Review: Game of Thrones; winter is here

I came to Game of Thrones expecting – hoping – for something a little bit like The Witcher. Ive been following this game all the way through development, and after playing I have to say that the graphics are what remind me most of The Witcher, and I mean the first one, not the visual feast that is The Witcher 2. But hold on a minute before you dismiss this one.

Now it could be that Im just biased because I was looking forward to this one so much, but Im going to try my best to give it a fairer review than any of the other ones that Ive read. Since I try to be (and rarely succeed at being) a glass half full kind of guy, Im going to start out with the good.

Game of Thrones does get the feeling of George R.R. Martins universe right in a lot of ways, and the design of the settings are quite appropriate when they shine, whether its walking the streets of Kings Landing or the dark forests of The North. If you read the books or follow the TV series, youll see plenty of familiar people and places, and the game follows the same visual style as the HBO series.

Parts of the soundtrack are taken from the series too, and youll hear the main theme from the shows intro on the main menu. Despite the games lack of graphical prowess, it does a pretty good job of giving off the right vibes.

Another thing that its got going for it is the story, which I dont plan on spoiling, partly because I havent experienced every bit of it for myself yet, either. Like the books, the games story is told from multiple viewpoints, and youll find yourself in the shoes of Mors, a member of the Nights Watch who guards civilization from unknown terrors, and Thoros, a nobleman turned Priest of Rhllor who talks to people in his fireplace.

Another thing I liked about Game of Thrones was the traits system which, while not really unique in itself, was executed in an interesting manner. Instead of just having random abilities and/or disabilities dropped on your character, the game does try to explain how you got those abilities or disabilities, and you can gain new ones as you progress.

To start with youll have to balance out your "perks" with your "disadvantages," but you can widen the gap through the gameplay. So instead of just having slow energy regeneration, for instance, you suffered a grievous wound in battle and only have use of one lung. Sadly, back story elements like that dont have much affect on the gameplay, and they wont come up in dialogue. Its also possible to create some whacky combos, like a fire priest whos afraid of fire.

Now, lets move on to what I didnt like about this one. Ive already mentioned one of those issues: the graphics suck. I mean, they are really, really bad. But since Im capable of enjoying games built for the Apple II, I am able to overlook such issues. One thing I did like about the graphics, though, was sunglare and moonlight effects; those look pretty awesome outside, whether its shining down through the trees deep in a forest or across the rooftops of Kings Landing.

The thing that keeps bugging me most is the towns. Theyre pretty big, and there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, but boy are they dead. There are plenty of people milling about, but dont even think about meeting any interesting NPCs or even overhearing much in the way of gossip. The markets are full of NPCs who do nothing, despite the fact that their animation suggests that theyre hawking their wares, and theyll stay there and continue doing just that even in the midst of a heated battle.

Interiors suffer from the same problems; theyre basically glorified scavenger hunts, where you can freely prowl through someones house and rob them blind without so much as a second glance. RPGs are supposed to be immersive, but its hard not to shake your head at something like that. To be fair, The Witcher 2 suffered from a similar problem when it came to looting peoples houses, but that games environments felt very interesting and alive. Here, theyre just dead, plain and simple.

I hate to keep comparing this game to The Witcher, since theyre really not all that similar, but one other thing that I thought was missing was hawt secks. Really. How can you have Game of Thrones without naked people in the background of every crucial scene? Just when I thought people were warming up to the idea of pixelated nudity...

Furthermore, for a western style RPG, I thought this game was a little bit on the linear side. You have plenty of choices when it comes to dialogue, and those choices do have consequences, but overall I thought the gameplay leaned a bit too much towards the linear side. I understand that when youre working with an established setting you have to follow certain limits to keep from getting in the way of the "main" events, and Im not saying it should be like The Elder Scrolls. Still, just opening the world and story progression up a little bit would do wonders.

Dont get me wrong, there are still moments when the game shines, like getting to choose between brutally quashing a rebellion or disarming the masses through diplomacy, and I do plan on playing it all the way through. The fact that Im a huge fan of the books probably makes it a little easier for me to overlook some of the games flaws, and Im not going to lie and say they arent there just because I want to like the game.

Im really not sure how much enjoyment is here for someone who isnt already a fan of the books or the series. As far as the story goes, I dont think theres anything to keep people new to the setting from getting in to it, since theres plenty of explanations via "info dumps" in narration, dialogue and books. But at the same time Im just not sure if theyll be able to get over the flaws and enjoy the game.

On the other hand, if youre already a fan, Id say its definitely worth picking up. From time to time the game does shine, and theres plenty of potential here. If youre already invested in the world, I think youll still have fun.

Basically, Game of Thrones is a little unpolished, but many of its problems are fairly superficial. I can see a lot of improvements coming from an expansion or a sequel, and I really do hope that its successful enough to give the developers a chance to hone their skills and make the stellar game that George R.R. Martins world so desperately deserves.

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