Game of Thrones Review
- Game of Thrones RPG
- A Song of Ice and Fire
Made2Game Game of Thrones Review Score: 3/10
Formats: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: PS3
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Reviewed by: Mick Fraser
When it comes to pitching videogame concepts, some ideas are no-brainers. A first person shooter set during World War Two, for example, or an action-adventure game based on the Batman comics, or an RPG grounded in the Game of Thrones universe. How could any of those ideas fail to capture the nuances and intricacies of their source material? How could any of them fail to deliver anything other than peerless entertainment?
Well, having played Call of Duty: World at War, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Cyanide's Game of Thrones RPG, it’s a shame to have to say that one of them has failed almost completely. No prizes for guessing which one it is... Yup, correct.
This is Mors. He has a PAST and a SCAR, so he is MYSTERIOUS
The most immediate problem with Game of Thrones is that it never manages to truly evoke the source material. At first this seems unlikely to be a problem: how could it not evoke it, right? Place names and characters are present, Ramin Djawadi’s incredible, rousing theme sets the mood at the title screen, and Conleth Hill (Varys the Spider)’s opening monologue feels genuine and authentic. But then within half an hour of play it begins to come apart – for reasons you’re not immediately aware of – and doesn’t stop unravelling until it’s a pile of frayed, faded thread on a cold stone floor.
It’s boring, you see. Damning words, yes, but true nevertheless. For all of Cyanide’s efforts to capture the essence of HBO’s epic series, the fruits borne of their labour are as dull and as tasteless as old wax. Using the series as a jumping-off point as opposed to George R.R Martin’s beloved – some would say seminal – fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, seems like a good idea and, regardless of the net result, probably was the right decision for Cyanide. We already know what the world looks like and who the characters are, and can more easily visualise the events of the TV show so that our minds fill in the blanks. But it simply fails to grip, right from the off.
The story runs concurrently with the events of the first season, and begin with Mors Westford, a brother of the Night’s Watch, chasing down a deserter across the ice-shrouded, unforgiving stretch of land south of The Wall known as The Gift. He catches him, hauls him back to Castle Black, and then after several rather mundane dialogue options, cuts off his head. The dialogue tree is similar to the one employed in BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins in that it presents you with paraphrased versions of the actual sentence you’re choosing. Like Dragon Age, the things you say do have repercussions later on so there is a point to choosing your words carefully – it’s just difficult to actually care what those repercussions are.
This screenshot makes the combat look terribly exciting, but it's all an illusion
Similarly to last year’s Lord of the Rings: War in the North, there’s an almost fan fiction-esque feel to proceedings for anyone who watched the show or read the book (which is surely everyone who buys the game), whereby you know that what’s going to happen has to fit in with established canon, and so no matter what you do or say, or indeed who you kill or spare, it isn’t going to make a damned bit of difference to the actual saga.
Anyway, regardless of the details of said beheading, you’re shortly thereafter treated to your first taste of combat, which is the second time you’ll sigh and wonder why you’re bothering. Once again aping Dragon Age: Origins, the melee is the kind of semi-turn-based attack-stacking that was only just still acceptable in 2009 – and then only because BioWare did such a good job. Hitting R1 brings up a radial menu allowing you to select a special attack to cue up in one of your three action slots. Skills depend entirely on which character stance (read: class) you chose at the beginning, which for Mors will either be sword-and-board, two-handed or dual-wielding. The size of the skill tree is deceptive, though, as you can choose to unlock skills that can’t be used in your particular stance and are thus pointless.
Stacking attacks allows the fighting to play out in “real time”, so you get to watch Mors and whoever he’s fighting slap each other in the faces with swords and axes without so much as twitching until one of them drops dead. The weapons have zero weight or heft and you wouldn’t know who was winning or losing if you turned the health bars off. Occasionally a fight will finish with a flourish as Mors despatches his opponent with a finishing move, but the animations are clumsy, sluggish, and almost always host to collision issues, slowdown or visual glitches like invisible weapons or armour pieces.
Mors has a dog that fights alongside him who you can also unlock abilities for that is not at all like a smaller version of the Mabari, which adds a bit of fun to proceedings. You can even use a “Skinchanger” ability to control the dog for a while in order to sniff your way to quests or buried loot, or to stealthily tear out someone’s throat. It’s a gimmick, to be fair, but one that works better than most other areas of the game.
This is Alester. He CATCHES on FIRE and does what SIRIO FOREL did, so he is INTERESTING
Game of Thrones is split into chapters, and each one alternates between Mors and the other protagonist, Alester Sarwyck, a former lord who has spent time in Braavos learning to be a Water Dancer and a Red Priest – honestly, it’s as if Cyanide couldn’t let the opportunity pass to include both of those as playable classes but couldn’t make the story work with a third protagonist. Alester’s story is far more interesting than Mors’ up until they intertwine, when it becomes mostly just as dull despite occasional twists that at least remind us that Cyanide have watched Game of Thrones before.
As Alester you’ll meet Cersei Lannister (at that time still Baratheon) and Varys the Spider, while the universe’s other important characters are handily removed from whichever area you happen to be standing in. Conleth Hill, Lena Headey and James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont) all lend their voices to their respective characters but, aside from Headey’s honeyed tones as Queen Cersei, you’d believe they were recorded over the phone on a lazy Sunday morning. Regardless, it’s still Alester’s story that has the most variety in the early stages, asking you investigate your father’s murder, allegedly committed at the hands of your brother.
The investigation leads you to King’s Landing to reclaim your Lordship from the hands of your usurping bastard half-brother, and once there you’ll find yourself breaking and entering, escaping from prison, visiting a brothel and meeting with the queen – which at least feels like Game of Thrones as you try not to upset the unpredictable, borderline-psychotic Cersei. However, the brothel is tamer than you might expect if you’ve seen the TV show, as it’s comprised of nothing more than a handful of identical, blank-faced women gyrating to no music while various men stand around looking equally dead-eyed. We’re not suggesting there should be nudity or sex, but why include a brothel scene in a game based on a show that has such graphic brothel scenes and make it about as sexual as scratching the top off a corn?
This is the brothel scene. It's precisely as sexually-charged as it looks
Unfortunately, as much as we really, really wanted to like – even love – Cyanide’s Game of Thrones RPG, we simply can’t. There are too many bad ideas and bad decisions choking the good ones. The combat is lacklustre and poorly-executed, the character models are out of proportion (my God, look at their hands!), the facial animations and lip-synching are terrible, the environments don’t scream “Game of Thrones!” any more than they quietly whimper “Generic role-playing game,” and despite a handful of neat touches like Mors’ dog and Alester’s fire magic, the whole production lacks any kind of charm, believability or excitement. Even the side-questing and looting, which are often the backbone and redeemable features of even the worst action RPGs, are bland and unnecessary. The game would have worked far better as a straight action affair with RPG elements like persistent upgradeable weapons and trainable skills, rather than as the shallow Dragon Age: Origins rip-off that it feels like.
The fact that Game of Thrones has such an illustrious heritage thanks to the exceptional novels and the incredible HBO series does it no favours, and hitting shelves in a year that has already seen Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings and Dragon’s Dogma will see it quickly forgotten. We should probably commend Cyanide for making the attempt, given that, despite the title’s shortcomings, they have clearly put as much effort as they are able into the development of the Game of Thrones RPG…
But that somehow makes it seem much worse.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
Part two of our rundown of this year's biggest upcoming Vita releases
An Action-RPG based on the HBO adaptation of George R.R. Martin's award-winning saga