Cyanide Games’ 2012 Game of Thrones RPG was a game with a lot of problems but still managed to win me over thanks to a splendid appreciation for its source material. Telltale’s take on the popular HBO adaptation is more cohesive than Cyanide’s effort and unless you’ve tired of the developer’s adventuring gaming formula, it’s one that fans of the series will get a lot out of.
The game focuses on the Forresters – a Northern house loyal to the Starks of Winterfell – and the complicated political situation they face in the aftermath of the third season’s infamous Red Wedding. The Forrester’s Ironwood – a valuable commodity used to build ships and siege weapons – is in high demand and as the balance of power in Westeros rapidly shifts, the family finds itself under pressure from both ancestral enemies and political players like Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell (who are both voiced by their TV actors Lena Headey and Natalie Dormer).
It’s a complex premise worthy of the franchise and one that will see you take on different members of the family and its allies. The first episode, Iron from Ice, sees you switch between the squire-on-the-run Gared Tuttle, the young Ethan Forrester, and his older sister Mari Forrester. While the structure does a good job of mirroring that of the books here, it often felt like it lingered too long on each character – to the detriment of the episode’s pacing – and I hope that Telltale provide a bit more variety in future installments.
The Forrester family are designed to echo the Starks – Lady Forester is practically a dead-ringer for Catelyn Tully and let’s not start with Lord Gregor Forrester – and while your mileage may vary regarding this creative decision, I found this made Iron From Ice’s central plot thread feel a little bit lazy. In combination with the episode’s reliance on its audiences familiarity with Game of Thrones, scenes come hand-in-hand with the eerie feeling that the episode’s plot is naught but a retread of themes and plot beats long-passed in the series proper. It feels like a story that fits into the margins of George RR Martin’s, but as of the first episode at least, it doesn’t feel like one that’s all that compelling in its own right.
That said, the story does a good job of integrating you with the greater events of the series without feeling like you ‘just happened to be there at the time’ – and I’m excited to see what other events from the most recent season will play out over the course of the series.
Given its reputation from brutal reversals-of-fortune and unreserved-consequences, Game of Thrones makes a great fit for Telltale’s storytelling formula. The choices you make in Iron From Ice felt meaningful and given the high stakes, genuinely compelling. Notably, the outcomes felt so appropriately brutal that I wanted to replay the episode more than I ever have with any other Telltale title.
If anything, it’s Iron from Ice’s rigid conformity to Telltale’s storytelling template that hampers it from reaching the same heights as its source material. Telltale’s engine is really beginning to show it’s age despite the best efforts of the game’s unique oil-painting-inspired look. On top of this, the direction, animation and scoring felt too mechanical for the series grandiose tone – something that some may find disappointing given their recent success with Tales From The Borderlands.
At its best, Iron From Ice feels like an average episode of Game of Thrones. It’s an impressive effort by Telltale but it falls so far short of the ambition and creative highs the franchise is capable of. Telltale finally have access to one of the most coveted licenses in pop culture – let’s see them use it properly.