Game of Thrones – A Telltale Game Series Episode One: Iron From Ice Review

A little too “licensed,” but an otherwise robust introduction to a Telltale-flavored Westeros.

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Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Format: PC (reviewed), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Released: December 2, 2014
Copy supplied by publisher

There was very little doubt that Telltale games, having more than proven itself with The Walking Dead, would be up to the task of presenting an authentic game set in the unforgiving world of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. The fact that Game of Thrones is getting the Telltale treatment is certainly nowhere near as surprising as the announcement of Tales from the Borderlands, but I must confess it had earned a significant amount of my cynicism. Aside from the fact that everything surrounding the game had been so quiet until now, I was rather disappointed to see that Telltale had used the HBO television series as a base – not because I dislike the show, but because I wanted to see a cel-shaded take on the books, complete with Telltale’s all-original character designs. The imagination this studio has, being allowed free reign in Westeros, was exciting. An HBO-licensed game? Not so much.

Evidence of my fears were made apparent pretty quickly in Iron From Ice, the premiere installment of this six-part episodic series. Our story starts on the eve of the Red Wedding, as soldiers joke incessantly about Jaime Lannister – an indication of the namedropping to come. Indeed, characters that have no business getting mentioned are awarded a quick nod regardless, giving us clumsy references to Brienne of Tarth and Bronn of the Blackwater for the sake of mentioning them. While Westeros a huge and storied placed, with scores of noble houses and thousands of names to check, this game gives us a significantly smaller and unbelievably connected world, due to the need to cram in recognizable names and faces for the license’s sake. Would Cersei and Tyrion Lannister both take time out of their day to seek an audience with a handmaiden? It seems odd that they would, and the scene is confirming in its awkwardness, but that’s the concession we make when we have a handmaiden as protagonist and there’s screen time required for Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage.

I’m just waiting for the moment a character looks directly at the camera and says, “Why, it’s Jon Snow, from HBO’s award-winning series Game of Thrones! Valar morghulis, everyone, Valar morghulis.”

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Telltale with fetters is still, however, good Telltale – at least according to this debut episode. Indeed, while Iron From Ice is undoubtedly restricted by the need to wear its licensing deal on its sleeve, an original story is still told, and though the plot sometimes seems haphazardly bolted on to established events, this tale of the beleaguered House Forrester is engaging nonetheless, promising to take us to some shocking places over the course of the series.

Told from multiple perspectives, the first episode gives us three Forrester-aligned protagonists to play with – honorable squire Gerard Tuttle, Margaery Tyrell’s handmaiden Mira Forrester, and the young lord of Ironrath, Ethan Forrester. From their three points of view, we get to see events on the Kingsroad, King’s Landing, and the seat of Forrester power respectively, as the loyal bannermen to House Stark deal with the fallout of the War of Five Kings. Specifically, Episode One revolves around Roose Bolton’s recent appointment as warden of the North, and a sequence of events that puts the house firmly on the wrong side of his bastard son Ramsay Snow. As three distinct characters with wildly different roles, players will be hit with some tough choices that quite adequately reflect the harsh and unjust world of Game of Thrones. If there were any worries about this game not being authentic to the property it’s based on, let them be allayed the very first moment Lord Whitehill appears to drop C-bombs after his men get done slaughtering an innocent family.

Indeed, there’s a terrific sense of fear when interacting with certain characters. Already knowing how unhinged Ramsay is, his imminent arrival is something we get to genuinely fear as Ethan, and the aforementioned meeting with Cersei – while narratively hard to swallow – is suitably intense. Even though we’re given a transparent whirlwind tour of recognizable cast members, it’s hard not to buy into the story Telltale weaves, especially when dealing with Ethan’s tough choices as the new lord of Ironrath. When it’s focusing on telling its story, Iron From Ice feels most genuine. Ironically, those scenes not involving established characters are undeniably more authentic, since it’s here that Telltale gets to be sincere and craft an original story in an established world, using the crapsack realm of Westeros as a most fitting framework.

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There are some terrific action sequences in Telltale’s typical quick-time-event idiom, with one climactic battle for survival near the beginning, and a particularly nasty encounter with the Boltons and Whitehills shortly after. As usual, keeping one’s head involves pressing directional buttons and mashing keys during struggles where applicable. Simple, but sensible, and characteristically pressuring. Being Game of Thrones, dialog is no less nerve-wracking, with the classic “They will remember that” warning for one’s choice of words bringing with it a more threatening tone than any other Telltale game – after all, how many Thrones characters do you really want recalling the things you’ve said? In the brief window of time one has to answer questions, there are some agonizing decisions to be made, and the option to remain silent in the face of queries can be a welcome one indeed.

One thing I hope to see more of in future installments, however, is a little charisma for the main protagonists. Throughout Episode One, Ethan, Mira, and Gerard feel more like featureless windows into Westeros than characters in their own right, here to react to the established cast or otherwise propel the overarching story forward. Of the three, Ethan gets the most development and garners a lot of sympathy for his difficult position, but right now, the only original character with a striking persona is the current primary antagonist, Lord Whitehill. He does make for a good foil, though, and I foresee him quickly earning a place as someone we’ll love to hate.

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The art style is a little more “realistic” than Telltale’s usual visual presentation, but everything’s been given a subtle watercolor appearance, as if the people and places are paintings brought to life. The result isn’t quite as striking as the likes of A Wolf Among Us and its ilk, though it certainly has its own charm even if it takes getting used to. Notably, I didn’t notice any glaring technical problems. The issue of stuttering graphics and twitchy camera transitions is a recurring one for this particular studio, but I noticed nothing of the sort this time around. Hopefully that’s something we can see continue, as those problems have always undermined otherwise beautiful experiences. The voice acting is pretty solid, though nothing spectacular – the main cast do their jobs without really capturing my imagination, and the Lannisters feel just a little bit wooden as voice actors – Dinklage is at least better here than he was in Destiny, so we can be thankful for that. Iwan Rheon’s reprisal of Ramsay is, however, an utter delight, with the actor able to channel charismatic sadism in a recording studio just as easily as he can in front of a camera. His scenes not only make actual narrative sense, they’re simply delicious in their nastiness.

Iron From Ice is a strong start to the series, which some promising narrative setups, a believable atmosphere, and one particularly shocking moment that made my jaw drop. I won’t say anymore, due to those ever-feared spoilers, but suffice to say that Game of Thrones – A Telltale Game Series is not going to pull any punches, and aims to be just as unforgiving toward audience sensibilities as the TV show (and, by extension, the books). I do hope we see the playable characters get a bit of a personality injection, but I think we’ve got a favorable introduction that lays out its pieces in such a way that Episode Two is only going to be fascinating.

7.5/10
Good

Jannywoo
Guest
Jannywoo

I changed my text to speech to UK english just so I could hear a British voice somewhat resembling Jim’s read this review to me.

It was glorious!

MrAbomination
Guest
MrAbomination

The TV tie-in really killed my interest towards this game. I’ve read the books and seen the show, so the only real hook was to see the Telltale original designs for each character. Glad to see it’s not terrible, though. I’ll probably get it once all the episodes are out and it’s on sale.

melbye
Guest
melbye

Was going to buy this then i saw the insane price on EU PSN Store. Not paying that much, especially when XBONE is cheaper

Boneyard
Guest
Boneyard

Does anyone get shanked in the knackers? If not then I see this as a wasted opportunity.

Cccactus
Guest
Cccactus

Are Telltale Games doing anything interesting with the gameplay or are they just releasing the same thing over and over with different stories?

ZippyDSMlee
Guest

I’ll pass I do not have to waste on strangely developed mini adventure games.

DirgeNovak
Guest
DirgeNovak

Quick note: It’s Gared Tuttle, not Gerard.

I loved the episode myself, but the namedropping and cameos were indeed a bit much at times. As terrifying as the Cersei scene was, I can’t really imagine Cersei or Tyrion giving two shits about Margaery’s handmaiden’s allegiances.
Also, dat ending.

Collette
Guest
Collette

Seems like most of Jims reviews since getting onto the new site have been positive. I wonder how long till he/we just fall into a dark age of shit?

Butz
Guest
Butz

No polydong, no buy.

Drake Sigar
Guest

A book adaptation would’ve been interesting. Glad to hear the voice work is solid though. I do often wonder how established television/movie actors are going to fare leaning into a microphone, there seems to be a stigma attached to voice-acting which implies it’s a lesser art and therefore automatically easy for the other actors to do.

Spore_777
Guest

Good review for a good game. I give it an 8/10.

Rawbeard
Guest
Rawbeard

I can’t care for a story where everyone dies a pointless, random death anyway. If you can’t resolve a plot, just kill off everyone involved! Genius.

Linc
Guest
Linc

Hey, I might just check this out. I have to say I’m more of a fan of the books because they of course offer a richer look at the story than a show could do, but i still enjoy the pomp of the show – its a good show. Its nice to see this game is at least more stable than some of their others, so I think I will buy this now. Thanks Jim.

Barl
Guest
Barl

Good review. I’m a little disappointed that they went with the HBO adaption too, but hey, they gotta sell this shit. I’ll probably wait to buy it till all the episodes are out…it feels silly to wait for the next book, the next season of the show, *and* the next game chapter all at once. Might as well not even start one of them till it’s actually a complete story.

NOTPETERDINKLAGE
Guest
NOTPETERDINKLAGE

Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage,Peter Dinklage ,Peter Dinklage ,Peeeeteeer Dinklaaage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage…

Sergio
Guest

I don’t know if Telltale has ever said but what I really wonder with these games is why they don’t come to Wii U. Nintendo seems to be working well with indies and I wouldn’t count telltale as an indie dev I doubt Nintendo would be insane in dealing with their games coming to the console. Maybe it’s just because it wouldn’t sell as well but it would more or less be the only way to get me passively interested in actually picking up these games anymore. I still have a PS3 but it has like no space and I… Read more »