Warning: this review may contain minor spoilers. Please read with caution.
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." - Cersei Lannister
It is a prominent quote that rings true throughout the entire first season of Game of Thrones, from the renowned developer, Telltale Games. In Game of Thrones, players find themselves involved with the fictional House Forrester (non-canon to the television series), a noble house in the North who were loyal bannermen to House Stark. One need not watch the television show to understand or enjoy the episodic title, but it does help to have a bit of a backstory to understand the timeline as well as help influence decision making. Game of Thrones follows its own unique narrative that is unfolded over the course of six episodes, each growing more violent and grotesque than the last. It's quite a journey that starts off with a bang and ends on a maddening cliffhanger, leaving players nearly desperate for the next season.
House Forrester is a noble house situated on the edge of the Wolfswood, and as such, control the largest ironwood forest in the region. The first season of the game follows the Forrester family as they defend themselves and their homestead from their rivals, House Whitehill, who have recently allied themselves with House Bolton, now that the Starks have fallen. War is coming, and House Forrester must do whatever they can to ensure their survival. It's a fitting narrative for a parallel to the television series and it is equally as frustrating, considering that at times, it seems as though House Forrester is doomed from the start. Despite the fact that the game follows in the same theme as the television series, there is this overwhelming feeling of defeat before House Forrester have even set foot on the battlefield.
It's a sensation that looms over the entire season, solidified by frequent decision making that results in similar consequences regardless of what choice was made. It's a rather frustrating 'for naught' concept that truly can ruin the overall enjoyment of the experience. I am only vaguely familiar with the Game of Thrones television series, but am privy to enough to allow a substantial understanding of the mechanics of the story; there is no happy ending in that world, but the last thing I expected from a Telltale Games development was to essentially disregard a good portion of my decisions and craft the story for me. I believe this is the first Telltale Games experience that does not truly adapt to your choices, and breaks the rules of decision-based storytelling, leaving the overall concept seeming rather meaningless.
It's a common concept in the novels, television series and the game: make all the right decisions, play the game of thrones the way it is meant to be played and the story will continuously pile victory after victory upon the enemy. Naturally, that is the irony within the entire concept: you're playing a game you're bound to lose, where kindness and nobility will lead to your death, while betraying your friends and allying with the most nefarious characters may save you. Despite that, it is too often that you're left feeling as though your choices do not matter, taking away a lot of the fun to be had with the game.
Game of Thrones offers most of the enjoyment from two parts: seeing how the story unfolds and indulging in some brilliant moments of brutal and grotesque combat. Overall, the game had more interactive combat than I'd expected and I was not disappointed in that regard. I found that most of the disappointment stemmed primarily from presumptuous characters and agitating dialogue, where what you'd really like to say in certain situations was not an option at all. In key dialogue moments, there were far too many situations where characters would essentially put words in your mouth and there is no option to correct them, resulting in an inappropriate consequence.
With Game of Thrones, there is too often frustration where there should have been enjoyment and it comes from a confused development model for a theme that turns the rules of engagement upside down. In traditional video games, your path to victory is typically carved on playing skillfully and making the decisions that you think are right. In Game of Thrones, it's quite the opposite: you have to play smart, understand the position you're in and manage to analyze every possible consequence before the timer runs out and makes a decision for you. However, that doesn't necessarily mean anything when there's a substantial amount of pre-determined outcomes, which will ultimately give you a mindset where you don't really care about your choices because the game has already decided how your story will end.
With a rather infuriating, pre-determined outlook as that, it truly makes one wonder about the point of decision making in a game like this. In Game of Thrones, it seems as though House Forrester is destined to ruin from the beginning; with that being said...then why even bother?