Telltale Games has been busy. The studio has already released episodes for three different series throughout 2014, and the premiere instalment of Game of Thrones marks the fourth and final one of the year. Deploying such a wealth of content – this is the company’s tenth outing in 12 months – could stretch any team thin, but fortunately the developer’s output has remained largely consistent so far. The question is: can this instalment maintain that high?
First things first: this series takes its influences from the television show rather than the novels. Granted, the HBO hit is based on George R.R. Martin’s books, but this adaptation goes as far as to include the stars from the programme. Many familiar faces pop up, such as Ramsey Snow (who’s as crazy as ever) and some of the Lannister clan. And yes, even Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion is present and correct – and sounding slightly more confident than his Destiny character.
In fact, the voice acting throughout the entirety of Episode 1 - Iron from Ice is fantastic. Given that this is a Telltale release, it isn’t especially surprising – but it’s nice to see the level of quality remain consistent across all of the studio’s titles. Having said that, we’re pleased to see this buck the outfit’s penchant for poor technical performance, as the framerate – while not flawless – is much studier than the likes of The Walking Dead here, and the painterly textures look fine.
We did notice some bizarre audio issues, however, similar to those in the PS4 release of The Wolf Among Us, where every once in a while, dialogue from the characters would double up, and you’d listen to them saying the same things like a broken record. This occurred more frequently when we played as the character living in King’s Landing (the location of the Iron Throne), but it happened once or twice with the other characters, too.
Speaking of the protagonists, we know that by the season’s end, we’ll have encountered a total of five playable stars. The opening episode introduces three of them, as the plot begins at the infamous Red Wedding. More than a couple of characters is a lot for a game like this, but the developer apes the show, and bounces you around from hero to hero as opposed to putting you in control of one personality for a prolonged period of time. It works well, but some of the stars are more interesting than others.
As previously alluded, this title debuts the studio’s new art style, which is described as a ‘living oil painting’. It offers a nice change of pace from the usual cel-shaded look employed in the outfit’s previous titles. The backgrounds in particular look very unique, as they appear to stop right behind the character models, and really do give the impression of a piece of art. The area around Ironrath looks especially beautiful.
It’s a pity that the plot doesn’t hit the same high standards, then. While the story certainly isn’t bad, it feels plodding at times, and left us pondering when it would be over. Fortunately, the final act of this instalment does pick up pace, and feels much more like what we’ve come to expect from both Telltale and the Game of Thrones show. Here, the stakes are really raised, and the title ups the tension to dizzying levels, boding well for remainder of the season.
Up until that point, though, the narrative simply doesn’t feel punchy enough, and even the gameplay feels rote. While the brilliant Tales from the Borderlands introduced new minor mechanics and systems, this episode fails to set itself apart from its predecessors, revolving around the familiar dialogue choices and quick-time events that have now become customary from the Californian company.
Game of Thrones: Episode 1 - Iron from Ice is certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it hits nowhere near as hard as it maybe should have. Bits and pieces show promise for future episodes – particularly the conclusion – but all of the pieces are not yet in place. With more playable characters and an extra episode in this season, there’s definitely potential here – it’s just not been realised so far.