Game of Thrones
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Atlus USA
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 05/15/2012
I’ll be honest; I’m not a huge fan of the Game of Thrones books and show. I enjoy them for what they are, but I’m not “OMG! BEST THING EVER!” like a lot of people I see. For me it’s a very interesting universe but I find most of the characters to be complete douchebags. I need someone to root for, you know? That’s what had me so interested in the Game of Thrones video game. It had the same universe and setting, but with new and hopefully likeable characters. The only thing that made me pause was that it was developed by Cyanide. Cyanide is best known for doing cycling games and bad games based off of the Blood Bowl license. As well, their first Game of Thones title, an RTS, was panned by critics and regular joes alike. Still, with a different development team and Atlus handling the publishing I went into this game pretty optimistic. After all, I imported the Hong Kong version of Demon’s Souls and Atlus made From Software redo the game before it came stateside, getting rid of over 100 bugs (many of which I encountered and was annoyed by in my import copy), so I knew they were serious about quality control.
After spending a week with the game and exploring every nook and cranny I could find, the only question is whether or not this was yet another Cyanide misstep or if their allying with Atlus made them bring their game up to the next level. Let’s take a look.
The story for Game of Thrones is actually two stories that intertwine as one. You have two main characters. The first is Mors Westford, a veteran member of the Night’s Watch. He’s old, gruff and a bad ass. The other main character is Alester Sarnwyck, a red priest of R’hllor who is returning to his homeland after fifteen years away. Both characters are exceptionally likeable, although in different ways, so it was a pleasure to play as them. No worrying about having sex with my sister and dropping small children fifteen stories with either of these guys! Both stories intertwine around each other, with you playing one chapter of Mors’ tale and then one of Alester’s. The game is sixteen chapters long, so you’ll play as both equally. Part of me feels the game might have flowed better if you played as one character all the way through and then as the other simply because you keep switching between each character and never really have a chance to master them. At the same time, if the game did it that way, some elements of the plot would lose shock value or feel redundant. There’s a case for it to be laid out both ways and while I understand why Cyanide did it this way, I think people might have been happier if the game offered two different quests similar to games like Hekyz Force or Kartia (Yay for referencing obscure and nearly forgotten other Atlus titles).
I really liked the story here. You got to see a lot of familiar sights and sounds from the GoT franchise, while also getting to discover some new things. The story revolves around the death of Jon Arryn, so it’s not much of a spoiler or a surprise to say that the plot revolves around the same major plot point that causes all the events in the novel by the same name – just with mostly new characters. At the same time you also get some very different story elements which keeps the game from feeling like a reskinned version of the novel. Mors’ story is very much about uncovering a conspiracy in the Night’s Watch while Alester is about reclaiming his title and lands so that his evil half brother doesn’t get them (and also bed their mutual sister. Ew.)
All in all, the story is quite a good one and I really enjoyed all the side quests and hidden secrets that I encountered while running through the game. The characters were interesting and it really did feel like the game fit in the Song of Ice and Fire universe rather than something that was just shoehorned in. Most Cyanide games aren’t really story-centric, so I was pleasantly surprised by how deep and engaging the plot of this game was. It could have used a bit more originality than rehashing the core plot point from the climax of the first book, but at least this time we don’t have Sean Bean getting his head cut off as an end result.
Story Rating: Good
Visually the game is a mixed bag. The settings and locations look great at first, but the more time you spend in them, the more you realize there isn’t a lot of detail to any of them. There’s also occasionally some screen tearing and some rendering issues, but nothing even close to the problems that plague better looking but far buggier western RPGs like in The Elder Scrolls or Fallout series. SO basically less detail for less bugs. It’s up to you to decide if one offsets the other.
Character models are also equally…okay. There are three characters who are taken directly from the HBO version of Game of Thrones and they look just like them. The visuals aren’t as good as most 2012 PS3 games. Think for back to the games from 2007 or so and you have an idea as to how the game looks. What’s here isn’t bad at all, but is more reminiscent of early PS3 games than anything else.
