, organic, and always serve to forward the story, not just to shock or discomfort the audience.
The industry needs more games like Game of Thrones. It is a huge testament to the vision of the developers that the story comes across so well despite what would appear to be a wildly insufficient budget. Writing good enough to coax memorable characters out of dreadful voice actors, and engaging scenes out of clunky animation, is something to be treasured.