I trudge through another battlefield, slicing through an entire army, occasionally breaking from the action to access powerful attacks. My character speaks, but I don’t want to listen. I’m fighting a war, but I’ve no interest in it. I go through the paces, advancing the storyline to its merciful conclusion.
As I collect my thoughts on the experience, I think about why this game didn’t suit my tastes. I could complain about the multiple technical errors, from texture pop-in to poor audio sync, neither of which destroyed the experience for me. Perhaps I could spend time on the dreadful voice acting, wooden and lacking personality. Maybe I could harp on the command-based battle format and its halting nature, but my dislike might be more of a personal bias than anything else.
None of these are the root of my distaste. No, the bitterness comes from a far more serious affront: the game’s inability to live up to the name on the front of the box. This is Game of Thrones, a fantastic television series inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire, the wildly successful fantasy novel series by George R. R. Martin. The source materials have created a world filled with mystery and excitement, a place that captivates the viewer or reader on every visit. There is always a new twist waiting to shock, a new character waiting to woo or revile.
In contrast, I found the videogame adaptation to be flat and uninteresting. I shouldn’t want a game set in this epic fantasy world to end quickly, but that’s exactly how I felt.
When I first started Game of Thrones, I imagined an intriguing and twisting story worthy of Martin’s deep sociopolitical fiction. I longed for the same bloody combat and surprising twists that keep thousands of fans glued to their television sets on Sunday nights. Unfortunately, what I got was a narrow plot defined by its dialogue-battle formula and two of the most bland characters I’ve ever played. I have no vested interest in original characters if they add nothing to the overall lore of the series or to the active narrative. I’d prefer playing as someone I’ve already established a connection with, like Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister. The two characters starring here, Mors Westford and Alestar Sarwyck, are not what I expected.
Even more important to the Game of Thrones experience than its characters is the fight. The series is known for fast and bloody battles where limbs are severed, organs are exposed, and heads are removed. These battles are intense, edge-of-your-seat affairs on television… but here they are the exact opposite. Characters are not controlled directly; instead I gave my character commands and he followed them. The most powerful commands are accessed via a radial menu, but accessing this menu slows the battle to a near-standstill. The fast, intense battles on which Game of Thrones thrives are non-existent, replaced by battles that have no natural flow, only stuttering starts and stops.
If a game is to be fully voiced, the actors reading the scripts must put as much effort into their performance as they would on-screen. Passion and feeling need to flow from their words into the characters they are portraying, breathing life into the clunky avatar. Unfortunately, none of Game of Thrones’ actors, even those pulled from the television show, sound as if they’ve put any effort into their performances. Every voice is stiff, disinterested, and disconnected. The actors sound as if they’re just reading off of the page. For a game representing a show as brilliantly performed as Game of Thrones, this is unacceptable.
While the game fails to live up to the television show’s acting power, the land of Westeros does not get the same shaft. These environments aren’t the pinnacle of gaming evolution, but I was impressed by the aesthetics of the Seven Kingdoms. Some of the details made a great impression on me, like the looming monolith that is The Wall. No matter how many times I look at it, both on television and in the video game, I can’t help but get a chill in my spine. I’m pleased that at least this part of the universe, the actual land of Westeros itself, was fairly portrayed in the game. Of course, like the rest of the experience, even the environments are riddled with technical issues. One particular area fully loaded its textures a good minute and a half after I had started a battle. Even when Game of Thrones does something right, the success is fleeting.
A Game of Thrones video game should be a dream come true for fans of the fiction and video games alike. Successful fantasy game franchises like The Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age are prime examples of what a source like A Song of Ice and Fire could achieve in videogame format. Unfortunately, that potential is not reached here; instead, the experience is marred by a limiting storyline, uninteresting characters, and a slew of technical issues. This is one Game of Thrones that is best left unplayed.
Review based on Xbox 360 release.