TellTale Games’ Game of Thrones sheds light upon a small but noble household: House Forrester, loyal bannermen and allies to House Stark even through recent controversy and war. But the immediate aftermath of the infamous Red Wedding sets a series of events in motion that changes everything, including the escalation of an old family feud. Each family member scattered across Westeroes and beyond must stand up to the new challenges posed to their family, and their moral character, through any means necessary. When you play the game of thrones, will you win or die? That is all up to you.
Note: While the game won’t be spoiled, the whole season will be reviewed, so be cautious of minor spoilers. It should also be noted that the game itself contains MAJOR SPOILERS for seasons 1-4 of the TV series and books 1-3 of the book series. Again, proceed with caution.
The visuals, on the whole, are absolutely amazing. That statement goes for any TellTale Game in general, for the art direction on each knows how to capture the spirit of the source material they’re adapting from. Here, however, the art direction was given a slight challenge. It was easy enough to make The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead look and feel like scenes out of an actual comic book. Here, they’re adapting from both a live-action TV series and a book series which relies upon the reader’s imagination to paint the set. So instead, the designers take a different approach, and style the settings and characters as medieval paintings come to life (see the screenshot above as an excellent example) while still keeping the TellTale signature style, and it works beautifully.
The actors and actresses from the GoT series reprise their roles for this game—Kit Harrington as Jon Snow, Lena Heady as Cersei Lannister, and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister are amongst a few of many. Not every single role from the original makes it in here, but that’s for the best, because too many cameo roles would take away the focus from the Forrester family. The likenesses of each actor and actress are more or less accurately modeled, but that alone is not enough to make the player feel as if they’re actually talking to the characters from the show. What sells it is the voice acting from each, and they perfectly carry over the essence of their characters (however, I am not onto season two yet, so I can only speak for the roles from season one). With the original characters, the same holds up. The actors do their jobs well, and the characters feel as if they do come to life. Once in a while, though, there is some minor mic feedback in a few later delivered lines, and there are occasionally some awkward movements and animations here and there—sometimes, characters get up or walk too fast, or move a little bit stiffly. But these are just minor nitpicks.
The music is beautiful and mostly stays in the background, so it’s not the first thing you notice, but it is still there. Outside of the dramatic, heart-pounding battle numbers, each musical track is designed to fit its setting: Eastern melodies play in Essos. Medieval instrumentals are for the gentle yet uneasy moments in Ironrath; tunes for the Wall are as cold and icy as the very Wall itself; and the pieces for King’s Landing are comprised of both festive and merry works, as well as calm yet foreboding pieces. The most beautiful and triumphant piece of the whole soundtrack is doubtlessly Talia’s “Ballad of the Forresters”, which sets the stage of the drama to come (be warned, though: the lyrics contain MAJOR spoilers for the first two episodes).
A good spin-off pays homage to the original while still crafting its own original standalone tale. An excellent spin-off takes what made the original good and enhances it to make it even better in a way that, in turn, makes its original tale even better. TellTale Games’ GoT falls squarely into the latter category. Generally speaking, TellTale adaptations do a decent job of keeping those not familiar with the source material caught up. However, this is because most of their source material has a straightforward premise with minimal worldbuilding required (for example, you only need to know that The Walking Dead has zombies). Here, TellTale had a much bigger job ahead of itself, because the A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones universe is so massive and expansive. With all the lavishly detailed family histories and country politics, it becomes far too easy to get lost in the sea of vast characters. And that’s not even getting into the multitude of events that led up to the Red Wedding.
Now, I may be partially speaking from bias, because I did at least finish up the first three books and part of the first season before playing this game. I can say that while some details may be lost to those not 100% familiar with certain terms or customs or references, TellTale does their best to keep the basic details of the universe straightforward and accessible for those who haven’t read the books or seen the show. Relevant major events and characters in the third book/season are kept brief and to the point. Apart from this, if you have very basic knowledge of feudal politics, you should be fine.
What makes TellTale’s GoT excel as an adaptation lies in how it explores more complex issues in canon, by telling them from the point-of-view of those whom the family befriends (or, depending on your choices, makes enemies of). The Red Wedding’s fallout, and the impact it would have had on those loyal to the Starks, is just the tip of the iceberg, and extends to the social implications of these issues. For example, the game takes Daenarys’ supposed “victorious” “liberation” of Yunkai and Meereen, and questions just whose victory it is to have, and whose punishment she’s delivering to wrongdoers–that of the voiceless, or her own?
In addition to being socially complex, it also adopts a morally complex approach to various dilemmas. If asked which they’d fight for if they could only protect one—family or friends—most people might answer “family” more quickly. The problem with questions like these, however, is that they assume friends have trivial problems while family problems are always more serious. The game shows that there are instances where it’s not always that simple, because the problems faced by the acquaintances of each family member are direr than they appear on the surface. But, at the same time, the stakes for the Forrester family are not lowered or trivialized by finding out these other problems. Nor does any dilemma magically resolve itself. This makes the decisions you face that much harder. There were a few decisions where the “right thing” was obvious to me at first sight, but may have actually hurt the Forresters in the long run. Then there were others where I was split down the middle over what to do, and either panicked and picked a random decision, or went with the lesser of the two evils. Some of these decisions stayed with me for days afterwards. After watching the alternatives for some of these decisions on YouTube, however, there were certain ones where I was absolutely certain I had chosen the right thing to do, no matter how difficult they were, or how high the cost. Whereas with a few others, though, I came out feeling as though I could never make the right decision no matter what I did.
The characters are a pure joy to play as and interact with* from beginning to end, from the familial relationship with the Forresters, to the various friends/enemies/frenemies you can make. The familial interactions between the Forrester’s feel genuine, like this really is a family that deeply cares for one another. They play together, they talk about brighter and happier times, and care for one another through better or ill. Asher and Mira are more physically distant from their family, so their actual bonds aren’t quite as straightforward. What makes their efforts feel sincere nonetheless is their devotion and determination to fight. So naturally, you’ll want to see them survive, and try to protect them all, which leaves you constantly on edge about everyone’s safety.
But of special note is the depiction of the various female leads, major and supporting–they’re all three-dimensional characters with agency, and display strength in the face of adversity. For me, what makes this portrayal especially powerful is the different ways in which that strength is depicted–defiance, diplomacy, and a fine line between both. There is a tendency in fiction for women to be categorized, as if they can’t have overlapping traits or be every bit as complex and messy as men, so it’s refreshing to see, for example, Mira struggling with walking a fine line between her loyalty to her family vs her loyalty to her friends just as much so as Asher. They struggle in different ways for different reasons, but face equally high stakes, which goes for everyone in the cast.
*Most of the time, not ALL of the time, but in a good way.
Pacing-wise, that’s where GoT tends to be very hit-or-miss. The overall pacing for the story as a whole is all right, but individual pacing for each scene tends to be a bit uneven. Some sections or scenes are abruptly shorter than others, like the writers were trying to weave from one area to the next, but not always seamlessly. Asher’s scenes in episodes two and three are the worst offender of this, but as his role becomes more prominent, he does get more even screen time. The same goes for the rest of the cast as well. The pacing does get somewhat better as the series goes on, but starts out very rough.
Like past TellTale titles, GoT begins with the claim that “the game is tailored by your choices”. What this description means is not “the story will change by your choices”, but rather, “the experience will change by your choices”. In many ways, this makes GoT a brilliant choice to adapt into this kind of game, because there are many such moments like this in the original series as well. For example, take the death of Sansa Stark’s beloved direwolf, Lady. What made her death significant was how it was a tough decision that marked a character-defining moment for Ned Stark: As someone who tries to do right by his family even in unfair circumstances. That itself is a TellTale moment. And there are many such moments like that in this game. How do you want to establish various members of your household? Loyal and noble? Or cunning and amoral? Do they act out of the interest of their family, friends, or themselves? Or a twisted mixture of all of the above?
The most common criticism of TellTale Games is that they offer up the illusion of choice and little to no player agency in return (as best illustrated in this chart , which contains SPOILERS for season one of The Walking Dead). In some ways, this criticism is semi-valid, and will come up in possible later reviews of other TellTale titles. I did earlier mention how it’s the experience that’s shaped by your choices rather than the story itself…BUT, that doesn’t mean it’s solely the experience alone that changes. I will try to explain this point below with minimal, non-detailed spoilers, but exercise caution:
The outcome of individual Forresters is different depending on your choices…but the way in which that outcome is shaped effectively remains the same. It isn’t until episode six where the ultimate long term end result of those choices culminates in two entirely different scenarios. Which scenario plays out depends on a major decision you made at the end of the previous episode, but other smaller factors also come into play. Both scenarios lead to the same climax, but the journey is still shaped differently. Ultimately, it comes down to what you take out of it: Do you make these choices in the hopes of finding a different outcome, or because of how you want to shape the characters and story rather than change it? If you’re like me and have been spoiled by games like Cinders or Long Live the Queen where every tiny little choice ultimately DID sneak up on you later, you might be disappointed—but here, only mildly so.
I’ve always had mixed feelings over the combat system in TellTale Games. On the one hand, they’re easy for people like me who aren’t used to combat-heavy games, and they perfectly capture that sense of urgency–“act fast, or you’re dead”. But on the other hand, they can still be frustrating in their own right (at least for this PC player) because the buttons and keys I had to press during combat frequently changed. When you have a mouse on one side of the keyboard, and Q/E keys on the other, and a pair of arrow keys in the middle of either, and only a limited amount of time to switch back and forth between them? Then you’ll probably see the VALAR MORGHULIS (“all men must die”) screen a lot, and eventually come to hate that phrase.
Those who are looking for a fully interactive experience might be disappointed, because this game relies heavily on choice-based cut scenes moreso than other past titles. But again, depending on what you’ve come for, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For me, I liked this approach, because it felt like participating in an actual episode of the series or a chapter of the books, and made the moments of interactivity in between actually feel like a part of said episode or chapter. TellTale Games are often compared to Visual Novels, but if TellTale Games can be compared to Visual Novels, then they are more cinematic VN’s. You participate in the action, and shape the dialogue, then sit back and watch the results unfold.
It’s easy to be cynical to licensed adaptations of anything, given that the quality of said adaptations tend to be very hit or miss. And heck, even I had my own moments with this game. But what makes this work, as with any TellTale adaptation, is that it comes from a place of genuine love for the source material, and wanting to expand upon it. As a result, it accomplishes everything it sets out to, and provides a deeply immersive experience that, much like other TellTale titles, tests your own sense of morality and makes you think about your decisions for days afterwards.
How the story for each character ends depends on how you play them. Some endings can be downright tragic; others, bittersweet, which is the closest they can get to being truly happy endings. The overall ending feels conclusive but at the same time leaves plenty of room open for a second season to tie up any remaining loose ends. And, as a matter of fact, a second season is currently in production. And I’m looking forward to it just as much as I am to George R.R. Martin’s Winds of Winter (after I finish A Dance With Dragons, that is).
TellTales' Game of Thrones
TellTales’ Game of Thrones crafts its own tale of intrigue, adventure, and familial devotion, and is like a three-hour fantasy movie where you don’t mind sitting through the ride in the slightest.