IRON FROM ICE REVIEW
The world of Game of Thrones is a bleak place where life is never fair, and doing the right thing more often than not results in terrible consequences for honorable people. The first episode of Telltale’s six-part Game of Thrones game represents that cruel reality explicitly; in two hours of dialogue decisions made with the knowledge that being good and noble might mean the downfall of House Forrester and the original characters you control, it sets up great anticipation for future episodes and delivers a strong ending of its own.
First, a warning: definitely do not approach this game as a way to introduce yourself to Game of Thrones. It’s made for existing fans, in that it requires a good amount of knowledge of the story, and it begins with a massive spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen the first three seasons or read through the third A Song of Ice and Fire book, A Storm of Swords. For that matter, you’re best off skipping this review until you’ve gotten that far in, since the entire story revolves around fallout from those events.
The game mimics the structure of the show (and the books) by jumping between the perspectives of three characters: Garred Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester; Ethan Forrester, who must step up to rule the Forrester seat of Ironrath in his father’s absence; and Mira Forrester, Ethan’s older sister and handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing. Each of them has their own distinct role to play in attempting to salvage House Forrester’s future, and each maintains the pace with a few difficult decisions to make.
Garred’s scenes involve a lot of simple, straightforward quick-time event-style action. It’s not challenging, but it breaks up the dialogue with brutal bloodshed, and it sets a tone that raises the stakes of the diplomacy that follows. His decisions of whether to try to save everyone or sacrifice them for the greater good are tense, thanks to the ticking clock that adds urgency to almost every dialogue choice, but typical.
His bigger quest is to deliver a secret only to certain ears, which is a bit silly because you’re never given a reason to want to divulge it. You have to deliberately choose to fail. (And yes, I went back and replayed just to see what would happen if I haphazardly blurted it out at every opportunity.)
Scenes from Ethan’s perspective are some of the strongest. His heated negotiations with the lord of a rival house, while receiving guidance from his advisors, are especially well written and acted. Later, the decision of which of his advisors to elevate above the others also carries weight – not because it has any major impact on this episode, but for the implications for the future aggressive or diplomatic stance of the house. And we get the opportunity to establish our version of Ethan as a harsh or lenient lord.
Mira’s scenes in the capital city of King’s Landing are a good change of setting from the grays and browns of Ironrath, and playing her small part in the power struggle between Margaery and Cersei adds another layer of intrigue to the plot. Choosing just how much to ask of Margaery and how far to bend to appease Cersei – and whether to trust offers of help – are some of the most interesting from the big-picture perspective.
Across the board, acting is up to the high standards Telltale has set with its past games. Plus, all the characters from the show who appear – Margaery Tyrell, Queen Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, and Ramsay Snow – are authentically voiced by their TV actors, and the likenesses are good enough that details like Cersei’s signature lopsided sneer and slightly raised eyebrow come through.
Those portrayals are undermined slightly by occasionally glitchy animations, with characters or limbs sometimes warping into place or briefly vanishing. And while the painterly art style generally looks quite good, the brushstroke effect on backgrounds can be distracting when the camera moves and causes the strokes to shimmer around.
It’s important to note that most choices in Episode 1 have little or no significant impact within this two-hour section of the story. In fairness, it’s an episode that positions itself as a prologue, concluding with “Your story begins,” so much of what makes this a great start for the series is the promises it makes – or implies – for what’s to come. It caps off with a powerful and shocking ending that reminds us both of the kind of harsh world we’re in, and also that the major events of this story are going to be beyond our control.