Game of Thrones ($59.99) by Atlus for Playstation 3 is very much like the popular book series. There’s death, betrayal, cruelty, family, intrigue, struggle—all of which provide the game its strength, but also its failing. The novels all hit the thousand-plus page mark and are filled with plots, characters and a new point of view each chapter. The game tries this approach, as well. Much care is taken in the writing, and it fits quite well with the novel, adding an original story of the Sarwyck brothers. Characters from the novels appear in the game, too, including Cersei, Mormont, Varys and Chataya. The game switches between Mors, a member of the Night’s Watch, and Alester, a red priest returning home when he finds his father has died. The feel of the novels is there, and the dialogue is reminiscent of Martin’s writing. The problem is that it doesn’t translate well to gameplay.
The pacing is slooooow. All the dialogue is fully voiced, but the combination of the gradual build we see in the game (and the books), plus the laconic delivery (very much like what works in the HBO series) keep the player waiting for something to happen. When it does, there is no real sense of accomplishment. The chapters are short, but never enough to really capture your interest or keep the momentum flowing.
The gameplay is slow, as well. It is old school RPG, filled with stats, percentages and skills to learn. There’s also a sort of rock/paper/scissors mechanic to combat. Certain weapons work best on certain armors, and skills build and interact with each other. All of this makes getting into the game pretty tough. Add this to the plot pacing, and it’s hard to get invested in the game. The combat requires you to choose a series of actions and watch them play out, a la Dragon Age, which just adds more molasses to the slow machine.
Environments feel like Westeros and are filled with details that immerse you in the world, but then they throw you in a series of generic hallways. While the environments are engrossing, they are sparsely populated and feel lifeless. On the Wall, it feels natural, but in King’s Landing, it’s odd. The character models are from ten years ago, blocky and generic. Great care is taken in costuming, especially in the armors of the protagonists. Unfortunately, everyone comes across as a well-dressed mannequin.
What makes Game of Thrones a compelling read is what makes the game so hard to play. It is obvious what the developers’ priorities were, fidelity to Martin’s world, story and hardcore RPG elements. While the world feels real and the story gritty, the game is hamstrung by the slow pacing and feels more like something to watch, rather than something to play. Watching isn’t so fun, considering the woodenness of the world’s inhabitants, and the dialogue is too much to make you feel part of the world, but too little to invest you in the narrative, which is broken up only by the slow and complicated battle system.
Game of Thrones is a worthy effort that lacks cohesion or spark, and if I did know so much about The Saga of Fire and Ice, I doubt I would give it any time or get any enjoyment from it. Atlus hired fine actors and writers, but they treat it as a film, not a video game, and something important is lost. There is a skill to crafting a game based on other media. There is something to see here, but it takes a good deal of patience. Fans, pick it up at a discount and play it on easy; it’s a safari, not a roller coaster.
Frag Dean is a podcaster on Silly Frags, available on iTunes, Sticher and sillyfrags.com.