In the TV series they say that when you play the game of thrones then you either win, or you die. Carry that sentiment over to the, yes, game of game of thrones however and it’ll sound out a little differently. When you play the game of the game of thrones then you either win or you give up out of sheer boredom.
It’s a shame to start the review on such a sour note as, looking at it from the outside, there’s an awful lot to recommend Cynanide Studios’ interpretation of George R. R. Martin’s epic series of novels. Not only do the games have the full, diverse lore of the series to draw on, but they also have a unique approach to presenting it by casting you as two separate characters in two different stories. Unfortunately though, while the premise and presentation sound interesting to start with, they all too quickly crumble under the weight of shoddy production values and a ham-handed handling of the fiction.
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Take the very start of the game as an example. As the game of the game of thrones opens you’re introduced to your first protagonist, Mors Westford of the Nights Watch, as he hunts down a fugitive from his order with brutish pragmatism. He’s a cold, heartless man and it slowly transpires that he’s more than just a common thug like most of the soldiers who surround him. He’s a former knight who played the titular game and was lucky to escape with his life.
Unfortunately though, while Mors himself is an interesting character, the presentation of the world around him means he’s quickly drowned out. There are endless monologues, countless clumsy attempts to catch newcomers to the series up on the sprawling lore, and all of it is delivered with some of the worst voice acting we’ve heard.
Things don’t work out much better for the second character in the game either, Alester Sarwyck, a noble who returns to his home village after a long absence and who must now pick up the pieces he left behind. Again, it’s a potentially interesting premise - and the plot which builds for both characters becomes more and more interesting as it develops over the course of the game - but for every strength, there’s a counteracting weakness.
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Part of the problem obviously stems from the source material too; the best-selling books and phenomenal TV series. The game has to build on the details from these to offer something interesting to avowed fans, but at the same time can’t assume that anyone who’s picked up the game is familiar with the ins-and-outs of the series. It has to find a balance, but in trying to please both sides of the market it manages to truly satisfy neither. The main exposition is often overlong yet only sparsely detailed, while sidequests suffer from the opposite.
The same holds true for the stats-side of the game too; the pre-set characters can only really be customised when it comes to their fighting styles, but while the combat system is suitably deep, it’s also quite poorly explained. Effects such as bleeding, wounding and knockdown all play a part, and from the start your abilities all focus in on upping your Critical Hit percentage. But little of it is properly explained. Instead, you’re required to start specialising your first character before you’ve even had a chance to see how combat is presented in the game.