Now, you can literally play the game of thrones: A new video-game adaptation of the acclaimed fantasy books and HBO TV series takes players back to Westeros — this time, as the members of House Forrester, a minor noble family from the North.
Split into six parts, or episodes, that will come out over the next six months, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series picks up near the end of Season 3 of the HBO series, and will lead into Season 5 when it airs next spring through new releases. Episode 1, entitled "Iron From Ice," is now available for $5 on PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Steam. Android and iOS versions will soon follow.
An official part of the Game of Thrones canon as blessed by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series does a good job of being accessible to the many Game of Thrones fans who may be video-game newcomers, while also keeping longtime fans of Telltale's work engaged and entertained.
Episode 1 begins on the night of the infamous Red Wedding. But players will see the conflict from a different perspective as they take the role of Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester.
During the episode, players will switch among different characters associated with House Forrester and make decisions that will affect the house's fate. With the Starks defeated, for example, will the Forresters pledge themselves to the Iron Throne of Westeros and to the Boltons, new rulers of the North? Or will they be defiant?
It's an interesting problem, but it feels similar to just about every other noble character's story in the books and TV shows. And it's clear that the Forrester family, which is barely mentioned in the books, was modeled after the Starks. There's a serious, noble father; a solemn mother from further south in Westeros; two daughters, one courtly, one wilder; a serious older son whose treatment at the Red Wedding mirrors Robb Stark's; and several younger sons abruptly thrust into responsibility. Gared, the beloved squire, even bears similarities to Jon Snow.
It does feel a bit repetitive at first, but these similarities may help players quickly get a sense of the Forresters' politics and personalities. By the end of the first episode, a combination of player decisions and unavoidable occurrences set the Forresters on a quite different path from the Starks.
Episode 1 assumes that its audience is already very familiar with Westeros and the families that rule it. But even as it dangles well-known characters such Tyrion Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, Ramsay Snow and Queen Cersei in front of us, it also asks us to turn our attention to this small family of all-new characters. If you can make the mental switch, the Forresters' story is worth hearing, but other fans may find it frustrating.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is a point-and-click game, not an action game, which means players will be doing a lot more listening and thinking than fighting.
Nevertheless, the swords come out several times in Episode 1, resulting in "quick-time events" — tapping the correct buttons when they're indicated on the screen. Combat is restricted by the fact that this is a point-and-click game, not a battle simulator, but fans of Telltale's previous games will recognize that the combat has evolved since earlier games such as The Walking Dead (2012). On the computer, hitting the directional keys to make Gared parry blows was very satisfying.
However, simulated swordplay is far less interesting than the difficult conversations players must navigate. Whether you're Gared, who has a crucial piece of information to tell, or the boy Ethan Forrester, who must choose which adviser to heed when dealing with the boorish Lord Whitehall, the conversations are grueling.
At various points in the dialogue, players will have the chance to respond as whichever characters they're currently controlling, choosing from two to four options. But most of these responses have a limited window; if you don't choose within a few seconds, the other characters will continue talking, or grow angry at your silence.
In a game where making conversation is the primary game mechanic, it's not surprising that the best moments in the game occur in King's Landing, the political heart of Westeros. Here, players take the role of the young Mira Forrester as she navigates among loyalty to her house, her lady and friend Margaery Tyrell, and Queen Cersei.
The graphics in Game of Thrones aim for realism, but also retain a veneer of the cartoonish style that Telltale developed in its previous games The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. But without the stylized black lines and comic-book-like textures used in previous Telltale games, the characters of Game of Thrones sometimes dip into Uncanny Valley territory.
Add to that the chronic brown-and-gray coloring that dominates nearly every scene located in the North, and the graphics of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series were underwhelming at first glance.
But the longer I looked at the game, the more I was impressed with its visual attention to detail. From clothing and hairstyles to castles and sigils, enormous care was taken to replicate the look and feel of Westeros depicted in the HBO series. In addition, Telltale gives us the all-new location, the Forresters' home of Ironrath. Though the buildings and architecture echo those seen in the North, Ironrath also has a look and feel all its own.
Music and Sound
Aside from the iconic Game of Thrones theme that plays during the title sequence, the music of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is largely forgettable. Instead, the music serves as more of an atmospheric background to subtly heighten tension and create emotion.
The voice performances form the backbone of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series. The cast includes newcomers portraying the Forrester family, as well as actors from the HBO series including Lena Headey as Cersei, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion and Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is a must-play for any Game of Thrones fan. Yet even hard-core fans might have a hard time trading the enormous scope of the Game of Thrones universe for the problems of one relatively small yet oddly familiar family.
Nevertheless, the Forresters' perspective on the conflict in Westeros is strong enough to carry the 2 to 3 hours of Episode 1, and with their troubles far from over, I can't wait to return to Ironrath.
As Cersei Lannister told Ned Stark, "When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die." The stakes aren't quite as high in the game of Game of Thrones, but it's a close call.
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Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.