Released more than five years ago, Cyanide’s Game of Thrones wasn’t exactly met with the warmest of receptions. Having launched in May 2012, the adaptation arrived alongside the blockbusting TV show’s third season, with Game of Thrones having whipped up a sizeable following around the world. As with any favourite film or television series, there’s always the potential for video game tie-in. However, when we finally received a copy of Game of Thrones at TheSixthAxis, Peter had very few nice things to say about it.
Slapping Game of Thrones with a meagre 3/10, he described it a technical mess, not to mention a wasted opportunity. “It stumbles mechanically over every good idea it has and douses it in some genuinely shocking presentation,” he wrote.
Naturally, I had to see this game for myself.
As a self-confessed mega-fan, I’ve been waiting years for the perfect Game of Thrones adaptation to come along. While many will point in the direction of Telltale’s effort from a couple years ago, (the full series is currently available via PlayStation Plus, by the way) it did little to sate my hunger.
George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire universe is crying out for something much bigger in scope. Although it sounds predictably cliché, the fantasy setting lends itself to the kind of open-world epics we’ve seen with Skyrim, The Witcher III, and Warhorse Studios’ upcoming Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Sadly, as far as we know, there’s no such game currently in development and it seems that Cyanide’s bold yet flawed 2012 RPG may be closest we’ll ever get.
When I revisit older games – especially those from a previous console cycle – I give thema generous amount of leeway. While a barrier for some, I find it easy to overlook poor presentation and other technical flaws, as long as I can get to grips with the meat of a game. That said, Game of Thrones was ugly, especially when compared to 2012’s big hitters like Sleeping Dogs, Black Ops II, and the gorgeous Max Payne 3.
Despite having been developing games for almost two decades, French developer Cyanide is still a fairly small outfit. In securing the rights to Game of Thrones the studio certainly showed initiative, though arguably bit off more than it could chew. Presumably, the deal with HBO had been drawn up at least a couple of years before the game’s 2012 launch. If so, Cyanide had taken a punt on the TV show being a success yet, within those first two series, it had already become somewhat of a global phenomenon. To expect the same level of quality – in both terms of production and writing – from a small time European studio was delusional, but for Cyanide there was no turning back…
The game itself can be described as a tactical RPG, similar to BioWare’s Dragon Age. Battles are relatively small in scale and fought in real time with players able to slow the action and assign commands to party members. It’s a fairly straightforward system and one that manages to steadily weave in more advanced systems as characters learn new abilities and find better equipment.
To my surprise, I rather enjoyed these battles. Though not quite as deep as the skirmishes found in Dragon Age, Baldur’s Gate and similar RPGs, it felt well-suited for console gamers with just the right amount of complexity.
An even bigger focus here is the game’s story. Martin’s ongoing series of novels has kept readers hooked for more than twenty years, immersing them deeper and deeper within a fantasy world to rival that of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
Much like Telltale, Cyanide looked to create its own story within this universe, running parallel to the events of the television show. Similarly, it sought to tell this story through the eyes of more than one protagonist. As a result, players hop between two characters. Mors Westford is a veteran brother of the Night’s Watch and Alester Sarwyck is a disgraced noble turned Red Priest.
To say Cyanide handled the source material with diligence is an understatement. Mors and Alester are just as well rendered as many of the characters we see appear in Martin’s novels and the HBO adaptation. They’re believable and gritty, even when their actions are being driven by player choice. As a whole the writing was brilliant and didn’t shy away from diving into lore the television show had yet to explore.
Speaking of the show, Game of Thrones featured a couple of familiar faces faces with James Cosmo (Joer Mormont) and Conleth Hill (Varys) reprising their characters. It was a nice touch though one that exposed the often laughable mediocrity of its remaining voice cast. Even the most dramatic of set pieces would be let down by the flat and emotionless delivery of actors. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so noticeable if not for the complete lack of animation during many of these exchanges. Character simply stood still, the camera flicking back and forth with the occasional gesture here and there.
These technical shortcomings can be tough to stomach, yet I still found myself drawn in, wanting to see how the books and television series were translated into something playable. While it’s easy to bash a five-year old game, the sad truth is that this is the closest we have to a “proper” Game of Thrones video game. Not unless you want to explore mods, but that’s another story…