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Game of Thrones Review (PS3)

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Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Image © Atlus
The world of George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" may seem like it's tailor made for a role-playing game and so it make sense that this title was in development long before HBO turned Tyrion Lannister into a household name. Reportedly in the works for seven years, "Game of Thrones" rides a wave of adoration for Martin's world thanks to HBO's Emmy-winning series, currently in its brilliant second season. With landmark, influential books and a beloved adaptation already, how could this game go wrong? Let's count the ways.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Developer: Cyanide
  • ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
  • Genre: Role-playing Game
  • Pros: Dual Story Arcs, Smart Character Customization, Intelligent Dialogue
  • Cons: Horrendous Combat Mechanics, Brutal Repetition, Weak Storytelling

"Game of Thrones" may have been in development since the days before HBO even considered a game based on the "A Song of Ice and Fire" books but the developers at Cyanide are certainly not above hitching themselves to this star now that it's airborne. The game uses artwork, theme music, and even a few actors from the HBO series (James Cosmo as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Conleth Hill as Lord Varys) and the association with such a superior work of entertainment doesn't help the overall experience. That remarkable theme music that gets you so pumped for the series every week plays over the menu screen for the game version of "Game of Thrones" and the pay-off isn't nearly as impressive. With sketchy graphics, tedious combat, and poor screenwriting, "Game of Thrones" is a disappointment all around.

Gameplay

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Image © Atlus

The smartest decision made in the development of "Game of Thrones" actually came very early in the process when someone chose to tell two story arcs instead of the traditional RPG focus of one character (or a group of characters banded together). Completely in keeping with a fictional world in which story arcs can run parallel but not intersect for multiple chapters in print or television, it's a clever idea to do the same in a role-playing game. Not only do you track two story arcs but you customize two different characters with very different skill sets (which you can make even more unique in an effort to try and add a little variety and depth to the game). While there's enough repetition in the action of the game that I literally fell asleep playing it at one point, the decision to offer two protagonists was a smart one. With only one, this would been an even more laborious experience.

While you're probably dying to play one of your favorite characters from the HBO series, you won't be able to do so. While no one wants to play a pure adaptation of the books/show (as so many bad movie and TV tie-ins prove), it would have been nice to join a more familiar world complete with Tyrion Lannister, Ned Stark, and Jon Snow. Martin is so adept at creating fascinating, three-dimensional characters; men and women in a fantasy world who feel completely real. And so the decision to try and replicate that skill by creating two new protagonists, even if Martin supposedly helped, was a risky one. And it was a risk that doesn't pay off. While I love the idea of two heroes, Mors Westford and Alester Sarwyck are nowhere near as engaging as they needed to be for this game to live up to its title.

Sarwyck is a Red Priest who has returned home after a long absence and Westford is a guard of the Night's Watch, a man who we meet as he tracks down a deserter and is forced to choose how to deal with his betrayal. And here we are introduced to one of the first flaws of "Game of Thrones" -- a dialogue/choice system that feels as thin as flipping a coin. There were times where it felt like I was being given a dialogue choice purely to keep players from falling asleep during a cut scene. I literally had to think about the difference between my two options and wasn't always convinced there was one. And that's when I didn't really want a third. Bad writing in dialogue options may sound like nitpicking but it hints at the weak storytelling all around and completely pulls a player out of the experience.

Poor writing would be more forgivable if the combat was engaging. It most certainly is not. The developers attempt to integrate real-time combat system with turn-based strategy and the result is one of the most unenjoyable combat systems in a long time (although it might have worked better if the enemies weren't so repetitive themselves). In print, it might sound like it works. Combat starts and the player hits a button to slow time (but not stop it) while he lines up actions in a queue. For example, "Normal Attack, Special Attack, Defensive Action." More complicated offensive and defensive actions take more energy and you can often queue up actions for other members in your party and even your dog. As your character upgrades, you get more options for combat.

Or do you? "Game of Thrones" is one of those titles that looks deep on the surface but is remarkably shallow. Most of the attacks I had access to (and they are different based on customization both at the beginning and through the game) were incredibly similar. Should I "Stab" or "Pierce"? I dare you to tell me the difference.

Graphics & Sound

The fact that "Game of Thrones" has been in production for seven years is evident in the character animations, some of which look like PS2 generation graphics. I must admit that the environments can be impressive but when said environments are filled with townspeople who appear to just be staring at the sky or characters who don't look like they're actually making contact when they fight, then it's a losing battle. The score is fantastic and the voice work can sometimes be better than average in more detailed cut scenes but lags in basic dialogue sequences when even the voice actors sound like they're getting bored.

Bottom Line

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Image © Atlus
It should almost be a badge of honor for a hit TV show to have a weak video game tie-in. "Game of Thrones" certainly is not alone. Ask anyone who played "Lost: Via Domus," "24: The Game." "The X-Files: The Game," or "NCIS: The Game." Somehow, this one feels like a deeper disappointment given the depth of George R.R. Martin's world and how much fun it could have been to play within it. Maybe in another seven years, "Game of Thrones" fans will get the game they deserve.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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