Review

Game Of Thrones

Throne Off

Game Of Thrones gets the intrigue right but not much else.

By Samantha Nelson • May 21, 2012

HBO’s Game Of Thrones television series truly does justice to George R.R. Martin’s beloved fantasy series, A Song Of Ice And Fire. It’s got the budget to create a beautiful vision of the world and a remarkable cast of actors to bring life to the characters that fans have come to love (and love to hate). Seeing how well Martin’s material can be adapted just makes Cyanide Studios’ Game Of Thrones all the more disappointing. It’s the video game equivalent of HBO handing the script to a high-school acting class to perform on the basketball gym’s mainstage and saying, “Eh, good enough.”

Like in the Game Of Thrones books, the game is divided into chapters that follow different characters. Both Alester Sarvyck and Mors Westford thought they had escaped the political games of Westeros, with Alester fleeing the continent to become a priest and Mors joining the Night’s Watch, a dour knighthood that defends the land’s northern border. Both men are inevitably pulled back home by obligations to family, honor and old friends.

Game Of Thrones

Alester is a particularly fun character: He spends his time talking to flaming manifestations of his priestly peers, mocking the “false gods” of Westeros, and proselytizing on the Lord Of Light’s behalf. Mors is much duller. His distinguishing characteristics are that he has a gruff voice and a dog that looks like a Dragon Age war hound that was kicked out of the pack for being too ugly. The characters’ special abilities are also not created equal. As a Red Priest, Alester can heal, use a flaming weapon, and conjure fires that illuminate hidden items in a room. Mors is a “skinchanger,” which means he can possess his dog and activate its smell-o-vision to create disorienting blurs of scent trails; these trails are intended to lead Mors to the next objective in a quest.

Martin worked on the story, which is appropriately filled with intrigue and stunning revelations. There’s some fun fodder for fans of the series, like Alester wondering why Cersei Lannister—the brother-loving queen from a prominent Westeros clan—would approve of an incestuous union between his sister and bastard half-brother.

Yet few fans are likely to have the patience to wade through this miserable game to see the plot to its end. Game Of Thrones is riddled with bugs. Sometimes the animation for a character will be slow to load, so you’ll find yourself having a conversation with a wall. Other times you’ll see people’s mouths moving, but no dialogue will come out. That may actually be an improvement for some characters, given the stilted and dull voice acting. Game Of Thrones actors James Cosmo and Conleth Hill do voice work for Night’s Watch commander Jeor Mormont and the scheming political operative Varys, respectively, but the bright points of their performances just highlight how bad everything else sounds.

Game Of Thrones

Even when the game is working properly, it’s still ugly and boring. You’ll plod through dull brown castles, forests, and dungeons with flat graphics that belong to an older generation of games. The combat is similar to the console version of Dragon Age, letting you slow down the fight with a click of a button to issue a string of commands to the other members of your party. It might seem at first glance that there are a lot of options, but in reality, you’ll rely on a handful of simple one-two punches—stunning enemies, for instance, then executing a move that takes advantage of their weakened state. Then you wait to repeat the process while you regenerate energy by standing around, hacking at identical rows of brigands or guards.

Win a battle, and you get some largely useless loot. After enough fighting, your character will ascend to the next level, a lame bit of incremental progress that makes you hit slightly harder or take a bit less damage. Dialogue options typically give you the chance to talk or bribe your way out of situations in lieu of killing everyone. I found myself pursuing a pacifist path because the fighting is so tedious.

A Song Of Ice And Fire fans are an argumentative lot, and Martin has made it clear they won’t always get what they want—whether it’s a long life for a beloved character or a release date for his next book. But they deserve better than what this game has to offer.

Game Of Thrones
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Atlus
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360 
Price: PC—$50; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360—$60
Rating: M

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746 Responses to “Throne Off”

  1. RidleyFGJ says:

    It’s rare to see a consensus on a game like this, but this is the umpteenth review for Game of Thrones that arrives at the same conclusion: solid story, shit everything else.

    ASoIaF seems like the kind of property that would be better suited to a company like Obsidian, who at the very least can make fun games to go along with their top-shelf writing.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       Turbine would have been another good development studio for it. Their games are fun and they have a lot of experience using someone else’s source material as a guide. Plus, I assume GRRM would’ve helped write it regardless of who worked on it, so I think we can probably agree the story would be worth something wherever it went.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Turbine’s greatest weakness was always that they couldn’t really land a good story. Even Lord of the Rings Online suffered from constantly feeling like a second-banana parade.
        With Martin’s writing, this could have worked. Too bad.

