Currently, Game of Thrones for the 360 is running $24.99 pre-owned. I was lucky enough to catch this one on sale for the holidays at $19.99, and couldn’t resist the urge to buy it. The HBO series is a favorite of mine, and I have long wanted to play the game, though I refrained from purchasing because of all the mixed reviews. Granted, there is plenty to complain about, but with a little patience, Game of Thrones (GoT) will throw you for more loops than Nedd Stark’s untimely demise.
GoT doesn’t retell the stories of the novel or the show, rather runs parallel to the events leading up to the TV series’ first season events. We get to view the kingdom through two pairs of eyes: Alester Sarwyck and Mors Westford. Mors is a member of the Night’s Watch family, exiled because of his disobedience during the war that put Robert Baratheon on the throne. Staying true to his oath, he is known as a merciless slayer of Wildlings and protector of The Wall. When a letter arrives from the King’s Hand, begging him to protect a mysterious woman, Mors travels south to investigate and search for her. Alester has been in exile for a long time as well, but of his own free will. He returns to his home of Riverspring to bury his father, the ruler of the realm. His return should place him in the seat of power, but his conniving bastard brother Valaar has gained influence with the Queen and is maneuvering to take the seat himself. Internal conflicts arise as he tries to take his rightful power back, while warding off those who offer advise with unclear intentions.
Both characters are strong with clear senses regarding good and evil. Their approach to situations, however, are in stark (no pun intended) contrast. Alester is willing to bow before evil in an attempt win a later battle of wits, where Mors would consider that some sort of alignment with evil and would rather fight and take his chances. Bouncing back and forth between playing these characters keeps things interesting and progresses both stories simultaneously. You get to see how one story’s ripples can effect the other. There is no morality meter in GoT, and you are free to make decisions as you see fit. There are many options during conversations, and you have to be willing to take the consequences. Each time you make a decision, the world changes just slightly, and puts you onto your final path to your ending. There are five different endings based on your decisions in the final chapter, but the biggest differences to the story are made during the rest of the game. Choosing alliances should be done carefully, because those can be gained and lost easily, and depending on how you treat characters early on will determine their influence in your stories. The stories of Alester and Mors are exactly what you want and expect out of a Game of Thrones game: mystery, deceit, alliances, double-crossings, love, battles, and murder…lots and lots of arrow-shooting mace-swinging battles and murder.
Obviously, there is much more to a game than story. Here’s where most of the complaints about GoT fit in. While the musical score is incredible and makes you feel you’re a part of the epic TV series, the first real complaint is that the graphics are dated and feel a bit lazy. Westeros just doesn’t feel all that big or grand. There are about half a dozen locations you fast-travel between on a map, and once you reach each city there is room to roam, but the depth and grandeur that the books/series create just aren’t there. The muddy textures and quirky animations aren’t enough to draw you out of the experience, but they are noticeable and don’t do the game or story any justice.
Adding to the clunky graphics are the clunky controls. This is at first so off-putting that I nearly gave up on the whole thing during the first chapter. Picking up items or opening doors seemed impossible. A prompt to push “A” would appear over the object, but it wouldn’t illuminate to let me know when my invisible cursor was in just the right spot to actually activate it. In the very beginning of my game, I spent two minutes walking, strafing, and spinning around a door, tapping the action button wildly, before I finally was able to open it. This is a big No-No in my book. I suppose this is due to a poor port from the PC to console, but this is something that should have been addressed. You are constantly picking up items and opening doors throughout the game, so until you get used to the angle in which to approach them, this can be incredibly frustrating. Gamers, have hope – you do get used to it.
The combat and character leveling is at first overwhelming. Within the first few minutes of popping in the game, you are thrust into battle. You are bombarded with stats, powers, perks, and multiple weapon choices and upgrades. What should I use against heavy armor? What does it mean when the enemy or I are bleeding? What powers are effective against certain enemies, which ones are passive, and WHY AM I ALWAYS DYING?! After you’ve been through battle a few times, these will all become second-nature to you. It also helps if you read through the in-game guide carefully, and give yourself a tutorial during the earlier fights, since one is not provided. The combat is like that in Dragon Age, you are allowed to build three actions at a time, and are strongly encouraged to use your power wheel to get the job done. When your power wheel is engaged, time is slowed to a crawl, allowing you to use some strategy in your combat decisions and switch to other characters in your group to use their powers as well. Unfortunately, unlike Dragon Age, you can’t set your teammate’s fighting styles, so you have to constantly switch between them. Sounds like a pain, right? Well, once you get the hang of it, you will be cutting through baddies like a hot knife through butter. Once you have it figured out, you are surprised at just how simple the combat really is. Usually, games like this are littered with fetch quests that detract from the main quests. You really won’t find much of that here. Instead, side quests feel like real, honest quests, asking you to use intuition to achieve them and rewarding you greatly for their completion.
A bonus is that most of the achievements are extremely attainable. Most of them can be earned on your first play-through without a guide, and multiple play-through’s are not only encouraged, but wanted. The vast amounts of choices and multiple endings, coupled with incredible storytelling make you want to play it again as soon as you beat it. Without a guide or feverishly hitting the jewel to check the achievements over and over, I casually racked up 545 out of 1000 points. With a little more effort, I could have had MANY more on my first run on Easy.
With so many elements that are either really great or just OK, I can see why there were so many mixed reviews when GoT released. Now that the price has dropped (granted, only down to $24.99) it is easy to see which side of the debate I favor. The amazing storytelling and fantastic characters negate the clunky controls and muddy graphics. If you just can’t justify getting this one until the price drops below $20, then wait it out. But if you have the extra $5 to spare and are a big fan of the books, or especially the series, feel confident in slapping it down to add this one to your cheap-game library.
Game of Thrones is Worth a Buy!