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Game Review: Game Of Thrones
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Game of Thrones Bundle

Game of Thrones
Xbox 360 l PS3
DEVELOPER: Cyanide Studios
PUBLISHER: Atlus
RELEASE DATE: May 15, 2012

I’m no seasoned vet when it comes to author George R.R. Martin‘s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, having first become aware of it only a few years back when it was first revealed that a TV show version was being made for HBO. But after seeing the first season and reading the first book—both of which shot to the top of my personal TV and book lists—I had become familiar with a fact many of you had known for a long time now: this was a very special world with a very special variety of characters and a rich and complex history.

Because of that you can imagine mine and many others’ elation when it was revealed that an RPG video game based in Martin’s world had been in the making for a long while now (since the HBO show was only a rumor), and would be coming to us soon. The thought of roaming the lands of Westeros and living amongst some of the characters you grow so fond of over the course of Martin’s story was extremely exciting to think about, and anticipation only grew from there.

After a bit of a wait, the game, which is of course titled Game of Thrones, has finally arrived. But does it live up to the anticipation that has grown this past year or so? Or will those who were itching to get their hands on it be left wanting?

In Game of Thrones, you’ll swap back and forth between two different characters. The first is a hardened Ranger of The Night’s Watch named Mors “The Butcher” Westford. The second is a red priest named Alester Sarwyck. Mors fought with Robert Baratheon’s former Hand of the King John Arryn during Baratheon’s rebellion against Aerys Targaryen, and his story centers around the mysterious death of Arryn and a girl he was trying to protect. Sarwyck is the son of the Lord of Riverspring, who has recently passed away. His story centers on his return to Riverspring, his attempts to win back the trust of those dear to him that was lost when he left Westeros, stopping the revolts of his starving people, and restoring Riverspring to what it once was. All while dealing his two brothers—one a bastard who’s risen to power, the other a suspected murderer who’s gone missing.

As mentioned above, the Game of Thrones video game has been in development since the HBO show was just a rumor (around seven years or so), and George R.R. Martin himself helped developer Cyanide Studios to create these new storylines while remaining faithful to the author’s original work. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as I had hoped.

First off, allow let me preface the negatives with a positive: my review actually started as almost entirely bad. That doesn’t sound positive, but at first there was nothing I liked about the game, and I was pretty saddened by how let down I felt after a handful of hours playing. But instead of cashing in there I pushed myself to keep playing, hoping I would find some redeeming qualities. I did. It’s still not perfect, not by a long shot, but I felt that needed to be clarified because any of you who decide to give it a shot will likely see why I was struggling so much early on.

With that said, there’s three primary reasons the game isn’t nearly as good as it probably could have been. The first two go hand-in-hand with one another, and they are the writing and voice acting.

When you enter into dialogue with someone, far too often does the conversation ramble on for what seems like an eternity, much of which feels entirely unnecessary. I don’t mind a great deal of dialogue if it’s important, but it needs to be compelling. In this case, I found my brain wandering off on multiple occasions as painfully stale interactions stumbled forward. The writing isn’t always bad, but it is jagged…especially at the beginning. The words that do feel faithful to Martin’s work are usually part of one of the aforementioned rambles and in the early hours of your game you’ll find yourself feeling clueless as to what’s being discussed. As you play on and become more familiar with what’s going on it’s not so much of a problem, but then there’s horribly random conversations that will hurt your brain and it have a negative effect on the writing that is decent.

The problems with the dialogue are magnified immensely by the biggest problem I had with the game: the voice acting. I was stunned by how poorly most of the actors brought in to voice characters performed. Most of the time it sounds like someone is recording for the first time and has absolutely no grasp on how to convey emotion. The rest of the time actors sound like they’re half-heartedly reading from the script for the first time and are entirely too bored with what they’re doing, so something went very wrong in the choosing and directing of vocal talent. Something so wrong it could be the one major deciding factor between this being a game worth putting time and effort into or shutting it off early. Only a couple of voice actors were bearable for me personally, and one was one of the two actors from the HBO series who were able to work on the game, the man who plays Lord Varys the Spider, Conleth Hill.

Speaking of the HBO series—just to sidetrack for a moment—going into Game of Thrones, my main concern was the fact that the game was already in the making prior to the HBO show coming out. Not that that’s at all the fault of Cyanide, but once the show hit we all had faces to put to the names, and that could be tricky for a game using its own visions of the characters. Thankfully they were able to use some of the likenesses and voices from the show, but it wasn’t nearly as many as I hoped. Only the Old Bear, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), the Master of Whisperers, Lord Varys (Hill), and Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) appeared as they do on the show, and Headey wasn’t even able to do the voice work for Cersei, so that took some getting used to as well.

But, of course, the writing and voice acting weren’t the only damaging flaws. The third problem I had with it was the combat. The combat options aren’t bad; you have numerous moves you can acquire over the course of the game, and the ability to choose up to three to do in whichever succession you feel is best for the enemy you’re fighting—but once you’ve selected your moves and put them into action, the result is less than satisfactory. There’s little to no impact when you strike a foe with your weapon of choice, which can look like you’re doing battle with a hologram instead of a flesh and bones adversary. The combat wouldn’t be bad at all if only there was some weight to it, but as it is I lost all interest in fighting after only a couple of exchanges…not a good thing when you still have 30 hours of gameplay in front of you. My remedy for this problem was to switch the difficulty of my game to the easiest possible option so that I could get through the unexciting combat and move forward with the story.

On the plus side of things, the game doesn’t look bad. Not great—it does feel a little dated—but not bad, either. Though this pro only leads to yet another con: lack of exploration. Sometimes in an RPG you simply want to explore the world and see what you can find. You’ll have little of that in Game of Thrones; this is not an open-world game and your characters basically fast-travel to wherever it is you need to go next. That said the game isn’t completely on rails and you can look around the area you’re in, whether it be the forest or a castle or King’s Landing itself (which is one of the much larger locations to run around).

Then there’s the story. The story isn’t bad at all…after a while. And this is where things began to turn for me. It takes time, but once the two characters’ stories start to take shape the overall game becomes much more appealing. Perhaps even enough so to redeem some of the above-mentioned problems, paired with the fantasy settings and the fact that it is Game of Thrones and you get to hang out at places like the Wall and King’s Landing. I must stress, however, that it does not redeem easily. It took a LONG time before the game finally started growing on me.

Also, if you pre-ordered the game you were sent a hardcover art book as a bonus, but it appears you can still get the book and for the same price as the game is by itself. No indication of how long that’ll last, but if you’re thinking about buying this one now’s the time. The book is a nice little collectible to have if you can get your hands on one. It’s thin, but includes information about the game and how it fits into Martin’s world, interviews with the developers, and lots of cool concept art.

In the end, I can’t help but wonder how much differently Game of Thrones might have played out for me if only even half-competent voice actors were brought in and the combat was more satisfying. Considering the fact that the game still found a way to grow on me through all the flaws and problems it has says a lot, and it has to be assumed that with more effort put into these troubled areas it could have been a really solid game.

At first I wasn’t going to be able to recommend this one to anyone…but now I have to think that maybe some of you Game of Thrones fans will also find things to like about it. You get the feeling that this could become something of a cult classic down the road. That said, I can’t stress enough how hard it will be to get past the problems it does have. If you do give it a chance, be patient and be prepared to fight on through some incredibly slow and rocky opening hours.

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