Game of Thrones is like Harry Potter, except if, instead of Snape zapping Dumbledore, Dumbledore had whipped out a poleaxe and sliced off Snape’s greasy head, and then sold all the Hogwarts children into slavery. Then they’d be exactly the same, and Harry Potter would probably be better.
So it’s somewhat strange that Cyanide studios have made a book / TV show spin off that feels so much like another terrible Potter knockoff.
Game of Thrones on the PC is a cookie-cutter third person RPG, that borrows heavily from established genre tropes, but doesn’t offer us anything that resembles the debonair George RR Martin experience that millions of fans have come to enjoy. I’m one of those fans, so for me the failure of the title is a personal wound.
The game locates you in the wonderful world of Westeros, a land filled with kings, queens, sadistic princes, machiavellian eunuchs, rich pimps, and savvy dwarves (and not snow white kind). For an RPG setting and narrative setup, there is hardly richer soil to plough. But sadly, Game of Thrones fails spectacularly to capitalise on the rich wealth of narrative depth that this entertainment franchise already has going for it.
You are thrust into the shoes of a ranger of the Night’s Watch - a puritanical, nihilistic order slash cult that is obsessed with climate change and fur coats. It's easily the most boring part of the Westeros universe, and the actions of the Night’s Watch are easily the most constrained. So Cyanide studios decided to let you enjoy your RPG experience by playing as them. Smart move.
Your ranger is named Mors, and he’s one tough cookie. He is also voice acted in a rather peculiar way, with utterances ranging from gruff indignation (of a style we’d expect from a hardened man of the Wall) to strange poshness (of a style we would not expect from a hardened man of the Wall). It's odd, but it's certainly better than most of the cast who sound as if they’ve been press ganged off Queen St and told to slur into a skype microphone.
All of that makes me feel rather embarrassed for James Cosmo and Conleth Hill, who reprise their respective roles as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Lord Varys from the HBO TV series. Their melliferous musings are a breath of fresh air - but they shouldn't be. Mormont is supposed to be a gruff patriarch, and Varys is a backstabbing snake in the grass (or should that be bird in the air?). The quality of their acting just highlights how unpolished everything else is.
Unfortunately this extends to the game mechanic itself. It borrows heavily from RPG staples, such as tanks and rogues. Your character can be leveled up through stat points, an innovation as hot as ‘96, and combat buffs can be granted through balancing strengths and weaknesses. It's not particularly impressive. And none of this is presented in a format that’s particularly appealing anyway. I’m a PC gamer, which means I take obsessive pride in my rig, and buy high definition LED widescreens for a reason. So when a title refuses to let you render the game in resolutions higher than 1440, you know you’ve got a problem.
Beyond that, simple errors raise their head. Textures are bland, shadows are linear, maps are formulaic, and character animations border on the absurd. In one cutscene I almost coughed up my Glenfiddich 15 in stunned amusement; Lord Commander Mormont was sentencing a deserter to his headless fate, when suddenly he stuck his hips to the side, placed on a bent left arm on his love handles, and flapped his other in the air like Beyonce. Wow.
The combat is similarly formulaic but nowhere near as funny. Mors hacks away at numerous enemies and can ‘slow down time’ to tee up different chains of attacks. It takes more than one mighty swoop to slay even the weakest wildling, which leads to a rather boring combat experience. Again, here was a massively missed opportunity. The great thing about the Game of Thrones universe is its gritty realism. Sure, there are teleporting warlocks and crazy dragon mommas, but at its heart it's a mirror to the nasty, brutish, political struggles of our own medieval past.
William the Conquerer didn’t kill Harold Godwinson, some random archer did by shooting him the eye. Similarly, Ned Stark didn’t rely on his 100+ HP special strength buff to deflect King Joffrey’s axe - it just sliced right through his neck. Cyanide would have made a much better experience, and a game that welded much better with the Game of Thrones world, by thinking a little deeper about whether the classic RPG model was all that appropriate.
There are many other things wrong with this game; frustrating sound, a completely unintelligible loot menu system, an incredibly slow start telling us things we already know (because lets be honest, only hardcore fans are going to be picking this up), but to detail them all would bore me, and it’d bore you. The hard word is that this Game of Thrones add on is a sloppy piece of work that doesn’t do justice to the series or to its fans. I’m not even sure fans of the series will enjoy this one. I certainly didn't.