Telltale Games has been busy lately. Last week the studio released the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands on consoles and PC, celebrating the game's premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse. Shortly thereafter Telltale announced the impending arrival of Game of Thrones, another episodic adventure game based on the hit HBO series of the same name.
Game of Thrones Episode 1: Iron from Ice just has arrived on Xbox One and 360, PC, and Playstation systems. Whereas Tales from the Borderlands was a lighthearted and humorous adventure, Game of Thrones tells a much darker and bloodier story. Fans of the show and books wouldn't have it any other way. We've run through the entire first episode and made lots of tough choices in order to bring you this full review.
Welcome to Westeros, the happiest place ever
'Iron from Ice' takes place between the third and fourth seasons of Game of Thrones, just after the Red Wedding. Obviously the game is meant to appeal to fans of the show, but you needn't be an active watcher (or even have seen the show) to get the jist of things. I've only seen the first season, yet I wasn't lost when the game started. Everything is set up well enough for a newcomer to understand.
Spoiler-wise, people who aren't well caught up with the show will have the fate of the Starks broadly spoiled for them. A few characters from the show make appearances, but their involvement mostly revolves around this game's plot as opposed to the series' ongoing narrative. If you can handle hearing the Starks mentioned a few times in the past tense, the game won't hurt your enjoyment of the show.
Telltale accomplishes that approachability by focusing on House Forrester, a group mentioned in passing in the novels and thus ripe for fleshing out in the game. The Forresters have occupied the largest ironwood forest in Westeros for generations, supplying the valuable wood to those who can pay for it.
At the start of the game, the Forrester family consists of Lord Gregor the Good and his generally virtuous family. They closely resemble the Starks, another honorable family cursed to live in a world filled with endless malice and betrayal.
Gared's initiation into battle
Tales from the Borderlands was the first Telltale game to feature dual playable protagonists, and now Game of Thrones ups the ante to three. We meet the first of these characters during the prologue, which takes place on the outskirts of the Red Wedding. Gared Tuttle is a squire to Lord Forrester, and nephew of the Forrester's Castellan Duncan.
As the Forrester party participates in the wedding night festivities, a large force of their enemies launches a surprise attack. An exciting and bloody battle breaks out, which you can view in full in our gameplay video above.
Like other Telltale games, the actual fighting takes place through simple Quicktime Events. Players will have to slide or swipe in various directions, tap specific buttons, and sometimes vigorously tap a button in order to fill a meter and help Gared escape from harm. These don't require substantial skill to pull off successfully, as the goal is always to keep the story moving rather than challenge the player.
My only complaint with the action commands is that one of the rapid-tapping sequences has a meter that can't be filled up no matter how fast you hit the button. The idea is to keep Gared safe long enough for another character to save him, but it feels cheap from a gameplay perspective. A minor nuisance, sure. But Tales from the Borderlands didn't pull such a trick on us.
Ethan and Mira Forrester
After escaping from the ambush, Gared returns to Ironrath, the Forrester ancestral home. There we meet Ethan Forrester, the second playable character. Young Ethan must take over as Lord in his father's absence.
Players have two complex problems to solve for Ethan. Both are emblematic of the difficult decisions and maneuvering required from players in the Game of Thrones universe. First, he must choose a Sentinel (chief advisor) from two diametrically opposed candidates. Then he must formulate a plan for dealing with the impending arrival of Ramsay Snow.
Ramsay is the bastard son of Lord Roose Bolton, an enemy to the Forresters, and also a cruel and sadistic individual. The conflict between the Forresters and their two allied enemies the Boltons and Whitehalls drives the overall narrative of this episode. The Whitehalls have long envied and hated the Forresters for their Ironwood, and they have the ears of the Boltons.
Meanwhile, the third playable character Mira Forrester tries to help her family remotely from King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. Mira serves as handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, a major character from the show and novels. At this point in the narrative, Margaery is betrothed to King Joffrey. A visit from Cerseiand Tyrion Lannister (more major characters) puts both Mira and Margaery in a tense situation.
Mira's portion of the adventure illuminates the role that women play in the male-dominated land of Westeros. Females require just as much cunning and strategy as the menfolk in this world, despite their differing positions and circumstances.
Capturing the world of Westeros
All things considered, Telltale has done a remarkable job of capturing the look and feel of the HBO series in this first episode. The Telltale engine, despite minor upgrades for the new console generation, is not exactly a graphical powerhouse. To make up for the lack of high-end textures, everything has a watercolor-like effect that looks stunning without ever detracting from the serious atmosphere.
The 'Iron from Ice' characters might move a bit robotically at times, but they always look just like their live action counterparts. I actually recognized the game's Margaery as the actress who played Ann Boleyn ( Natalie Dormer) in The Tudors and a minor role in Captain America: the First Avenger, despite never having seen her character in the Game of Thrones show.
The likenesses of more familiar characters like Cersei and Tyrion are perfectly captured as well. For better or worse, each returning character is voiced by the corresponding actor from the show. I say "for worse" because Peter Dinklage turns in a completely flat and wooden performance as Tyrion. After doing a similarly leaden job in Destiny, it's clear that Dinklage struggles with voice acting for some reason.
A game of clothes
Before playing 'Iron from Ice,' I wondered how Telltale would handle the show's more shocking elements in their game. Well, the famous Game of Thrones gore and harsh language show up here in abundance. Nobody is safe in this world, which might come as a gut punch to any gamer new to the universe.
The only Game of Thrones mainstays you won't find in 'Iron from Ice' are sex and nudity. In the show, some of this game's scenes would have taken place before, during, or after some vigorous shagging. That element doesn't make the cut in this first episode. As someone who quite likes the show's bawdiness, I hope it will emerge in future episodes of the game.
Game of Thrones: Episode 1 is a gripping dark fantasy adventure. While I prefer Tales from the Borderlands' joy and whimsy, the conflict and intrigue of Game of Thrones is nearly as fun. Fans of the show will enjoy learning about a little-seen corner of Westeros and its inhabitants, as well as visits from several series regulars. Even as a casual viewer, I'm dying to see how my choices play out in the next episode.
Telltale's Game of Thrones is a six-part episodic adventure with a full 1,000 Gamerscore worth of Achievements spread across all six episodes on Xbox One. The Achievements are entirely completion based, so you can't miss them.
To get the game on Xbox One and 360, players must purchase the first episode individually. After that, they can either buy additional episodes as they're released for $5 or opt to purchase a season pass for $19.99. The Steam version must be purchased as a full season.