Game of Thrones|
I’ll come right out and say it; I’ve never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, but…my roommate is quite the avid fan, so I had her watching over my soldier during a few play sessions so she could comment on how closely, or even if, this latest RPG from Atlus Software compared to the HBO series. Truth be told, aside from a few familiar character names (and one familiar face) and some borrowed theme music there is very little to tie the game to the TV show; perhaps because the game has been in the works for nearly seven years placing its roots more in the books rather than video. What this ultimately means for gamers is that you can play Game of Thrones without having watched Game of Thrones. That’s assuming you want to play at all.
There has never been a better time for RPG gamers than now, with dozens of amazing high-quality role-playing adventures flooding the market. Unfortunately, with so much competition also comes excessive criticism where only the cream rises to the top, and sadly, Game of Thrones has long since passed its expiration date leaving behind only a bittersweet taste as I struggled to complete this depressing journey. Honestly, if I weren’t reviewing this game I would have quit long before the 27 hours it took from start to finish; one of two possible endings mind you if have some sort of masochistic desire to replay the game again, or even just reload from a save near the end.
But how about the good parts; few as they may be. I have to say, I thought the character creation process was rather unique. While not as robust as some RPGs, I really enjoyed one aspect tremendously; the Character Traits. During this process you must choose up to three positive traits like leadership abilities, proficiency with poison, skills with a blade, etc. These choices are weighted and before you can leave this screen you then have to pick negative traits like fear of fire, or paranoia, etc. to balance out your character. I spent more time going back and forth on this screen than I normally do in creating my entire character for any other RPG.
The story, at times, can be quite compelling. Written in conjunction with author George R. R. Martin, we get to play in a parallel adventure to the books and TV show, playing as two former soldiers of Robert’s Rebellion who must reunite to defeat a new threat to the Seven Kingdoms. Those familiar with the franchise will certainly recognize a few names like Cersei Lannister, Lord Commander Mormont, and Varys the Spider. The story is quite dark, right from the beginning where you track down and capture one of your best friends who has deserted his guard post – the penalty…DEATH by your own swing of the axe. Duty before friendship apparently. Then it’s off to track down another rogue guard who viciously raped a young boy who died from the trauma. Are we feeling good about our chosen career path yet?
If the subject matter wasn’t dark enough, the oppressive visuals will keep you in low spirits pretty much throughout the entire game. It’s always dark and gloomy with a lot of wind and snow and even when the sun does shine or you go inside a building with a roaring fire there is a decisive lack of warmth. It could be intentional but there is no mistaking that the graphics are extremely dated, looking more like a 360 launch title than a game being released near the end of the system’s lifecycle. Textures are bland and devoid of detail, lighting is poor, and special effects seldom impress. Even the cutscenes fail to shine.
Character models lack definition and detail and the animation is stiff and awkward, and why are there only a handful of character models each with their own repetitive animation cycle. It is so obvious in many of the more crowded environments where you see multiple people who look the same doing the same thing. Combat animations are just as robotic with moves that are specific to the weapons, so if you are tired of seeing the same fatality then you’ll have to switch to a different weapon.
The sounds effects are adequate with all of the indoor and outdoor environments realistically represented and plenty of combat sounds, but there are random technical glitches where the sounds were often delayed or sometimes would even go away entirely. Likewise, the music is really good with themes from the show (so I am told), but much like the sound, it will suddenly drop out or even restart from the beginning. For a game that has been in the works for seven years, this has all the hiccups of a game that appears to be rushed out the door at the final stage of QA.
Game of Thrones tries something a bit different when it comes to the combat by creating a unique hybrid of real-time and turn-based combat. As each encounter begins you need to start queuing up attack commands. These can either be strikes with a weapon, or other support actions that you can add by bringing up the radial menu, which slows down (but doesn’t stop) the real-time action. I'm not sure why they didn't allow you to hot-slot your favorite actions to buttons instead of forcing the frequent interruptions to what could have been a fun real-time hack and slasher. The icons at the top of the screen show your health and energy as well as the next three queued actions. I was impressed with how unique the system was, in theory, but after a few hours I realized I was still just using the same few commands over and over again, and it lost its magic.
And therein lies the biggest problem with Game of Thrones; repetition. Combat is a mindless cycle of finding what works and then doing it over and over. There is no in-game reward or personal satisfaction from experimenting once you find a combat sequence that works. You’ll run around and fight someone or a group of someone’s then sit through lengthy story bits that, while interesting at times, are often delivered with such poor acting talent you’d almost rather turn the sound down and read the subtitles. The load times are horrific, even when the game is installed to the 360 hard drive, and you will dread the 20-40 second wait each time you have to go inside a building and eventually leave it.
Game of Thrones is a 20-30 hour adventure depending on how thorough you are in your exploration of this world. Sadly, at least an hour of that will be spent watching load screens and even more time listening to boring characters drone on about duty and honor. I will admit, there is a slick narrative twist at the end of the game and an alternate ending should you have the desire to load your last save and play to the end a second time. In the end, this was just a low-budget RPG with a high-budget deveopment effort. The story is mildly engaing at times, but the buggy, boring, repetitive gameplay required to experience it isn't worth your time, effort, or cash. Atlus Software has brought some of my favorite RPG’s to North America, but Game of Thrones isn’t one of them.