(Note: This review will contain bits that are copied verbatim from my review of Episode One. While the story for each episode may be different, the graphics, sound, and gameplay remain largely the same. Old stuff will be in italics. Feel free to skip them if you wish.)
With each episode that’s been released, Telltale’s Game of Thrones has been looking worse and worse. Apart from being a technical disaster, the story has been gradually getting lazier and more reliant on cameos from the TV show as opposed to the original cast. Last time, it was a basic retread of thoughts and ideas with a couple of bits of setup. It was boring.
This time, however, I’m happy to say that some genuinely interesting things. Gared finds himself north of the wall, no longer shackled to Allistar Thorne rip off known as Frostfingers. Jon Snow still makes an appearance, but is thankfully gone before long so we can focus on the new guys. Across the sea, Asher gets his business with the Khaleesi done with quickly as well. The story instead focuses on his partner as they sneak into Mereen. Rodrick, now actually backed by some allies, doesn’t have to sit around and wait for things to happen.
The best of the bunch, however, is Mira. Though her part in this episode is probably the smallest, it’s by far the most interesting. Determined to uncover a plot to destroy her family, she sneaks around a party. Getting to eavesdrop on the nobles and then use the knowledge gained to your advantage is very fun, and it’s great to see Mira develop into a politically savvy woman.
Perhaps the best part of this episode is that so little of it is retread or simple setup. Some larger events are still being built up to of course, but that’s happening during other big events for a change. The only thing that sullied it for me was another ending that relied on a flashy cameo for shock value.
Now comes the bad news. This game is perhaps the least graphically refined TT game since Jurassic Park. It’s probably even worse than that. The textures are horrible. In motion, they often resemble smeared water colors. Character models don’t fare much better. They animate poorly, look plastic, and often have parts of their bodies bleed into the background. Add in the usual clipping issues, framerate drops, and constant pausing for loading/saving/trophy notification, and this game simply runs horribly. The art style is strong though. It manages to salvage some pleasurable visual moments. Still, this game simply wasn’t optimized for the PS3. It’s almost unplayable at times.
Using the show’s music and actors, the game does quite well in the aural department. Peter Dinklage sounds much more lively then he did in Destiny. The new cast does quite well also, and the accents don’t become overbearing. It’s pretty high quality stuff all around, although problems arise because of the game’s technical limitations. In particular, characters will be cut off mid sentence. I suggest playing with the subtitles on, so you don’t miss anything important.
GoT doesn’t break the TT mold when it comes to the gameplay. For the most part, the game is on rails and simply asks you to make a selection now and again. Most of your choices have little effect on the game, but allow you to add your own personal flare to the proceedings. For example, you can play Ethan as a scared young man, or as mouthy brat. It’s up to you. Silence is always an option as well, but rarely leads to more interesting bits of dialogue. Either way, the meat of the story will play out the same no matter what you do.
Occasionally, you will be allowed to wander around and explore a bit. Compared to other TT games, you get to do more of this than usual. These areas aren’t very large, but there are often fun bits of lore that you can uncover. For example, you can go over the entire Forrester family by looking at a family portrait. This gives you an idea of who everyone is as well as your characters thoughts on them. Stuff like that is always appreciated.
As you might expect, you’ll end up in some big action sequences throughout the game. When these pop up, it’s all about the quick time event. You’ll flick the stick, mash on buttons, and try to react as quickly as possible while a scene plays out. Failure doesn’t always result in death, but too many mistakes will send you back a bit to try again. Like in previous games, these QTE’s are getting less intrusive. The inputs are smaller or more out of the way. This lets you see the action better without not being able to see what you need to do.
This is probably my favorite episode so far. It started having issues towards the end, though. The frame rate died, and the game stuttered along like a drunken baby during a climatic action scene. The screen would often freeze for several moments so the game could catch up. Then there are those dramatic far away shots that look like a water damaged painting. It’s laughable, and ruins the experience whenever it happens.
Short Attention Span Summary
Sons of Winter is a stark (ha!) improvement over the previous episodes. It does this by focusing on more interesting characters and by letting interesting things happens instead of promising that they may happen some time down the road. It doesn’t redeem the series though. That can’t happen until the game can run halfway properly and stop depending on Jon Snow cameos. Still, it’s a good sign that the back half of the season won’t be intolerable.