If you've been waiting for a great Game of Thrones game, your prayers to the Old Gods have been answered. The first episode of Telltale Games' six-episode Game of Thrones series is a fantastic start, delivering all the political intrigue, bloody battles and gut-wrenching moments you've come to expect from George R.R. Martin's books and HBO's hit show.
Speaking of HBO, Telltale's Game of Thrones is very much entrenched in the happenings of the series. This isn't a completely isolated side story. It even begins with the now iconic Game of Thrones intro sequence, complete with a brand new location where much of the game takes place sprouting out of the map -- the northern stronghold of Ironrath. The game begins at the end of season three and moves into the events of season four, with later episodes building up towards the season five premiere. Telltale assumes you are up to date. Characters like Cersei and Ramsay Snow will mean very little to players jumping in only having seen the first two seasons, not to mention the number of spoilers that will be revealed to those who have yet to finish season 4.
That's not to say there aren't new characters. There are in fact plenty of them in episode one, titled "Iron from Ice." Many of them also have (in true Game of Thrones fashion) surprisingly short life spans. The story revolves around the family members and loyal followers of House Forrester, an obscure house taken from the pages of Martin's work. House Forrester is sworn to House Stark and have long supplied the north with a special, and very precious, resource --ironwood, a special type of wood that is more resilient, near immune to fire and grows only in groves on House Forrester lands. If you know anything about Game of Thrones, you likely know that House Stark quickly falls out of favor with the King in the early seasons of the show, and that puts House Forrester, and their ironwood, in an extremely dangerous situation.
It is around this precious resource that the story revolves as players take on the role of three members of House Forrester. The first is Gared Tuttle. His father, Duncan Tuttle, is castellan of Ironwrath, and Gared serves as the squire to Lord Forrester. Another, Ethan Forrester, is Lord Forrester's second son, who must learn to rule in his father's absence. The third takes players to King's Landing, where Mira Forrester serves as handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell. Like the books and the show, Telltale's game jumps between point-of-view characters and even helps players by displaying their name, location and title for a moment upon swapping perspectives.
It is in King's Landing where players will rub elbows with most of the characters from the show, who lend both their likeness and voices to the game for an authentic Game of Thrones experience. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion steals the show as usual, with his brief but memorable appearance in the episode, showing that Dinklage can in fact do voiceover work. In a game so heavily dialogue based, one poorly chosen voice actor would do much to bring down the title's enjoyment. Thankfully that isn't the case -- each member of the cast, from the show or not, turns in some great work, with Ramsay Snow's actor Iwan Rheon knocking it out of the park in particular.
But this wouldn't be Game of Thrones without shady dealings, political maneuvering and often shocking violence, and it is here where Telltale's game truly embodies the spirit of the show and the books. Telltale's formula is a perfect fit for the Game of Thrones universe, and rest assured this is a Telltale adventure title through and through. Players explore environments, interact with characters and when things get heated, occasionally perform quick time events to do battle and escape danger. It's also filled with the difficult and stressful decisions you've come to expect from Telltale. It's hard not to shake the feeling that every choice you make is going to lead to absolute ruin for House Forrester. That is, however, part of the fun.
While some choices will no doubt have ripple effects down the line, one pivotal moment towards the end of "Iron From Ice" feels a bit like cop-out. A sudden turn of momentum in the final moments of the episode actually caused me to turn off the game and reload it in order to achieve a different outcome. I played my cards wrong, I thought, and I didn't want to carry on with the results of my actions. Much to my dismay, the events that unfold cannot be undone. Nothing you say or do seems to have any effect on the final moment that serves as the cliffhanger of episode one. It's a little disappointing, but there is no denying the "set in stone" moment packs a powerful punch (I literally jumped in my seat). It would be a shame if some players were to miss it.
Visually the game adopts a stylized, oil-painting aesthetic that is easy on the eyes and still provides plenty of detail. In my roughly two and a half hour play-through of the episode (with six episodes, the full game should clock in anywhere between 12-16 hours) I did encounter a number of technical hiccups, where occasionally a character's mouth wouldn't move while speaking or dialogue would be repeated. These minor problems do little to diminish the overall quality of the game, but are definitely noticeable. Game of Thrones music composer Ramin Djawadi has his music used to good effect here, but there is plenty of original music mixed in that fits perfectly in place.
Game of Thrones fans have long been waiting for a game that would do George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy saga justice. Telltale with this first episode has proven more than up to the task. When you play the Game of Thrones you win or you die, and with Telltale at the helm, it makes for one deadly game indeed.