If you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die, and in Telltale’s new Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice, you have an awfully high chance of doing both. And when it comes to this game, you’ll want to make damn sure that you play.
In recent years, Telltale Games has become one of my favorite developers. Their brand of tense, well-crafted games of choice and consequence are a shining example of what licensed games can and should aspire to be, and they manage to fill that Lucasarts-shaped hole in my heart left by games like Maniac Mansion, Escape From Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango. Hot on the heels of Tales from the Borderlands, Telltale’s latest game is also one of its most anticipated thanks to securing the mega-popular Game of Thrones license from HBO.
Note: This portion of the review may contain mild spoilers. I will endeavor to keep them away, but you have been warned.
Since it was first announced, anticipation was at a fever pitch. I’m pleased to say that the game lives up to its considerable expectations, creating a vibrant, bustling recreation of Westeros and all the cutthroat geopolitics that come along with it. Set in the wake of the Red Wedding, which is season three for you TV watchers, the game puts us in the shoes of House Forrester, longtime bannermen to House Stark and keepers of highly sought after Ironwood groves, immensely strong wood used for ships, weaponry, and trade. Over the course of the series, players will control five different characters who are related to the house by blood or by fealty, and takes us from the family’s ancestral home of Ironrath to King’s Landing to the Twins and beyond.
Though we will eventually control five characters total, Iron From Ice lets us control three of them: Gared Tuttle, squire to the head of House Forrester; Mira Forrester, the eldest daughter and handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell at King’s Landing; and Ethan Tuttle, the young heir to the throne of House Forrester. The action shifts seamlessly between the characters like scenes on the show or the POV chapters in the book, ending each encounter on a tense beat that leaves us hungry for more.
Moreso than previous titles, Telltale’s style of high stakes conversation-based gameplay seems uniquely suited for George R.R. Martin’s weird world of murder, betrayal, and intrigue. Telltale has always had a knack for presenting you with tough choices, but you really feel their weight in Iron From Ice. Adding to the tension and immersion are the appearances of familiar faces like Cersei Lannister, Tyrion Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, and Ramsay Snow, who are all voiced by their television counterparts. Thankfully, Peter Dinklage has put that “That wizard came from the moon” nonsense behind him and turns in a typically terrific performance. Honestly, the whole voice cast is praiseworthy, but extra praise is due to Iwan Rheon for making Ramsay Snow the most sinsister, sausage-shaking sonofabitch ever.
Telltale’s other mechanic on which it relies most is the quick-time event and though it still lends an element of action and excitement to the proceedings, some of the QTE sequences don’t work quite as well. Case in point, across their titles there are different events that have you unable to physically fill the meter, leaving you to frantically mash your buttons until you are saved by a deus ex machina cut scene. Granted, you don’t know what’s coming in said cut scene, but it cheapens the moment a little bit and breaks the immersion, albeit momentarily. Couple that with a couple of clunky animations and a dialogue hiccup here or there and they are small complaints in comparison to an otherwise seamless title.
Without going into too much detail, the area in which Iron From Ice succeeds most is how well it immerses you into the world of Game of Thrones. Yes, this is a side-story, tangential to the main storyline of the books and the TV show, but it’s refreshing to put yourself into the shoes of characters with an outside perspective. The War of the Five Kings does not exist in a vacuum; it affects all of Westeros, a fact we learn all too well in Iron From Ice. From the hushed political schemes of King’s Landing corridors to the split-second decisions made in the heat of battle to desperately trying to maintain order in your kingdom when food, resources, and morale are increasingly scarce, Iron From Ice is a deeply compelling, lovingly crafted, and exceedingly fun game tailor-made for Game of Thrones fans.
Like the first episode of any Game of Thrones season, Iron From Ice does its fair share of tablesetting, introducing us to important characters and painting a bloody picture of what’s to come. If you’re feeling lost, be sure to spend some time reading the in-game codexes which will get you up to speed on who is who. While you may feel like some of your decisions don’t have as much of an impact on the world of Westeros, keep in mind that patience is essential. Not only does the game tell you at the episode’s end that “Your story begins”, making this chapter serve as a prologue of sorts, but the choices you made now will echo throughout the remaining five episodes of the sprawling series. And I, for one, cannot wait to see the ways in which they reverberate in episode two because winter is here and it’s very, very fun.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 burritos
Want to see some gameplay, too? Check out Emergency Awesome’s latest video: