Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Game of Thrones Had Potential But Didn't Reach It

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 12:20 PM


Game of Thrones, the first in the book series A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin, has seen incarnations in a variety of medium. There have been card-based games, board games, a successful HBO series and even a run at the video-game market. Cyanide Studios and Atlus have teamed up for a new video game, but you better think before dashing out to purchase it.

The game fails to measure up in several ways to the standards set for role-playing games by such titles as BioWare's Dragon Age, or CD Projeckt's The Witcher, or Bethesda Softworks' Elder Scrolls games. Let's hop right to where the game stumbles: the combat is cumbersome, the voice acting is strained and the story is linear.

All of this overshadows a game that could have been very good. The look and feel of the game is brooding, dark and well designed. But the combat uses a wheel to load up attacks, and players can jump to other members of a party to set up their attacks. Yes, that sounds all well and good, but the attacks feel ponderous and combat, as a whole, feels like slogging through mud rather than a briskly paced and enjoyable element.

The game is set in the land of Westeros, and it follows the stories of two characters—Ser Mors Westford, a knight of the Night's Watch working from Castle Black in the shadow of the Wall, and Alester Sarwyck, the heir to the lordship of Riverspring. Westford is a foul-mouthed veteran with a gruff appearance and demeanor. Because he is the first character players encounter, it can leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.

Like most RPGs, there are class skill trees to climb to refine combat play styles. Westford, who is essentially a ranger, can become a Landed Knight (sword and shield plus heavy armor), a Hedge Knight (two-handed swords, ranged weapons), or a Magnar (melee brawler, dual-wielding with medium armor but some agility). Sarwyck, a priest, can climb trees to become an Archer, a Sellsword (blade, agility and medium armor) or a Water Dancer (sword, faster movement in light armor).

Game of Thrones is a low-fantasy tale, which means no elves or dragons or the other mythos associated with high fantasy. The story told in the game is brand new, and both the storylines of Westford and Sarwyck overlap. Like other RPGs, the game does allow dialogue choices to help the player shape his/her character. But the dialogue often feels forced and dances on the edge of rough language not to progress the story but to define the character, which it doesn't always do.

Graphically the game is pretty solid, and the menus—though cumbersome in combat—are easy to navigate. This is the kind of game you can jump in and play right away without having to consult instructions or much of anything else. On the flipside, though, the combat is simply not very good. The game uses a model in which you can pause and queue up actions, as well as jump from one character to another, but it doesn't feel fluid. The linear stories and limited customization options don't help.

However the game does look great, and though it falls short in some areas, it might lay the foundations for other forays into that low-fantasy world with better results in the future.

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