    • Shain Eighmey says:

      Obsidian’s games may be unplayable at launch, but once the kinks get worked out they’re often gems. They would have been a great fit for this. 

  2. Fist Beefchest says:

    Since they apparently had no problem with being derivative, they should’ve at least ripped off the right game, which is obviously Mount & Blade. A clone of that with added diplomacy mechanics and prostitutes, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Oh, man, if M&B had better diplomacy mechanics…that game would be a complete time-sink for me. Someone tried a mod along the lines of what you’re talking about, but just did not do it justice.

      • Mookalakai says:

        I was just going to post that there was a Song of Ice and Fire mod, then I evolved some peripheral vision, and noticed you already said that.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       That’s really the essence of the issue. Why of all possible paths would a game about a world of political intrigue go with a semi-RPGish slasher?
      Any adventure or strategy gamer could have envisioned something more fitting, I assume… then again, there is apparently a pretty terrible GoT-strategy game already.
      Some things just don’t work as games.

  3. dreadguacamole says:

     Shame. Can’t say it comes as much of a surprise – though the devs come across as nice folks in interviews, everything they’ve shown of the game made it look like a drab, low budget Dragon Age rip-off.
     Which would be all right, I guess, because Dragon Age is… um… heavily inspired by Game of Thrones.

     I know! They really make a turn-based strategy of this game with emphasis on diplomacy and back stabbing! I bet they couldn’t possibly screw that up!

  4. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I’m declaring this game a mummer’s farce; all while scratching the scar on the side of my nose and decanting a fine Dornish red.

  5. Djur says:

    I’m assuming the indifferent character progression is intentional, since ASOIAF is ‘low fantasy’. Which just highlights how badly mismatched an epic-heroic RPG model is for this series — surely a strategy RPG would have been better.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Didn’t a Diet Civiliazation style Game of Thrones strategy RPG come out a couple of weeks ago? If memory serves, it was also bad.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Yes, very bad. And ugly. And terribly unfun.
        The perfect companion to this game, only for the round-based inclined.

  6. doyourealize says:

    So there’s this game, there’s that Game of Thrones: Genesis which was supposed to be pretty lame, and there’s the Risk-like board game, which starts off promising but three hours later you’re bored to tears and just wanting to stop playing.  There’s also a card game, which I haven’t played (anyone?).  Should people stop trying to turn this into a game?  That’s a lot avenues for failure.

    • Samantha Nelson says:

      I haven’t played in a while but I loved the collectible card game. The cards are really well designed so that the different houses play very much like they do in the books. For instance my first game was Starks vs. Lannisters. Starks started off by playing tons of great characters and kicking butt. Then the Lannisters killed all the Starks and won.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      There’s also the BatteLore-esque “Battles of Westeros” that looks kind of like a pre-built Warhammer.

      • doyourealize says:

        Now that you mention it, I remember seeing that at B&N one day.  Have you played it?

        • HobbesMkii says:

           No. It costs like $90. And that’s not including the four expansions. I’ve heard it’s decent though. Apparently the main mechanic is that your commander roams the battlefield, ordering units in his proximity to move, rather than the “every unit knows to do what you tell them to” thing that goes on in most strategy games.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      The Game of Thrones board game, especially v2, is great and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • doyourealize says:

        Sorry, I’ve played twice (once before I read the book and once after), and I wanted to pull my hair out both times.

    • Gus Mastrapa says:

      The Game of Thrones card game (formerly a CCG, now an LCG — meaning you buy packs of cards and know what is inside them) is pretty damn good. It is probably the most complex game of its ilk. that is good and bad because there is a lot to think about and it is way more fiddly and inelegant than a game like Magic: The Gathering. But there’s a lot to dig into. If you are curious I suggest trying the starter box FFG is selling — it comes with three or four decks and is set up so you can dive into a multiplayer game.

      • doyourealize says:

        Haven’t played Magic in a while, but I could see myself having fun with this game, and the LCG (a term I hadn’t heard before) model sounds great.

  7. Predator Handshake says:

    Maybe I just don’t have a very refined games-palate, but I’ve been having fun with this one.  I haven’t encountered any bugs other than the camera doing its own thing every once in awhile, and that hasn’t made me lose a battle or anything yet.

    It might just be that the story is really holding everything together, though.  When I start up the Xbox to play, it definitely hasn’t been because I was looking forward to more battles; it’s because I really want to see what happens next to Alester or Mors.  

    They really did a good job capturing the GRRM character-death experience; at a certain point in the game, a major character dies as well as the family member of another major character.  The family member death was appropriately shocking, and after the major character death I was going “he’s not really dead, right?  He can’t be dead” and I ended up being right.  

