(This is a tentative review critiquing an ongoing series. As such, this review will contain no final score, but an individual critique and summary that is solely based on the experience of the episode. This game’s overall critique is subject to change in other episode reviews and will be determined after the final installment.)
(This review of Game of Thrones: Episode 1 — Iron From Ice is spoiler free.)
At first glance, Telltale working on a Game of Thrones game seems like a transparent pairing — two of the current, storytelling heavyweights in their respective mediums coming together for another nail-biting narrative sounds too good to be true. But here it is, in the form of episode 1, entitled Iron From Ice. Though this first episode is more a teaser than a full-fledged story, the prospect of what is to come along with the HBO series cast reprising their roles makes for the start of a sure-to-be harrowing adventure.
Iron From Ice begins in media res (“in the midst of things”) at the Red Wedding and introduces us to House Forrester, keepers of the Ironwood. Like the Game of Thrones novels, the narrative jumps from perspective to perspective with each new scene, switching between Gared Tuttle, a squire to Lord Forrester, Mira Forrester, a handmaiden in King’s Landing, and Ethan Forrester, the third eldest son who prefers the lute to the sword. These three characters, along with their supporting casts, deliver an intense, nerve-racking story that’s full of as much animosity as there is uncertainty. It’s a great start to the series, one that assures the same caliber of storytelling expected from the Game of Thrones franchise.
But there are two aspects of the narrative that hinder Iron From Ice from standing out in the Game of Thrones library. First, the episode does not deliver anything beyond the series’ standard and presents a plot that will be too familiar to any Game of Thrones fan, even edging on predictable to the initiated. Secondly, the allure of a Telltale game, its choice system and player-driven outcomes, takes a backseat in this entry. Many of the decisions made in episode 1 barely affect the outcome of the game, even on a small scale. Some might argue that this is a poor execution of moral questioning and decision-making as it diminishes the consequences, but I personally thought it was acceptable. The choices still force the player to act on intuition and emotional impulse and it emphasizes the changes in the journey rather than the ultimate outcome.
The art of Telltale’s Game of Thrones is similar to their past games, featuring a 3-D comic book style with some interesting watercolor effects. However, in this new series, there are some tweaks here and there that are hit and miss when it comes to presentation. For starters, Game of Thrones looks incredibly more vivid and more fluid than its Telltale predecessors. Facial expressions have improved too, which is an extremely important aspect as Game of Thrones relies heavily on good characterization. Yet, there are times where the characters have a certain fuzzy aura to their outline, which is a bit off-putting in such a grim narrative. But this is a minor element that only happens every so often. Telltale’s signature art style is one of their strongest attributes alongside fantastic storytelling and it shows again in Iron From Ice.
On a more technical note, there are a plethora of bugs and glitches present throughout Iron From Ice. An abhorrent amount of clipping, awkward blood textures instantly appearing, and framerate stutters are just a few that plague the series prelude. Though some of these were present in past Telltale games, they were minor in that they were not too frequent and fairly unnoticeable. But in a game that emphasizes a dramatic narrative, maintaining immersion is a key factor — something the game’s technical flaws undermine. I was torn away from the episodes’ more emotional scenes as someone’s hands phased through a sword or hilt, as blood patterns randomly splotched onto the ground in unbelievable, instantaneous occurrences or as a character momentarily became cross-eyed. It’s progressively worsening with each Telltale title. While these technical mishaps are nowhere near making the game unplayable, they do drag down the overall experience of investing the player in a wonderfully written story.
Telltale’s first foray into the world of Westeros promises a season of bittersweet hope and politically fueled murder and betrayal. Game of Thrones fans are sure to be pleased at how George R.R. Martin’s universe is treated and how it expands upon the cruelty of reality expressed in his series. Although not labelled as a prologue, Iron From Ice acts as one and does not excel past that position in narrative; it is a hook that does its job at reeling in Game of Thrones fans, tantalizing us with more political intrigue.
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood