The Telltale juggernaut continued in December 2014 with the release of the Game Of Thrones tie-in that blends the hugely successful character driven narrative of The Walking Dead game series with the hugely successful character driven narrative of the George R. R. Martin novels and HBO TV series. On paper it’s a perfect match up and there’s a proven formula that gives confidence in the approach, so it’s a shoe in for everyones Game of the Year then? Only time will tell on that one.
It’s been hard to miss the hype around the Game of Thrones series over the last 5 years, HBO have turned a long and complex series of novels (that are still being written) into an excellently conceived and produced show that has brought the fantasy genre into the mainstream TV programming conciousness. The unexpected success makes it no surprise that the producers want to milk it for all it’s worth, and so we now have a game (well, second one, the first needs ignoring), that’s set right in the heart of that world. Making it clear, that’s HBO’s world and not the book’s world – not that they’re vastly different, but if you’re thinking they’ve plucked an untold element of the novels out for exploration then you’d be mistaken. Iron From Ice is the first part of six that tells the story House Forrester, a family and community that are caught up in a war that’s engulfed their country.
I’m being deliberately careful with what I write here because whilst you don’t have to know anything about Game Of Thrones to play this, there are thousands of pages backstory that explain the events of the first 10 minutes in the game. A brilliantly timed piece of information dropped into the scene made me draw breath, realise what was about to happen, and get truly invested in the action; but I’d read the novels and seen the show, and it made me wonder if a newcomer would get into the events or not. Maybe because the main characters here are new and well realised it doesn’t matter, and you can just get dragged along with them to journey the treacherous land of Westeros and the duplicitous or innocent people you meet along the way.
Iron from Ice has you playing as several key members of House Forrester – from a squire in the army to the lord of the hold – who are struggling to maintain their people and lives whilst being on the losing side of a war. Taking on several roles, you are tasked with acting as authoritarian, diplomat and messenger to build the story that’s going to unfold of the coming episodes, borne though the majority of the gameplay being focussed around dialogue and decision making rather than action. There’s plenty of combat to be seen, and blood to be spilt, but it’s mostly done remotely with your character usually just avoiding being cleaved in two. You aren’t a grizzled warrior capable of taking down hordes of soldiers and beasts; all the playable characters are pretty vulnerable physically, and placed in precarious positions where they have to balance their thoughts and feelings with those of others. It doesn’t sound very interesting when put like that, but I assure you it is engaging, and it is probably the only way you could really capture the huge range of characters and their motivations, and still manage keep it meaningful to the player.
Visually the approach is one that makes you think of an oil painting rather than a crisp, clean rendered image. Back drops are of a soft art style, and the characters stand out from the environments in quite vivid detail. This enables both good looking scenes at all times, and that your focus is always on the people you’re controlling or interacting with. You could argue that this is just The Walking Dead Season 2 reskinned, and because it’s the Telltale engine (complete with the usual stutters), I’d see the point. However, with it being licensed by HBO, any of the characters from TV that appear have their likenesses passed on and also do the voice acting, which makes for a cohesive experience which isn’t always the case when it comes to film or TV adaptations. The story is well written, the protagonists you’re making the decisions for are well fleshed out given the short time you spent with some of them (part one comes in at around 2 hours total), there are suitable twists and betrayals setup for future episodes, and it genuinely feels like you’re part of the wider Game of Thrones universe.
Kudos to Telltale Games here, the translation of a hot media property to gaming has been pulled off big time, Iron From Ice is not quite what I expected but left me wanting more, though I’d err on the side of caution if you’re not already familiar with the material. It’s not that it’s impenetrable if you’ve no idea who the Imp is, or what the Red Wedding means, it just might take a bit longer to get into the overall feel and atmosphere of the story. Having said that, it’s likely to give you a clearer head when making the end defining choices that some Thrones enthusiasts might try to second guess. There are 5 episodes remaining for the series and I’m really looking forward to what can be done knowing that winter is coming very soon.
Game of Thrones: Iron From Ice is out now on PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4 and iOS in both singular form or as a season pass.