There isn’t a lot of variety to character models either. You will see the same few faces and outfits repeatedly, sometimes standing right next to each other in clumps, which can be a tad bit disconcerting when you notice it. Like the backgrounds, there isn’t a lot of detail to many of the outfits and faces you’ll see with the rank and file characters, but at least the core characters (except Jeyne) look quite nice and have specific outfits. My personal favorite if the Gorm armour and helmet you can get for Mors as the beginning of the game. Tres creepy!
So Game of Thrones isn’t the best looking game for the PS3 and discerning gamers will find the visuals a few years out of date, but no less enjoyable for what they are.
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
I thought it was cute that the game utilizes the theme song from the HBO show by the same name. It wasn’t needed, but much like how Cyanide used the physical likeness of several actors from the TV show, it throws fans of the TV series a bone. The music throughout the game is pretty decent, but there are long stretches in the game where all you will here is the thudding of footsteps as your character runs everywhere. I would have liked a little more background music, but as it stands when there is music you take note and I can’t think of any track that displeased my ears, even if none were especially memorable.
Voice acting runs the gambit between 32-bit era levels of awfulness to pretty decent. There’s no real actor here that impressed me, although both main characters did an okay job. For example, Mors has a wonderfully gruff and raspy voice, but the acting quality behind it just isn’t there. The actors from the Game of Thrones series seemed to phone in their roles here, which is a shame, but even then, it’s more wooden performances than anything groan-inducing. Like the graphics, what’s here isn’t as cutting edge as most games you see retailing for $59.99 these days. It’s more in-line with lower price tiered titles or something from a few years ago. With a little more oomph from the actors and a bit more music, the aural aspects of the game could have been a selling point. Instead, what’s here is merely a decent job that fails to live up to the potential it occasionally shows glimpses of.
Sound Rating: Decent
4. Control and Gameplay
…and here’s where Game of Thrones begin s to fall apart. Now I know there can be a divide between console gamers and PC gamers as how one plays say, Eye of the Beholder on an old Apple 2e was very different from how you played it on the Sega-CD or SNES. The conversion from PC to joystick was well done in that case but Game of Thrones ends up feeling weird in the same way a console FPS fan would feel if say, the latest Call of Duty game came bundled with a keyboard and mouse in order to play it.
What I mean by this is that all combat uses radial menus in the same way you see in old PC action RPGs like Neverwinter Nights. Commands are given to characters using the radials, but you can’t really control the combat any more directly than that. You don’t even have the point and click aspect of Neverwinter Nights (to keep the comparison going) to aim your character at who you want to attack. Instead, you’re supposed to flick the analog stick regarding who you want to attack, but the game rarely notices your choice and instead makes the decision for you.
I’ve heard some people try and compare the controls of combat here to a bad Dragon Age: Origins, which I can see but you definitely had more control over your characters in DA:O in terms of aiming, movement and A.I. once combat began. As well, DA:O was in and of itself a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, which is a PC game that never had a console port. Knowing Cyanide has most of its experience with the PC rather than with consoles, I do think issuing command to characters probably flows better on the PC version of this game, but as I don’t have that version of the game (It’s published by Focus Home Interactive), I can only go off my experience as a person that likes PC and console gaming equally.
There really isn’t a lot of strategy to combat. You have a choice of moves that you learn as you level up like Dragon Age or anything similar to 3e D&D really. However, what you take tends to not really matter as every battle feels like it plays out the same. You just sit back and watch characters miss hits on each other and then enter a special attack or two once your energy is back up. You don’t have the sheer A.I. control that you do with Dragon Age and so it becomes a little more button mashing and even more passively watching combat play out than anything else. Now I’m fine with that. I’ve done enough Baseball Manager games in my time than passively playing is something I’m alright with. Other gamers might be disappointed by how combat plays out, especially with the lack of depth to it.
