By their very nature, all role-playing games are ambitious: vast landscapes to explore, thousands of interactive characters and quests that between them have the power to swallow entire weeks of a player’s life. Game Of Thrones has all this to live up to and much more besides.
Of course, half of the legwork has already been done for developer Cyanide. George R.R. Martin’s revered series of fantasy literacy has intricately crafted a world of such vivid mythology and grandeur that for a developer to stumble over the lore would be nigh-impossible. Praise should go to the French studio, then, for managing to at least evoke the tone of the source material without wholly contradicting it, introducing new characters Mors Westford (a ranger based on the frozen Wall in the north) and Alester Sarwyck, (a priest returning home) that fit snugly alongside the established canon.
With some interesting twists and turns throughout, knowledge of the series isn’t essential for newcomers, but there’s a permeating sense that it is strongly encouraged. Interactions with recognisable characters and known locations are underwhelming for those unfamiliar with Martin’s work, the budgetary constraints keenly felt in the uninspiring design decisions.
It’s really no surprise that the licence itself is the game’s double-edged sword. Sticking close to the narrative structure of the source material involves the action switching between two protagonists at either side of the land of Westeros. While it’s a neat thematic trick, the juxtaposition of the two disparate locations, narratives and drastically contrasting characters is ultimately jarring from both a plot and a gameplay standpoint.
Both points are compounded by woeful voice acting – featuring indolent turns from both the cast of the TV show and some game-only newcomers – and a relentless linearity, scuppering any chance of true immersion into the mystical land. Add to these woes the lack of true role-playing features – side-quests are uncommon and inconsequential (with usually a singular objective extended through checkpoints during each chapter) and players fast travel between locations rather than being given the free rein to explore the wilderness – and it calls into question why Cyanide opted to sculpt an RPG as lightweight as this.
Yet it’s these scant elements of the genre that prove the most damning when present. Combat here is the game at its most pedestrian, feeding players a variety of abilities with only a few proving useful. There’s also an option for slowing down time, enabling the player to plan attacks and switch between characters, which adds welcome strategy but ultimately proves monotonous with clunky animations including a singular coup de grâce recycled to tedium.
By journey’s end, it’s only a passing interest in the increasingly intriguing story that holds attention. Indeed, this is a deeply flawed and overly ambitious attempt for a developer unable to grasp the genre basics. Its only real triumph is that it doesn’t completely tarnish the licence’s sterling reputation.