With such a deep and rich tapestry of mythology already build up around the Game of Thrones franchise thanks to the series of books by George R. R. Martin and the smash hit HBO series of the same name, it was really only ever a matter of time before some opportunistic development studio snapped up the rights to bring us a game based on the world. That developer is Cyanide Studio, and its Game of Thrones title has finally made its way into our hands.
Despite some initial surprise that a studio as relatively small as Cyanide, who can boast such smash hits as Pro Cycling Manager, Horse Racing Manager and Chaos League, publisher ATLUS was quick to snap up the project in North America,and afford them its considerable experience, while Home Focus Entertainment take on the publishing role in Europe. With more than a few eyebrows raised, the real proof of the pudding was bound to be in the eating, and we were poised, ready to gobble, when our review copy arrived in the mail.
Game of Thrones is an RPG, and fans of the TV series may be a little thrown to learn that it’s actually based upon the first book in the franchise, rather than focussing directly the series’ small screen adaptation. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it means that those of us who haven’t read the books, regardless of how often we have promised ourselves that we would, still have plenty of new stuff to look forward to, while still being familiar with characters and settings throughout.
The game’s story centres around two main characters. The first is Mors Westford, a member of Night’s Watch, whose job it is to patrol and protect The Wall, which separates the Seven Kingdoms from the wilds to the north. Unsurprisingly, Westford is a man who is battling demons from his past following his betrayal of his lord. The second is a priest of R’hollor, Alester Sarwyck, a man who has been away from his home for fifteen years but who, on his return following his father’s death, immediately becomes caught up in a tangled web.
Your first task will be to assign various abilities, strengths, weaknesses and statistics to your character via the game’s slightly underwhelming character creation screens. Obviously there’s only so much you can do on this side of things when your character has been predetermined, but there’s not really a huge amount of scope for customisation here beyond the basic character class and numerical skill assignments which is quite disappointing. One touch that is a little different, however, is the fact that you can pick quite a few different strengths – the downside being that you must counter-balance these by selecting weaknesses. Get a little too ambitious with your strengths and you’ll pay for it when it comes to weaknesses, so you’ll need to be careful in your selection.
Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to jump into the game. Things start much in the same way as they continue throughout, with dodgy voice acting galore and some slightly disappointing visuals. The game’s presentation is an ongoing issue throughout, particularly in cut scenes, as characters randomly and jarringly change their stances and on-screen positions with each line spoken. It’s a shocking oversight, and it serves as a continual reminder that the game falls so far short of the values of the TV show that it’s ridiculous.
Still though, at least when you get into the game things are bound to improve, right? Well that very much depends on your definition of the word, and your expectations of just what awaits you. If you were hoping for a free reign along the same lines offered by Skyrim,, then you’re going to be in for serious disappointment. You see, the combat here (which comprises quite a large amount of the action) isn’t conducted in real-time, rather it takes a leaf out of the book of older RPGs. You select your enemy using the d-pad, then you hit the top shoulder button to bring up your abilities, selecting whichever one you’d like to use before the game carries out your instructions until you make another adjustment. It’s not exactly the most engaging system we’ve ever see, and it certainly cheapens the experience even further.
Although the action slows down to bullet time speeds (thank you Max Payne for that readymade explanation) once you hit the shoulder button and start planning your attacks, it rarely gives the intended illusion of being caught up in the action – you’re simply far too detached from proceedings to get the most out of it. Had we been able to actually jump in and do some of the damage ourselves, then perhaps we would have been a little more forgiving, but it’s simply not the case here.
It’s typical of the overall feel of Game of Thrones; it’s a title that really wants to do something a little bit different, and many elements taken in isolation are actually quite solid. The problem is that they’re dwarfed on almost all fronts by the inherent problems found within all game mechanics. The storyline is undoubtedly enjoyable, as you would expect given that Martin himself helped with its creation, and fans of the universe’s mythology will find plenty to keep them happy, but the voice acting and attempted lip-synching makes it feel almost comical at times.
If you’re a serious fan of Game of Thrones then you’ll definitely be able to get past a lot of the issues, but it’ll be a real slog to see out the twenty plus hours of bug ridden gameplay to make it to the end of the story. It’s quite a shame in truth, but perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Perhaps the next studio to take a stab at the license will have more resources to really capitalise on the wealth of depth, emotion and intrigue the world has to offer.