Although combat is a bit lackluster and dull, it’s a very small part of the game. The majority of your time will be wandering around maps, going from one location objective to another, possibly finding items and treasures along the way. Occasionally you’ll get a sub-quest (although they can be hard to find/activate), but nearly the entire game is environmental exploring or listening to a lot of dialogue and making choices to respond to said dialogue with. Again, I enjoyed ferreting out every nook and cranny of a game world and I like ROLE PLAYING better than ROLL PLAYING, so I’m fine with this. However, Game of Thrones is not a very action oriented game (although combat does have its place), so some gamers might find it boring or very slow moving. I can totally understand that and those gamers definitely have a right to their opinion. This is very much a niche game for people who are more akin to tabletop gaming and the pace of that style of gaming than those looking for a dungeon crawl or hack and slash.
Character building is where the game shines. Both characters have five stats that can be customized at the start of the game, along with one of three “stances.” These stances determine what weapons your character is proficient at using as well as what skills and powers they will get in the game. As you progress you’ll unlock an extra three stances for your character (You’ll get to pick only one though). As you’re flipping between two characters I decided to build Mors and Alester very differently. Mors was all stamina (health and defense) and intelligence (extra skill points so he would be better with weapons). I made him take the two handed weapon stance so he ended up being a brick wall that took damage and when he hit, did massive amounts. His high stamina meant my allies (and dog!) could attack from behind while my guy just shrugged damage off. With Alester I did all strength and agility emphasizing deflection. He didn’t have a lot of hit points, but he rarely ever got hit, was never below 50% Hit Points and did an amazing amount of damage that never missed. I also gave him powers that enhanced his ability to deflect blows and regeneration so he was pretty sick. I chose the Water Dancer stance which meant he was fast and used one handed weapons with speed. From there, you get to choose character traits (both positive and negative) to further customize your character). With Mors I chose extra skill points and enhanced healing while with Alester I further enhanced his deflection (like 60% at Level 1!). As the game goes on you earn more traits by choices you make in the game. With Alester I ended up getting Talkative and Nostalgic traits by befriending Cersei and Varys respectively while with Mors, I got things like Sadistic for torturing a Wylding and two others for single handedly cutting down a massive horde at Level 1. Unfortunately there isn’t too much to combat so building your character doesn’t mean much in the scheme of things, but it’s still a lot of fun to look at all the different customization options.
Now I should end this section by mentioning the bugs. I’ve heard there are bugs in the game, but honestly I haven’t encountered any. If you’re a long time reader you know I tend to give out a litany of bugs and glitches that I’ve encountered, but in this, I honestly didn’t have any. Compared to games like Skyrim and the slowdown issues that has with the PS3 version of Fallout 3‘s plethora of issues, this was like a breath of fresh air for a Western RPG. That’s the problem with bugs though. Some people encounter them constantly, while others never so much as notice them. It’s a crap shoot. So for me, Game of Thrones ran smoothly with just a hint of lackluster combat. I enjoyed my time with it in terms of story and exploration and I can honestly see myself playing again to see what sorts of other builds I can make or what quests I missed.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent
With two different playable characters, each of which is highly customizable, quite a few optional side quests and many hidden treasures to find, Game of Thrones definitely has some replay value, but only for those that loved the story enough that they want to experience it a second time or for those whom character building is the main reason they play RPGs. I’m on the fence as to whether this is a keeper or not. It’s by no means the best RPG I’ve ever played, much less this year, but I am curious enough that I want to see what exactly I missed. With DLC possibly on the way, I might have to take another trip to Westeros. The story is pretty linear and the side quests are nowhere as numerous as in other Western RPGs, so again, the replay value is more for those that want to earn a platinum trophy or who really love A Song of Ice and Fire.