    I haven’t finished the game yet, though, so I can’t speak for it as a whole product.  I guess the best I can say at this point is that it’s a fun diversion for ASoIaF fans, as long as you don’t demand perfection from non-book entries to the series.  

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I always find bugs to be a sort of half reasonable and a half unreasonable complaint. On the one hand, bugs suck and games that are riddled with them suck a whole lot (I’m looking at you Fallout: New Vegas). But they’re also patchable and, once fixed, can make redeem a game that sucked into something great (I’m looking at you, again, Fallout: New Vegas).

      Reviewers, of course, will not be able to take into account bug-fixes before writing their reviews. And it can be hard to know what will and what won’t be fixed. Dragon Age II and Napoleon: Total War have a number of obvious bugs that will probably never be addressed by the developers.

      • The_Misanthrope says:

         I generally forgive small, inconsequential bugs as long as the game is still enjoyable to play.  It’s the game-breaking ones–frequent game freezes, terrible camera control, clipping and getting stuck in terrain–that ruin games for me.

      • Merve says:

        For me, little bugs that cause me to become trapped somewhere and reload a previous save aren’t a huge deal, as long as they’re not too frequent. For example, ME2 and ME3* have a few of these, but they by no means ruin the experience. On the other hand, you’ve got games like Oblivion where over 50% of sidequests are somehow broken** – I’m not exaggerating in the slightest – and such games, in my view, are just flat-out unplayable.

        As for New Vegas, I bought it long after its initial release. In fact, I bought it when the Complete Edition came out, so most of the bugs were ironed out by then. I still got a couple of game crashes, and for a couple of weeks, I had this weird bug where I had to start a new game before loading a save, but I didn’t discover any in-game bugs or broken quests. Mind you, I’m only about 13 or 14 hours in, so maybe I’ll encounter a slew of bugs over the next few weeks.

        Actually, that’s not such an unlikely scenario. People often don’t complete games, but everyone who tries a game usually plays the first few hours. So, bugs early on in the game are more likely to be discovered post-launch, and it’s probably near endgame where the wackiest bugs are found. This would seem to be especially true of New Vegas, which really only gets good about 8 hours in, so I can imagine a lot of players dropping off before then. I can’t help but wonder how much more interesting the start of the game would have been if had only taken a couple of hours to reach its namesake town. Or why not just drop the player right in the middle of New Vegas to begin with?

        * For some reason, Shepard would sometimes get stuck in the Normandy’s cockpit. I blame EDI.

        ** In the 6 or 7 hours I played, more than half the sidequests I tried became impossible to complete. One of them didn’t work because the place it pointed me to literally didn’t exist. Maybe the sidequests later in game aren’t actually broken, but I was so frustrated with the game that I don’t think I’ll pick it up again for another few years.

    • Not My Goodies says:

       no, you’re right handshake, this game isn’t that bad.

      all the bitching in this review is SERIOUSLY over the top. there’s plenty to legitimately gripe about but whining about basic rpg mechanics and bad voice acting in an rpg is ridiculous when every other rpg out there is almost identical in execution.

      you can take all these complaints and apply them to pretty much every single CRPG ever made, except for graphics.

  8. HobbesMkii says:

    Littlefinger delivering a mustache-twirling monologue to Ros or GTFO.

  9. Enkidum says:

    For a series as bloody as ASOIAF, I think it’s a mistake to have a heavily combat-based game. Because actually none of the main characters fight very much, and the interesting stuff (even the interesting violent stuff) is not combat-related.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I think ASoIaF pulls a lot of its strength from the fact that while violence is often the least interesting bits, it’s also the most important. All the various lords are players only because they can field large armies. You can be a player even if you can’t (Varys, Littlefinger), but it’s a lot harder.

      So, if our hypothetical perfect ASoIaF game is still an RPG, you’d probably want some level of combat for characters. Even if it’s just to prevent them getting slaughtered by the Jamie Lannisters (pre-*spoilers*) of the world.

  10. Is this game missing nudity?

    Then that’s what this game is missing.

    • Merve says:

      Video game nudity is to real onscreen nudity is to real-life nudity as watching an aquarium on television is to visiting an aquarium is to scuba diving at a coral reef.

  11. BenderBukowski says:

    There are a lot of great Civ IV and V ASOFAI mods such as this one: 
    http://forums.civfanatics.com/archive/index.php/t-395200.html

    Personally I made a silver-haired, purple eyed avatar w/a fire sword in Skyrim and married Lydia…it was weeks before I realized I was essentially telling an alternate version of R+L.