The view from my third floor Chicago apartment is far from spectacular. The windows overlook an alley, where the the only thing to see is a brick wall, a fire escape, and the occaisional “urban forrager” waist deep in the dumpsters, scouring its contents for a bit of treasure. However, there are rare occaisions when the scant city wildlife will play on the utility wires that cross between buildings. Numerous squirrels and birds frequent our windowsil. Most of them are small sparrows and other common birds, so you can imagine my surprise when I spied a large black bird a few days ago, gliding down silently off of a cool northern breeze to perch in front of my window. ”That looks like a raven,” I thought to myself. What made this peculiar instance even stranger was that the raven was clutching an Xbox 360 game case in its strong beak, upon which was scrawled the phrase “Game of Thrones”.
Right about now you’re probably thinking that what I’ve just told you is utter poppycock (you’re right, it is). What ISN’T poppycock is the fact that I have been playing Atlus and Cyanide Studios’ Game of Thrones RPG for Xbox 360. Not to be confused with the real-time strategy game released last year, this is a new game that tells the tale of a nobleman-turned Red Priest named Alester Sarwyck and a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, Mors Westford. The game is broken up into chapters that alternate between each main characters’ perspective much like how author George R. R. Martin handles the chapters in his books. Given the fact that this game has been in development for over seven years, it is more closely aligned with the events of the Song of Fire and Icebooks than the HBO television seires, however everything that happens to these two men is new to the cannon and runs parallel to any events that will already be known by players without overlapping them, so everyone can set aside their fears of getting any sort of spoilers. It is clear that this is a game that was crafted with the intention of being a vessel for the strong personal narratives of these two characters, and this is a feat it pulls off well.
Ahh, good ol' Westeros hospitality.
Unfortunately, the gameplay suffers a little due to this heavy focus on narrative. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hurrying through the mundane, yet challenging clashes of steel and arrows so you can quickly get to the dialogue sequences and cutscenes. This is not to say that the gameplay is weak by any means; it simply sticks to RPG tropes while adding a few little twists of its own. Combat is turn-based, and players can pull up a menu to select actions to add to the action queue. Characters on-screen will execute these fighting, defensive, or healing manuevers in turn based on their speed compared to the other characters involved in the skirmish. Where this idea differs from other games of this type is that the game’s action doesn’t pause so you can leaf through the menu idly and make a decision in your own time. The fighting will simply slow to a crawl, so you must make a decision quickly or face the concequences of diminished health, or even death. Earning levels comes at a rather slow pace, but once you do level up a character you will be happier than you were on your 16th Name Day and could finally drive. There will be a lot of choices you can make as to just how it levels up. There are familiar skill points to distribute, and talent trees to navigate, but the twist here comes in the selection of each character’s strengths and weakness. You are presented with a column of strengths and a column of weaknesses, and each one is assigned a point value. For example, if you pick a strength in the left column valued at three points that makes party members stronger, you must pick enough weaknesses in the right column to equal three points in order for everything to balance. It is an interesting system that hasn’t been seen very often, if ever, and serves to add a new and welcomed facet to building the perfect hero.
As expected, there will be many skirmishes!
Visually, Game of Thrones is a treat. From the grey wastes patrolled by the black brothers of the Wall, to the bustling streets of King’s Landing, the locales of Westeros look great. The development team was even able to get some of the show’s actors on board and use their likeness for familiar characters that make appearances in the game. Great care was even taken to make armor and clothing that is incredibly detailed. Alester is initially shrouded in the mysterious red robes of his religious order, and that red theme carries through to most of his armor. The tattered black garb of Mors is exactly what you would expect to see on a member of the Night’s Watch. This same detail was even carried over into enemies, like the Wildling boss who wore the heads of his vanquished foes around his belt. There are occaisionally some mouth syncing issues during spoken bits, but this is still something that a lot of developers struggle to perfect with this generation’s technology. There is also sometimes a problem with character animations being choppy during a dialogue sequence. It occurs when they are changing to a new phrase, and they seem to shift to a new animation without a smooth transition in between. Fortunately this doesn’t create a hinderance to gameplay or the ability to enjoy the game. Game of Thrones gets a win on the audio front as well. The music is rich, lush, adventurous, and even gets to borrow an easily recognizable theme for the title screen. All of the aforementioned dialogue will be delivered to your ears by top-notch voice actors, some of which are even actors from the show.
If you are considering rallying your bannermen and forming a caravan to trek to your local video game retailer to pick up this game, then I suggest you make plans immediately. Winter may still be coming in the land of Westeros, but on the plane of existence on which we all live, summer is just around the corner which means the dreaded video game famine is on the way. Game of Thrones offers a rich narrative story delivered in a familiar style Song of Fire and Ice readers will recognize and enjoy, and adds plenty of new and believable material to the cannon. It may not offer anything mind blowing in terms of gameplay or graphics, but even with a few hiccups in the animation this is a game that any RPG fan will love and enjoy, and any Game of Thrones fan will be able to appreciate without ruining any surprises that still may be in store for them in the books or TV series. This could be the perfect game to bring a little distraction into your personal castle’s keep while you wait to feast like a king on fourth quarter game releases. [review title=”Game of Thrones” pros=”The interesting story is told well and wrapped up in a game with some new changes on classic RPG formulas. There is also a really awesome art book that was available as a pre-order bonus that may be available at your local game retailer still.” cons=”Core gameplay isn’t incredibly unique, a few issues with graphics during the game’s extensive spoken scenes.” verdict=”Even if you’ve never stepped foot on the contintent of Westeros before, this is a game you can easily use to get your feet wet in the rich Game of Thrones universe.” score=75]