Replayability Rating: Decent
Balance is easily where the game is weakest. Never once did I lose a battle in this game. Never once did I come close to losing a battle. Never once did an ally get knocked down (this made investing in Alester’s resurrection abilities a bit worthless…). The closest I came was Mors’ dog getting into the red in one battle so I just raised its health and deflection and BAM! All better. It doesn’t matter what moves you take for your character(s) or how you build them, you can’t lose a battle in this thing. If you do, you should probably hang up your joystick permanently.
Now this doesn’t mean there aren’t tricks to making your character even more dominant. Agility is the most important stat in the game as it ensures your hits and deflection. Pump it up. Attack, Endurance, Intelligence and Luck are all secondary to this stat. If you have an Agility under 7 get ready to spend much of combat just watching characters miss each other. ZZZZ. After that, feel free to build a character however you want. My advice is to take points out of Luck, especially for Mors. Luck helps with your dodge and critical hit percentage, but Mors has a skill than gives him a permanent 20% chance at a critical hit and Alester’s skills as a Water Dancer let him have crazy high deflection and dodge. Take those points and put them into other stats like Intelligence for more skill points so you have an even higher chance to hit and do damage, Attack (for the same reason) or Endurance for a few extra Hit Points. Just remember Agility is the key to keeping fights from being long, drawn-out and boring instead of just boring.
Oddly enough, you’re more likely to have trouble with two other sections of the game than combat. The first is the quasi-stealth missions with Mors’ dog. Here characters have an area in front of them where if they see the dog, they will kick it, so you want to get behind them and attacking, earning a one-hit button mash based kill. Unfortunately I noticed a few times where after I killed someone this way, a second enemy would immediately spawn in front of the dog and then kick him, forcing me to start the challenge over. Now, it didn’t walk up and they weren’t anywhere near when I launched my attack. They just teleported in. This is crazy and the only true bug I encountered in the game.
The other area where you may die is in conversations. For example, when Alester meets Cersei, if you choose the wrong options, you are jailed and killed. It’s game over. I tried all the different combos to see what would happen (such as gaining merits to outright death). I think it’s a nice touch to have faulty dialogue choices end your game in an RPG, as that SHOULD be a possibility, but I don’t think a lot of video gamers are ready for that.
All in all, Game of Thrones is laughably easy and you should be able to get through the game without even trying. Now, that doesn’t mean getting through all the sub-quests and optional item collection bits, as you have to actively look for all those. If you’re just trying to get through the main game, you can pretty much go to the bathroom or make a meal during a battle and find the game didn’t need any help from you at all.
Balance Rating: Dreadful
Aside from using the Game of Thrones license in an RPG, there isn’t too much to this game that smack of originality or innovation. The combat system is similar to a lot of PC RPGs, albeit it not as deep or well thought out. Character building is fun, but it too is very similar to quite a lot of other Western style RPGs for the PC. The main storyline follows the same plot point that got Ned Stark killed in the book by the same name and the game honestly feels like it could be plunked down in any other fantasy setting and still work. It doesn’t feel tied to A Song of Ice and Fire, you know? Don’t get me wrong, I still had fun with Game of Thrones; it’s just that the game isn’t going to stand out apart from being one of the rare few licensed RPGs.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Again, I had fun with Game of Thrones but there were too big things that cooled me on the game. The first is how little combat that is coupled with how dull and easy battles are. I love the exploration and dialogue options in RPGs, but I just wish these two areas were balanced out a little more. There’s less combat in this game than in a tabletop session of Call of Cthulhu.
The other is how the narrative is structured. As you flip between both characters constantly, you’ll find yourself carrying about the one story and character…only to have their chapter suddenly end and start on the other character’s adventure. How and when the chapter ends is a bit abrupt so you might be exploring Mole Town’s underground system only to have something get triggered and then after the battle, you’re out of Mole Town and the tunnels are barred from you. So no completing this for you! As well, you have to start back over with a character, remembering what happened with their last chapter and so on. I really do think Cyanide would have been better off letting playing complete each character’s story in one swoop in addition to providing the alternating playthrough we have here. They could have set things up like Folklore and it would have worked perfectly.
