Platforms: PC/Steam, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 | Developer/Publisher: Telltale Games | ESRB: M | Controls: Mouse/Keyboard, Controller
Misery loves company. And many companies are loving misery these days. Two of the most famous pieces of media currently, Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead, originate in literature, both have adventure game series created by Telltale Games, and both exemplify this line of thinking. They each delight in making their fanbases miserable. In the books (graphic novels) and on the television shows, your favorite families are torn apart and scattered across the world, and your favorite characters are murdered, sometimes seemingly on a whim.
Yet despite their bleak nature, for each franchise, and more specifically in regards to Game of Thrones, the good guys are usually given “a win”. The Starks had their awful wedding, but then the Lannisters got theirs as well. Tyrion is looked down on and betrayed by both his sister and his father, but he manages to escape – for the most part – danger, and most of his family members do not.
So it is that we should expect dark storylines from games based on such grim and seemingly hopeless worlds. But as players, we not only expect a win of some sort, we need it, perhaps moreso than any book-reader or television-watcher. While there is no denying that each type of media consumer feels a heavy investment into the story, a gamer, it can be argued, is more of an active participant within the narrative construct.
Telltale’s Game of Thrones focuses on a family that we’ve never heard of previously. Timeline-wise, we know that the books and TV have already passed this family by. In a very real way, it’s almost an inevitable certainty that this family cannot “win” given what we know of the happenings in Westeros and especially the North.
Giving a player, for all intents and purposes, virtually no hope is counter-intuitive to enjoyment in many ways. I’m going to, I guess, spoil things for you and let you know that there is essentially no hope for the Forrester family. The trouble with Telltale’s presentation of this is that, for me, the final episode comes off as being misery for the sake of misery. It says, “we know people expect bad things to happen, so we’re going to make it just as awful as we possibly can”.
Every hero needs to experience a loss to build up their resolve and propel them to their ultimate victory: the triumph over evil. There is no Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, without Luke Skywalker, young man who takes on evil and loses his hand, his resolve, and nearly his life. In the scope of episodic work, The Empire Strikes Back would be a cliff-hanger looking to resolve itself with the next season. Indeed, with the announcement of a second season for Game of Thrones, this could be the case for the first season of Telltale’s Game of Thrones. However, with large gaps between episodes, even larger gaps between series, and until the recent announcement of season two, no guarantees of more story and therefore resolution…it just becomes drawn-out misery.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not expecting a happy ending. When done correctly, the sad or even ambiguous conclusion is fine by me; it just feels exaggerated and forced here. While Telltale’s Game of Thrones is a series worth checking out, and I’m interested in seeing where they take their concept, I’m not sure everyone will enjoy it, and there are plenty of things that need some work to make the series a truly good one.
Visually, Telltale created an interesting variation of their art style. The voice-acting is solid. Sound design is minimal; it’s not award-worthy but does what it needs to do. The music could use some expansion, as it feels either absent or repetitive. And if all my above babble wasn’t evidence enough, the story is what probably needs the most work, somewhat troubling given that narrative is the key to an adventure experience.
The final episode of Game of Thrones features the age old problem of writers with grand ideas, pushing themselves into narrative corners which they can’t get out of. It’s kind of discouraging coming off of another adventure series that I really enjoyed right up to the end, Life is Strange, experiencing similar difficulty. Still, I’m glad I’ve played both series, and still have interest in seeing how the continue.