“When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die”. I feel like this statement has never been more true than here in the finale of Telltale Games and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Episode 6 - The Ice Dragon brings every decision you’ve made until now to a head, providing not only some of the most brutal, interesting, and morally challenging decisions of any episode to date, but also managing to deliver one of the worst endings for a Telltale title I’ve ever played.
With this last episode of Season One, I was expecting a complete story - one with an actual ending - and in this regard I was let down immensely. It appears as though somewhere during the development of the individual episodes, it was decided to expand this game into multiple seasons - and that has resulted in nothing more than what amounts to a “too be continued” season finale. Truly one of the most unsatisfying wrap-ups to a gaming experience I’ve had in a long time.
Despite my overall feeling towards the episode, the gameplay and decisions were still enjoyable, and what I’ve come to expect from the series. Lots of quick-time events (QTEs) with a lot of pick-your-path conversations - the difference this time round being that you actually get to see many of the ramifications to these weighty decisions.
I loved making choices in this last episode, because I knew (or at least believed until near the end) this would be the last chance I had to interact with these characters. Unfortunately, based on how the events play out, it seems that all of this was doomed to result in the setup for a Season 2.
So from a critical stand-point, how did the story fare? Well, all the surviving major players make an appearance, and based on how you’ve played them to date, they’re in various forms of high-risk situations. If only that illusion of choice wasn’t constantly rearing it’s ugly head.
If you’re anything like me, then it’s entirely possible that not everyone will survive - in fact, I’d be surprised if many do at all. But being a Game of Thrones experience, how could that ever not be the case. The inflexibly good die; whilst the irredeemably bad constantly win the day - and if anything about this title is true to form, it’s that there’s no such thing as a happy ending.
I just wanted to come out on top! I even adapted! Making heat-of-the-moment decisions in order to survive, hitting all the QTEs spot on - and yet, at the end of the day, I was still left with this horrible feeling that Season 1 had been unnecessarily dragged out into the future Season 2.
I was expecting a complete story - one with an actual ending.
Truth be told, I was actually enjoying the story until I started to see more puppet strings that I’d have liked. Near the end of the episode that nasty little thing; the illusion of choice, that’s plagued the series since episode one, began to really shine.
Every “correct” decision and QTE I’d make seemed to result in more heart-ache. By the end I felt like no matter what I tried, the outcome was inevitable, and that mess of a river Telltale has had us dodging rocks in, suddenly became incredibly wide, and fast moving, headed straight towards a waterfall - with nary a branch to grasp for safety. But damn it! Maybe that’s what they were going for.
As for the quality of the character arcs themselves, I felt Gared was the weakest of the three playable characters this time round. Despite having a few incredibly choice decisions, and an enjoyable action scene, he’s really too far away from everyone at this point to really make a difference.
Perhaps if this really was a story that could have been wrapped up in one season we might have reached the mediocre ending we received for him a little sooner. He could have gone on to have more of an impact, and we might have seen some ramifications to the revelations discovered during our time with him. But this is not the case, which disappointedly leaves his story up in the air until some future episode.
The events with Mira in King’s Landing are quite interesting, and based on the incredibly difficult options provided near the beginning, would have been even more amazing had this actually been the final episode of the story itself. Instead, it’ll be interesting to see if Mira has any sort of impact moving forward. I really do hope she does, because considering this isn’t the end, then like Sansa Stark in the show, her arc and character growth actually gets more interesting the longer we play in her shoes.
Finally, we have those at Ironwrath, home of House Forrester. Now based on major decisions made last episode, things could play out very differently here. This is where the crux of both the episode’s action and those long-lasting decisions play out. I had a good amount of fun with these sections, and as I said, it wasn’t until near the end that I began to really dislike the path the series was taking. I really liked many of the scenes up until that point, and I’m truly annoyed that things didn’t play out the way I desired - but again… that’s the Game of Thrones for ya.
“Well, was there anything you did like?” Yes, actually. As I said, the story up until about three quarters in was pretty good, and had I known this was the first season of an ongoing story (after experiencing Telltale Games’ other titles with their tidier, self-contained arcs each season) I might have enjoyed what transpired a bit more. Many of the difficult choices also left me with a wide smile on my face - as though I had played a masterful chess move, maneuvering my way out of an impossible check - well, up until the end that is. And the art was also very pleasant - nothing that you haven’t already seen, but still that beautiful oil painting, caricature-style I’ve enjoyed since the beginning.
The downside to all this being that this not only has one of the most annoying endings of any Telltale game released so far, but is also one of the graphically buggy episodes of the series. Drops in framerate for a game that looks and plays like this is unacceptable in 2015. The occasional screen tearing - particularly at the beginning of the episode, was also quite a disappointing sight to behold. Season 2, and Telltale fans in general, deserve a brand new, all improved game engine - this one is far beyond its expiry date.
This isn’t the great ending that we have all been waiting for. Seeing the results of all my decisions come to bear, especially the more immediate ramifications, was a great feeling - I only wish we had been given an actual conclusion to the scenarios that have been building over the past five episodes.
Game of Thrones: Episode 6 - The Ice Dragon can’t be called a great finale, at least not in my books. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some great moments, and a few very weighty decisions. It also manages to set the stage for what will hopefully be an interesting Season 2, and I do look forward to seeing what Telltale Games, and HBO, decide to throw at us then - and more importantly, whose stories we’ll end up experiencing.
Is this “last” chapter worth playing? Well, if you’ve picked up the other five episodes, then of course. Will you be disappointed? Most likely, especially if you were expecting a thrilling conclusion. But does that mean this episode has tainted the entire series? No.
My overall impression of Season One is still good, and if you go into episode six with the knowledge that it’s setting the stage for a continued story, then it’s not too bad, it may even feel more like a proper Game of Thrones-style ending. Then again, I’m still sitting here wishing we had some closure, because at this point it feels like Season 2 will have House Forrester treading more familiar ground that I’d like.
Only time will tell if Telltale’s choice to leave things unresolved was a good decision or not - I just hope they start the next arc off with a bang - both in quality of story, and in game engine.