So although I enjoyed Game of Thrones, the game itself and the way Cyanide put things together kept me from doing any marathon runs with the game. I think at most, I would do three chapters and call it a day. It’s just a little too dull and awkward for any more than that. Still, when you get into the game, you really get into it.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
9. Appeal Factor
I’m not really sure who to recommend this game to. After all, it feels more suited for tabletop or PC gamers than the usual hack and slash Western RPG fans that are out there. Combat definitely will turn a lot of gamers off and sadly, so will the focus on story and exploration over violence. I think fans of the books and TV show will enjoy the setting, the plot and the main characters as they do add to the Game of Fire and Ice story as a whole (similar to how the tabletop RPGs do the same) without making anyone go, “Well, that wouldn’t happen/shouldn’t be in continuity.”
Game of Thrones as a franchise is bigger than it has ever been right now thanks to the HBO TV series, so it makes sense to have a video game that capitalizes on that. This might not be the game that most GoT fans want, but it is the ones they will get. If you’re more a fan of the books than video games, then you should be fine with the pacing and emphasis on everything but combat. However, if you’re more a gamer than a fan of the books, you probably won’t enjoy the structure of how the game is laid out.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
All in all, Game of Thrones isn’t a bad game. I had fun with it. It’s not a great game that will be winning any awards come year end, but it is one that fans of the series or those just looking for a new RPG to play can have fun with. It’s fairly linear but the story is quite good and I will probably end up playing through the game again at some point to see what I missed sub-quest and collection-wise. The game probably would have been better off with a thirty or forty dollar price tag like Atlus did with The Cursed Crusade, but I’m sure the licensing for the game forced them to bump the price up.
Now if you’re not sure if you want to pay full sticker price for the game, let me bring up one thing that made convince you – the hardcover sixty-four page art book. This thing is GORGEOUS and chalk full of amazing art and information about the game. My wife fell in love with the thing instantly and so did my rabbit who is obsessed with finding and eating it (He climbed an air condition to get to it!). Now the art book was a pre-order bonus so you’re probably thinking, “Well, I didn’t preorder it so I don’t get this pretty sweet bit of swag.” Well, good news. Amazon.com has tons of the art books left over and they are bundling them with the game. You can snag either the 360 or PS3 version with the art book at no extra cost! The art book really is one of the best bits of swag Atlus USA has ever put out, on par with the little stuffed demon you got with Devil Summoner 2 (PS2, not Saturn) or some old Working Designs books. I’d have happily paid twenty bucks for the book as it’s that well laid out and fun to look through, so for people to have the chance to still get it, even if they didn’t pre-order the game is a deal well worth considering. Again, this isn’t the best RPG I’ve played this year, but I enjoyed it enough that it makes me want to finish reading the series and wonder if either main character will have a cameo in The Winds of Winter.
With a nice little bit of swag and the knowledge that Cyanide is a small studio that is better known for cycling games than high fantasy RPGs, I can forgive them some of the issues I had with the game and enjoy the end product for what it was. It should also be easier for those that have sat through the RTS for the PC…
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Although Game of Thrones is far from the best RPG you’ll play in 2012, fans of the show and/or books will really enjoy the story here. After all, it’s a long time until The Winds of Winter. The game is heavy on conversation and exploration and exceptionally light on combat. When there is combat it’s extremely easy and dull. As such, games who like hack and slash RPGs might be better off looking elsewhere. Fans of the series or those that grew up with tabletop RPGs might appreciate the fact the game is combat-lite but even they will be a bit disappointed that you can literally stand up and walk away from combat to do something else and come back to find your opponents dead. Game of Thrones definitely isn’t for everyone, but I did have fun with the game and I’m even contemplating a second playthrough to see what I missed.
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