As of today, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga has a new chapter. It's not a chapter in a book, however, nor is it bonus footage from HBO's wildly popular adaptation, Game of Thrones. Nope, it's a video game.
Game of Thrones the game is something unusual in the video game world—not a tie-in or an adaptation of the events depicted on the show or in the books, but rather a whole new story that nonetheless is "canon"—it exists alongside the events of the first book.
It's hard to resist the allure of getting to set foot in the smelly, violent, dangerous world of Westeros. But what, exactly, is this game all about? How does it impact the big-picture story? Which characters from the TV show turn up? And most importantly, how hot is the sex?
I've played about a dozen hours of the game and am roughly halfway through it. It seemed like it would be a good time to answer your (possibly imaginary) Game of Thrones questions.
I'll refrain from sharing game-spoilers here, though there will be some slightly spoiler-y stuff here relating to the show and books. Nothing big, though.
As they say in Westeros: To infinity, and beyond!
So, give me the gist. What's this game all about?
Game of Thrones is an action role-playing game for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. In the game you alternate between two different characters, both of whom have been retrofitted into the existing fiction of the Song of Ice and Fire novels. The story takes place mostly in three locations—at Castle Black in the north, Riverspring (a town created for the game) in the south, and in King's Landing. The two characters are both displaced older gents who fought in Robert Baratheon's revolution against Aerys Targaryen: Mors Westford, a brother of the Night's Watch, and Alester Sarwyck, a nobleman of Riverspring who subsequently abandoned his family and became a red priest like Thoros of Myr.
When does it take place?
The story happens concurrent to the first book in Martin's series, A Game of Thrones, or the first season of the HBO show.
Did George R.R. Martin really help write it?
Sort of. He was a consultant on the game, but I don't get the sense that he was all that involved in actually writing it. That said, it's not some hackneyed fanfic or anything—you can sense his hand behind the overarching story, and the lore is all consistent.
Do you meet characters from the TV show?
HBO came on the scene when development on the game was already well underway, so there aren't that many TV-show characters in the game. However, there are a few. The old bear Jeor Mormont is Mors' primary quest-giver at Castle Black, though James Cosmo's voice performance is somewhat phoned in and unexciting.
Cersei Lannister makes a few appearances, and while she looks botoxed and not much at all like Lena Heady, it is fun to try to manipulate her a bit. Conleth Hill also lends his voice to the role of Varys, and has a lot of fun with the role. He may look like a frozen-eyed doll in the game, but Hill's voice performance brings the character to life.
Does it tie in with the stories I know from the show or books?
Actually, yes. Martin signed off on the entire story and consulted throughout, and while the story lacks the unexpected twists and turns of any of the books, it does feel a piece with the broader series. The performances and writing are generally pretty flat, but the story itself is the exact type of bloodline-intrigue that drives much of the drama in the books.
Is there lots of hot sex?
No. No, there is not. In fact, this is easily the least sexy treatment of the SOIAF universe possible. It's partly due to technology—the game just isn't polished to the point where the characters can convincingly touch each other. It's hard to have hot-ass sexposition scenes if people can't touch one another.
What about blood and killing? Does it have any of that?
Yes, it does have rather a lot of killing. Bloody combat happens quite frequently, but unfortunately, it's robotic and unexciting, for the most part. The aforementioned technical crustiness makes it look like the characters aren't really hitting one another, save a few canned "finishing move" animations. It all feels a bit like watching rigid action figures flail at each other, or like watching a computer RPG from the early 2000's.
Are there dragons?
No. The story takes place during the first book, so: No dragons.
Is Tyrion in it? I love Tyrion.
Aw man, seriously? No Tyrion?
Nope, no Tyrion.
What if I don't read or watch Game of Thrones? Will I still like this game?
What? No. You won't. There is nothing for you here if you aren't already familiar with the books and the lore. If you're just a gamer who wants a fun dark fantasy role playing game, you should either play The Witcher 2 or Diablo III. Or hell, Dragon Age: Origins, which plays like a much, much more interesting and polished version of the Game of Thrones game.
In the video game, power is much more binary and therefore less interesting than in Martin's books.
Will I get to see my favorite places from the books/TV show?
You'll see a few. Castle Black is neat-looking, but the wall itself is far more breathtaking on the TV show than it is in the game. Past that, most of the other locations are rather ho-hum and generic. There's nothing even approaching the splendor and imagination on display in the HBO series' depiction of Harrenhal (shudder), Pyke or Dragonstone.
Does it capture that "thing" that makes the source material so good?
Yes and no. (Mostly no, I'm afraid.) As I've mentioned, the story feels of a piece with Martin's world. It's not like a typical fantasy video game, and you won't be fighting to save the world from a great evil or anything. In that, it's refreshing. However, due to the fact that it's a video game, it's often at cross-purposes with itself.
One of the things that makes Game of Thrones so interesting is the many nuanced ways that it questions the nature of power. Which people have power, which people don't; how power can change hands so quickly, what people will do to get it.
In the video game, power is much more binary and therefore less interesting than in Martin's books. Your character must always be the most powerful fighter in a given scenario, since you need to defeat your enemies to succeed. The game rarely experiments with putting you in positions where your power is taken away, and therefore there are no scenes as rich, interesting and tense as the interactions between Arya and Tywin, Tyrion and Cersei, Littlefinger and Varys, or countless other pairings.
So: There is a story here that fans of the series will find interesting, but in its broad strokes only. The finer details are far simpler and less thought-provoking than most of what happens in the books and on the show.
Do they ruin anything that I liked in the books or show?
No, nothing gets ruined. Nothing gets particularly fleshed-out, either. The closest thing to a "ruining" so far is Mole's Town, a place we never really got to visit in the books but which, in the game, is something of a thriving underground city. The Mole's Town brothel is teeming with life and beautiful women, and doesn't remotely jibe with the sad, cold image of the town I had in my head.
Past that, most things just aren't particularly imaginative. King's Landing is almost entirely unremarkable, particularly when compared with the uniquely unpleasant HBO rendition. Also, there's a distressing amount of on-the-nose quoting going on. Characters are constantly referring to "the game of thrones" and saying things like "The gods have given me a feast for crows today!'' and "The night is dark, and full of terrors."
Like, I get it, game. I like the books, too. Don't beat me over the head with it.
Is there any new insight into the overarching lore for fans of the series?
That depends on how you look at it. The primary story that brings our two characters together does in fact at least have the potential to be something of a game-changer in the main story. But of course, it's rendered mostly toothless by the simple fact that of the millions of people who watch the show and read the books, a small percentage will play the game, so they couldn't very well hold back crucial information from such an overwhelming majority.
Okay, let's get down to it: Is this game good?
It depends on what you're looking for. If you really love Game of Thrones and want to spend more time in that world, you could do worse than to play this game. I would suggest waiting at least a week or two though, since it will definitely drop significantly in price very quickly.
But if you're looking for a great role-playing game, you'd do better with some of the games I mentioned earlier. And if you're really looking for a badass Game of Thrones game, you should get some friends and play the fabulous board game.