– Spoiler Review –
Telltale Games has proven with some of their most recent titles like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and Tales from the Borderlands, that they can adapt material and keep true to its tone and world. The first episode of their Game of Thrones series, “Iron From Ice,” deftly assuages any fears they wouldn’t properly adapt the bloody world of Westeroes, setting itself up to be a worthy extension of the franchise. That all being said, since the game starts towards the end of the show’s third season, if you haven’t been watching the show or reading the books, it’ll be a little hard to understand everything that’s going on. And if you’re a spoiler-phobe, you best turn back now because this review (and the game) spoil quite a lot.
Seriously, I wasn’t kidding. This is your last chance to turn back and avoid spoilers for the show, books, and game.
You were warned…
Spanning 6 episodes and giving you control of 5 different members of House Forrester, Telltale’s GoT doesn’t waste time catching players up or really explaining the current state of Westeros, instead throwing you into one of the single biggest moments in the GoT show and book series: the Red Wedding. This single event blew up the internet when it aired on TV and the reaction videos are still priceless, but here you’ll see it just as the squire to one of the Stark’s bannermen. The first playable character is Gared Tuttle, a loyal squire to Lord Forrester, and he just so happens to be the only Forrester man to survive the Frey’s betrayal at the Twins. Gared returns home only to find his family slaughtered and rightly tries to take vengeance on men who did it, with those actions setting the rest of the story in motion and starting quite the series of domino effects only possible in GoT‘s character focused world.
See, one of the men Gared kills was from the Whitehill family, a rival to House Forrester and loyal to the Boltons, who just so happened to have become Wardens of the North thanks to the death of the Stark clan at the Red Wedding. Lord Whitehill wants justice, which puts the teenaged Ethan Forrester (player character #2), the new Lord of Ironrath after his father and uncle’s deaths, in some tough situations he’s just not prepared for; while Mira Forrester (player character #3), a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing, is caught in the difficult situation of asking for help to protect her family back home in the north while under the scrutiny of the Lannister clan. Did I mention “Iron from Ice” doesn’t wait for you to play catch up?
What “Iron from Ice” does best is making the player feel like they’re playing the game of thrones. If you’ve ever wanted to be put inside Westeros and forced to make the hard choices characters seem to consistently have to make, then Telltale’s adventure is the perfect way of doing so. From the scene where Mira is forced to pretend she’s loyal to the King (which means to the Lannisters) over her own house, matching words and wits with Cersei Lannister, to being forced into lordship and meting out tons of tough choices, it certainly feels like you’re a part of the saga of Westeros. And GoT definitely makes it fun as hell to play the game of thrones, even if the circumstances and situations are nerve-wrecking and you’re always trying to be honorable.
As for the graphics, as you’ll notice from all the screenshots I took in game using the PS4’s Share button, they have an artsy, refined look to them; Unfortunately, that’s just when the game isn’t in motion. While the oil painting look works extremely well for the feel of Westeros, especially in establishing shots of Ironrath and King’s Landing, it has an oddness to it once the camera is close up and the game is in motion. However, I really only noticed an issue during the King’s Landing segments, where doors and walls just behind characters had a jaggy, squiggly look to them. It’s odd only because as a screenshot, it totally works and nails the oil painting look, but in motion it doesn’t work so well. But if that’s my biggest complaint about the first episode, that should tell you something.
Gameplay, if you haven’t experience a Telltale adventure game before, consists of fairly easy controls. You’ll primarily use the face buttons of the controller to pick dialogue/make decisions, while other times they’ll be used as part of the Quick Time Event (QTE) aspect of the game. The way button prompts appear on screen during QTE scenes is handled well and doesn’t offer much in the way of confusion and is a solid, yet simple control scheme.
The real meat of the gameplay is the choices you’ll be forced to make and on that regard “Iron from Ice” hands out tons of opportunities for choice and none of them are easy ones. There’s a real weight to the consequences of your actions and when combined with the series’ penchant for unpredictable characters and events due to plot being less weighted than character motivations, you get quite the volatile mix. Which brings me to Telltale’s GoT own death of Ned Stark moment: a moment which highlights the cruel nature of the world and the reason we all love the drama of Westeros, plus had me gasping and shouting at my TV in pure shock and disbelief. This is the biggest spoiler from “Iron from Ice,” so here comes a spoiler warning inside a spoiler warning, otherwise known as in-spoiler-ception:
As much as I hated the final moment, I certainly loved how Telltale built up to it and effectively swiped the carpet out from under your feet. Sure, it felt more like they swiped the Earth out from under your feet, but that’s just a testament to the way they handled the character of Ethan. During your time playing as Ethan Forrester, the new lord of Ironrath, you were continually pummeled with making important and potentially dangerous decisions, trying to keep your family in order after both a many Forrester’s deaths and the issues caused by Gerad’s rightful vengeance. It was more choices than I was used to for a Telltale game, especially with one character, but it felt right considering you were trying to be the Lord of your house. But of course once faced with the extremely unpredictable Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton’s bastard (still a bastard at this point), one should be prepared for anything. But after how important Ethan felt, and how many big, possibly game-changing choices you had to make as him, it was a complete shock when Ramsay slid a knife into Ethan’s throat, killing him. It recalled to me the death of Ned Stark for two reasons: 1) because I was screaming at the book then much as I was at the TV now. 2) it sets up the reality that no one, no matter how honorable or important they seem, is really safe. And boy, did they do a damn fine job setting up that feeling.
Seeing as Telltale said there would be 5 playable characters, does that mean 5 that are alive at one time or 5 just overall for the season? Because with one down, and if that spot isn’t refilled, there’s only two other people to play as before the season ends. But I have a feeling we’ll be controlling another character to fit this episodes’ death. Still, I like how saying there would be 5 playable characters was partly a misdirection by Telltale, much like the build up to the shocking death in “Iron from Ice.”
Here are a few other things:
- Using the same opening sequence as the show was a really nice touch. Had a fan of the show walked in, they probably would’ve asked you if there were new episodes on again or something.
- Familiar characters like Tyrion and Cersei look pretty good in the game, but only Margaery suffers a bit from the transition.
- Knowing there’s supernatural/fantasy elements to the series, the mystery of the North Grove is something I really look forward to learning more about, though I doubt we’ll get anything more on it until the final episode.
Telltale has already proven, after only one episode, their addition to the Game of Thrones story is worthy of the name thanks to a bevy of big choices, being able to play the dangerous game of thrones with careful or not so careful words, and one heck of a shocking death. “Iron from Ice,” acts wonderfully as a entry piece into the Forresters’ tale in Westeros, though not so much for GoT overall, but it sets up for quite the season ahead. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest device that this game is available on and download it now if you’re a big fan of both the show and the books.
+ Many tough choices
+ Feels like you’re part of Westeros saga
+ Shocking, tone-setting death
+ Great set-up
– Oil painting graphics can (sometimes) be off putting
– Newcomers not really welcomed