And now our watch has ended. With Game of Thrones finished after a somewhat… divisive final season, once again we ask ourselves why there’s yet to be a video game adaptation even somewhat comparable to the epic HBO show or Martin’s novels.
Up until now there have been a few attempts. French developer Cyanide was the first studio to grapple with Game of Thrones when it released Genesis in 2011. Though ambitious, the strategy title fell short of expectations which were once again lowered with the subsequent launch of Cyanide’s critically-panned RPG. Surprisingly, the closest we’ve come to a decent adaptation is Game of Thrones: Ascent, a menu-driven Facebook app that has since released on mobiles and tablets.
Still, many of us have been left pining for a “proper” tie-in: a game that manages to balance G.R.R Martin’s deftly-crafted storytelling with meaty video game mechanics. A cure to our Westerosi blues may well be in the making, however, with Telltale Games having recently announced its involvement with the franchise. Elsewhere, developer Bigpoint is still presumably working on its MMO, Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms. Both of these games are a long way off however, forcing fans to look elsewhere for their Game of Thrones virtual kicks.
Thankfully, there are alternatives available to those who don’t mind going out of their way. One of these is a mod for TaleWorld’s superb strategy/role-playing hybrid, Mount & Blade. Titled A Clash of Kings, the mod is available for free and is the closest you can get to a faithful video game adaptation. Another popular Game of Thrones mod is available for Crusader Kings II although the game’s heavy emphasis on strategy and menu-scrolling will deter some fans who just want to jump in and have some fun.
In A Clash of Kings you have no set objective. You are literally free to roam Westeros at your own leisure though, as time passes, you’ll eventually want to conquer it. Before that, however, you need to create your very own character, using the mod’s spread of basic customisation options. Sadly, A Clash of Kings doesn’t allow players to assume the roles of their favourite characters, though you can easily emulate them. It’s my first play-through of the mod since upgrading to the recent 1.3 version and instead of sculpting my own nameless vagabond, I went for something a bit more unoriginal, opting for everyone’s favourite outlaw, The Hound, Sandor Clegane.
Seconds into the game and players are immediately treated to a warm Westerosi welcome, a bandit coming straight for you with sword in hand. Win or lose, this segment serves as a brief prologue, allowing the mod to introduce G.R.R Martin’s fictional realm and the ongoing war that could very well tear it apart. Set during the events of book two, Westeros is currently contested by five kings, each laying claim to the iron throne. It’s an ideal set-up for A Clash of Kings as it allows the world map to be divided between the numerous factions as seen in the HBO series. The creators of the mod go further than that, however, making sure that every region is accounted for, from Bear Island and the Three Sisters to Norvos and Myr. Needless to say, when you first realise the sheer scale of the world map, it can be quite overwhelming.
Within the first few minutes of playing A Clash of Kings I had already slain my first bandit, only to be dumped in the middle of Westeros with no compass to guide me. My first real taste of freedom was realising that I could literally travel anywhere on the map to begin my own epic saga. Not wanting to cross the Narrow Sea, I ventured north from where I spawned, a small forest town just east of King’s Landing. With no money, no troops, and no allegiance, there were already three items on my agenda.
For a good fifteen minutes I watched as The Hound travelled from small settlements to market towns and eventually the stronghold of Fairmarket. All navigation is done via the world map where players can trace their character’s movement will occasionally spotting friendly, neutral, and hostile forces. You can choose to interact with any unit you come across and some will even try to follow you, especially in the early stages of the game. On a number of occasions I turned away from the game only to find myself captured by bandits, deserters, and even wildlings. To avoid being set upon in the future, I began recruiting a patchwork of levies from village to village, soon amassing a small force of around twenty. This meant that the next time a band of brigands met me in the field of battle I would at least have a chance.
All combat encounters, whether they be skirmishes or large scale sorties, are fought from the perspective of your character, much like an action role-playing game. It’s a refreshing change of pace in contrast to navigating the world map, the camera swapping from overhead to third person view. As in any RPG, your character’s prowess in battle is determined by a number of statistics as well as the gear they carry. Wanting to remain faithful to the character, I topped up Sandor’s maximum health and attack strength, also investing skill points in both single and two-handed weapons.
Combat itself is a mixture of offence and defence, with mouse gestures used to determine the direction of blows, swings, and thrusts. Control over your allied soldiers is limited to an awkwardly-implemented command system, though how well they fare in combat hinges mostly on numbers as well as luck. As I parried strikes from two oncoming thugs, my levies had formed a offensive spearhead and were cutting down enemies left right and centre. After slaying my two attackers, however, our fortunes had turned as the brigand leader and his two mounted allies continued to tear through our ranks, felling one or two men with each pass. Fumbling with a mixture of number keys I was able to recall my infantry, cramming everyone into a single immovable cluster and, eventually, we won.
Despite walking away with a fair share of gold and loot, my ragtag company was running on fumes. Another battle like that and I would find myself recaptured, stripped of everything, and dumped somewhere in the wilderness.
Having played Mount & Blade in past I knew that, with a bit of perseverance, the game can definitely be played this way. Aside from killing groups of enemies and selling off the spoils, you can also raid towns, and take on missions, both of which have fairly meaty payoffs. However, for those who have not the patience to seek their own fame and fortune, there are quicker, more convenient alternatives. The most popular among these is to align yourself with one of the many lords of Westeros, volunteering to fight in their army. In doing so removes the burden of having to find a stable source of income and experience points despite having to temporarily sacrifice your own freedom. It’s a small price to pay however as it will quickly boost your relations with certain factions and also leaves you in a good position to become a bannerman yourself.
As you steadily begin to level up, more options become available. If eager to prove yourself in battle you can simply keep on plugging your combat stats whereas those wanting to branch out can improve their diplomacy and trading skills. Within a few hours of making my way to Fairmarket and serving Roose Bolton, I had already began to carve my own foothold in Westeros. With each passing battle my kill count continued to climb and my attention soon turned to investing in skills such as training, first aid, and prison management, all of which are helpful when it comes to building your own independent force.
After retiring from Bolton’s army, I sent Sandor along the west coast to recruit another small band of levies. With my new repertoire of skills and improved combat performance, I was finally making some headway as the war of the five kings still raged on. Whenever travelling between locations, a text log keeps track of every major event from the campaign, so I would know which lords had been defeated in battle and which strongholds had been captured.
Despite wanting to throw my own hat into the ring, I would need more than a patchwork of farmers, hunters, and mercenaries to seize the iron throne. However, I didn’t want to rejoin Bolton or another bannerman as it would mean disbanding my force and starting over from scratch. Instead I had The Hound forge an alliance with the Iron Islands, a broken archipelago ruled by King Balon Greyjoy. In doing so, I was free to pursue my own objectives while living on a healthy wage and occasionally being called to join my allies in battle against the men of the Riverlands.
This is where my story ends for now and is hopefully a solid indication of what fans can expect from A Clash of Kings. Despite some initial hurdles to overcome, it’s a fantastic mod and the closest anyone has come to simulating Westeros across more than one genre. Once you finally begin to hit your stride, it becomes insanely addictive even as the gameplay becomes more and more repetitive. The random nature of the mod also means that no two playthroughs are likely to be the same and, on top of that, there is plenty of fan service. Though there are some noticeable omissions such as the Night’s Watch, A Clash of Kings is populated by many secondary factions, locations and characters only found in Martin’s novels.
Unless an unknown studio has been beavering away at something truly ground-breaking, this is best Game of Thrones video game adaptation currently on the market. What’s more, the game needed to play the mod, Mount & Blade: Warband, is brilliant in its own respect and is often available at a discount across a variety of digital platforms.