Disappointment from Ice: TellTale’s Game of Thrones: Season 1 Review

Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
Rated: M for Mature
Release Date: December 2, 2014 – November 17, 2015 (US)
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, PC,  Mac, Android, iPhone, Steam (Reviewed) 
MSRP: $4.99 per episode, $29.99 for full Season

A while back, Terry and Jake started playing TellTale’s Game of Thrones Season 1: Iron from Ice and wrote a review for episode 1. Just recently, Ben Fitzgerald wrote up a poignant (but spoiler heavy) take on his thoughts of the first episode. Now that the season has finished, it’s time for Jake and Terry to once again pen a co-review of another TellTale Game.

For those who haven’t played the game (or are aware of it) Telltale’s Game of Thrones Season 1: Iron from Ice covers what happens between two smaller house within Westeros between A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords: House Forrester (under the banner of House Stark) and House Whitehill (under House Bolton and Lannister’s banner). The game starts off from what’s been dubbed “The Red Wedding” placing the state of House Forrester hanging in limbo. The very nature hangs on the decisions of the player, who as House Forrester, must make decisions that can either save the House, or have it fall to their bitter rivals, House Whitehill.

Like most TellTale Games, Game of Thrones relies heavily on a point-and-click style of play with some elements of quicktime events involving heavy button mashing, and dialogue wheel choices that alter how the story is told.

Instead of us doing it via interview style, or standard review format, Terry and Jake have written up their thoughts separately. Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below:

Terry: Game of Thrones Season 1: Iron from Ice (Iron from Ice for short) is a disappointment as a whole experience. The ending, while certainly fitting in tone and style of the TV show, doesn’t carry the same weight in narrative structuring. Season 1 lacks a punch because the endings for all stories have little to no resolution; most of it is left open ended to ensure that a second season has plenty of material to launch from. Especially when dealing with building up to deaths; most of the deaths in the television show or books have a significance leading up to and afterward. In Iron from Ice, a lot of deaths feel rather forced and lack the feeling of the significance they should carry.

Another major problem that occurs is the inconsistency of characters’ actions vs. personalities: several key characters’ decisions feel directly opposite of what they’d choose based on personality. This could be due to the limitations player agency has in how the game is going to go. It could also be the rare occasion where TellTale is paying homage and respect to the source material, but not truly grasping the subtext or nuances of it. No matter what, there are key points that have to met in order to drive the narrative forward and most of the ones in Iron from Ice feel shallow or contradictory.

One thing to give the game credit for - it perfectly captured Cersei's smugness

One thing to give the game credit for – it perfectly captured Cersei’s smugness

It’s concerning, because the narrative has several moments that show how good the writing is at setting up key moments. From Mira’s plight, to Gared’s journey, or the deadly grudge between the Whitehills and Forresters, each episode ebbs and flows in the building of escalating situations. There were a lot of moments where I actually had to pause the game and think of what each choice was saying and what would consequences could come of it. Those were the moments I felt myself in the moment, not just playing a game.

TellTale games have always been consistent in one thing; the games are a journey that the player finds themselves experiencing, not just playing. That’s not the case with Iron from Ice.

Really, when getting to the bottom of it, I didn’t care for any of the characters for Iron from Ice. A lot of the dialogue felt one dimensional and contrived, as if barely putting a scratch on the surface of Martin’s writing. As the series went on, it felt more like I was watching a fan fiction trying to mimic Martin’s style, but ultimately missing the complexities within. Even in the moments meant to be poignant I found myself lacking any sort of sympathy or emotional connection to what was going on.

Essentially, the cast of Iron from Ice didn’t feel human or relatable at all.

Iron from Ice felt way buggier compared to other TellTale games, suffering screen tears, screen freezing, slow button response time that was long enough to make it seem like my character wasn’t responding. Sometimes the characters seem to walk the opposite way than where I needed them to go. It took out of the igame even if I was trying to stay glued in. It also doesn’t help when the sound design, and different levels of performances (either phoned in, forced, or genuine) are overall inconsistent.

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Graphically speaking, the game is oftentimes true atmospherically to the show and at times breathtaking; the painting like style creates a dichotomous style between the painting like look of the game with the harsh, cold reality the writing is trying to convey. Though there are times where it feels like the appearance is muddled, the style creates a refreshing view of Westeros, the North, and Easteros. On the other hand, a lot of the characters fans of the television series are familiar with either almost or hardly look like the character they’re trying to resemble.

However, if we look at it as per individual episode, each episode is able to do a few good things during an underwhelming experience. Several episodes were able to not only work towards a great cliffhanger along with providing solid moments, others were able to create enough tension to keep players glued in . The moments where the actors felt invested in the scene created some very tense moments. Some decisions still haunt me, but not as deeply or as long as decisions in other TellTale games have.

Overall, it was underwhelming and disappointing. I hope Season 2 can improve on a lot of the faults the first season has. Otherwise, I can’t recommend the game unless you’re a fan of the multimedia franchise or a fan of TellTale Games. Even then, that’s a hard recommendation, it’s a game to get on sale.

Jake: Out of all of the Telltale series that I have played so far, Game of Thrones felt perhaps one of the more disappointing experiences. There I said it. I know that Terry and I praised the first episode, but I’ll explain what happened in the Game of Thrones that made us change our minds.

First things off, the conflict of two different paces is shown throughout the first season: the pace that Telltale puts in their games and the pace that is set by Martin in his book which is the same as the HBO series. The idea of having Telltale Games doing Game of Thrones sounded like a wonderful idea on paper, but when you have two different paces that tried to coexist, the idea of switching of multiple characters (like in the TV show) didn’t make this particular Telltale experience as fulfilling as The Walking Dead. The switching of storylines gave the game more of a breadth experience without much of depth into character development, making not a lot of new characters enjoyable.

However, what lacked in character development, did makeup for a good amount of weight that was set on the player’s’ shoulders throughout the whole season to help hide the lacking sense of agency. The healthy amount of action scenes definitely helped the players stay on edge. During the first five and a half episodes, all of this helped keep the players guessing and speculating on what would happen next as well as what would happened if they did things differently. The fact that Telltale managed to stay faithful of the setting and tones established by Martin definitely helped retain on what is familiar in the Game of Thrones to the fans. At least appearances from staple Game of Throne Characters, like Cersei Lannister and Jon Snow, helped retain that familiarity.

One of several tense moments in game

One of several tense moments in game

Unfortunately, the moment the final hour of the season started to unravel, the stage of the final scene per scene has set, which gives the players the realization that on how the main storyline is going to end. The ending created a huge disappointment, as the game offered zero resolution for all of the actions that the player has made from different storylines to help affect the major outcome of the season. As for the other storylines, there were some resolution that makes players wondered for a minute or two on how the consequences of their decisions will set the stage for potential storylines that might occur next season. Even though the minor outcomes of the dominant storyline will carry over to the next season as well, the lack of resolution left a very bitter taste that single handedly broke the entire experience that was established from the first five and a half episodes, as well as breaking all of the potential that Game of Thrones had to be in the same echelon of Telltale games as The Walking Dead.

The only hopes that I have for the second season is that the choices made in the first season would help alter some storylines to an extent throughout the duration of the remaining seasons that Telltale decides to do. Or at least the second season anyway.

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