Episode 1, “Iron From Ice,” of Telltale Games’ new Game of Thrones series kicks off with a bang — perhaps the biggest we’ve seen yet in a Telltale Games series. It begins just minutes before a memorable wedding sequence that takes place towards the end of Season 3 of HBO’s show. If you have no idea what I’m referring to, you might want to stop reading because you have some catching up to do. Telltale’s Game of Thrones does little to introduce you to the bleak world established by George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series. It assumes you are familiar with the show (or the books for that matter, since that is what HBO’s show is based on; although Telltale gets its inspiration for their series from the HBO show). The game makes no effort to explain to newcomers the intricacies of Westeros and Essos, like why you don’t want to be brother and sister the same way Jamie and Cersei are, or cozying up to Tyrion Lannister does not come without complications. Most of all, it does little to prepare you that doing the right thing often results in terrible consequences (House Stark fans know what I’m talking about).
That being said, it doesn’t take long to learn the kind of world in which Game of Thrones is set. Through well-crafted dialogue, even the most subtle lines teach you a thing or two about the characters around you. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize a man like Ramsay Snow is a psychopath that can’t be trusted. That much becomes clear when you first see him flay a man. But even knowing such things about Ramsay doesn’t save you from him. Telltale is setting you up for hardship, often putting you in a difficult position regardless of the choices you make.
As with all Telltale Games’ series, Game of Thrones promises that your choices matter. And to a certain extent they do, at least for now. While the decisions you make throughout the first episode may have a larger impact on the overall narrative, it’s rather subtle at first. Dialogue and sequences during scenes are briefly affected, but the outcome is generally the same, especially for the end of the episode. It’s enough to make you want to play through the episode more than once though, which is what I did — making vastly different decisions the second time through. It’s possible, seeing as how the episode is positioned as a prologue — concluding with “Your story begins” — that your decisions could have a greater impact as the story continues. We’ll have to wait and see, though. All I can say for certain right now — after the two-hour premiere episode — is that life is going to suck for the Forresters.
Telltale does a great job of structure and pacing through the first episode. Although we’ve been promised to take control of five members of House Forrester throughout the season, Episode 1 introduces us to three of them: Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester; Ethan Forrester, acting Lord of Ironrath in his father’s absence; and Mira Forrester, Ethan’s older sister who is handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing. The game mimics the structure of the show by jumping between the perspectives of the three, and better yet each has their own distinct style of play.
Gared is the first character you're introduced to, shortly before the events of the Red Wedding unfold. As such, his scenes involve fast-paced, quick-time event style action. The action sequences presented aren’t difficult or challenging by any means; rather, they serve to break up the dialogue and offer fans of the series the brutal bloodshed we’ve come to expect from Game of Thrones. His scenes are intense, but mostly due to the pacing and frantic urgency caused by the chaos around him.
Ethan’s scenes are equally as intense, but more so due to the decisions you’ll be forced to make as acting Lord of Ironrath. Heated negotiations with the Lord of a rival house (as a result of Gared’s actions), coupled with two advisors with opinions that lie on opposite ends of the spectrum make your time as acting Lord a difficult one. It’s worth noting though, that the decisions you make as Ethan seem to carry the most weight heading into future episodes of the season.
Mira’s scenes take place in the capital city of King’s Landing, offering a nice change of setting from the dull grays and browns of Ironrath. Again, most of what makes Mira’s scenes intense is the struggle you’ll face while trying to appease Cersei and carefully balancing how much to ask of Margaery in an effort to save House Forrester from destruction.
For the most part, acting is on par with standards set by Telltale’s past games. It helps that all of the characters from the show who appear in the episode — Margaery Tyrell, Queen Cersei, Tyrion Lannister, and Ramsay Snow — are all voiced by their TV actors. And though Telltale sticks to its highly stylized approach with design — almost like an oil painting — the likenesses are close enough to make out the details each character has established on screen. Unfortunately, some of this is undermined by the occasional glitchy animations that we’ve become all too accustomed to with Telltale games. On PC and Xbox One (haven’t played it on PS4 yet), characters and environments have a jagged, blurry aura around them. I’m not sure if this is for performance reasons to maybe hold a steady framerate, but it’s definitely noticeable and sometimes distracting.
HBO’s Game of Thrones is known for three things — intense violence/gore, cut-throat dialogue, and boobs. The first episode of Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones offers two of the three — and I’d say they are two of the more important aspects to have. Though I’m sure the boobs will come, the interesting characters and nail-biting situations that Telltale puts you in, in just the first episode alone, is a nice setup to the cruel series you are about to experience. It’s not going to be easy for House Forrester — as evidenced by the events of the first episode — but I look forward to seeing how things unfold in the remaining five.
Note: Rather than assigning a score to each individual episode of Telltale Games' Game of Thrones series, we will be reviewing and talking about them each in length at first and assigning an overall score for the entire season at the conclusion.