George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series is one of the hottest media properties out there. With five books (plus a sixth being written and a seventh planned) and the white hot Emmy-winning HBO adaptation Game of Thrones in its second season, its popularity shows little sign of waning.
With a superb setting, great characters, and lots of fantasy tropes to borrow from, adapting Martin's worlds and unique storytelling style to a role-playing video game seems like a no-brainer. Teaming with both Japanese game publisher Atlus and Martin himself to do so makes that decision even smarter.
Atlus brings a wealth of RPG experience to the table; Martin ensures that the game retains the feel of his books and makes sure everything presented meshes with what you’ve already read or seen on TV.
You’ll recognize some game settings and you’ll even run into a few of your favorites from HBO, even though the game’s development process long predates the series.
The game will focus on two original characters: Mors Westford of the Night’s Watch and Alester Sarwyck, a priest of R’Hllor, whose paths are separate, but will cross in the game. Confirmed background characters you’re already familiar with include Lord Commander Joer Mormont and Lord Varys, with HBO series stars James Cosmo and Conleth Hill portraying them in the game, as well.
As you progress through the game, you alternate between Mors and Alester; however, as you near the end game, you’ll join forces. The separate threads for the two characters were created to mimic the books’ shifting viewpoints of the plots. It also provides the chance to put in a cliffhanger for one character and then shift to the other, leaving you to wonder how it will be resolved.
Clocking in at an expected 30–40 hours of play, this RPG will be fairly familiar territory to gamers. Quests are given out amidst the settings of the Wall, Riverspring, Castlewood, and King’s Landing. There are attributes to increase and skill sets to master, allowing you to choose whether to pursue defense or offense first, or try to balance the two.
There will also be traits to choose that enhance your characters, giving them edges in certain aspects of their lives. A few you’ll be able to choose at the game’s outset, but if you do some special things during the game, you may be able to acquire some more. Additionally, the most advantageous of traits require that you take an additional negative trait as a counterbalance, forcing the choice of taking a great power at a cost, or a more modest power with no penalty.
A touted component of the combat system is the Active Slowdown ability. Rather than pausing to select powers or attacks, you’re kept in the flow of the action. By slowing everything down, you have the chance to queue up what you wish to do, but never actually leave the frenetic action to do so.
Equally important is how conversations are handled in game. The typical "keep doing all conversation branches until they’re all done" way of doing things is out the window. Instead, as you interact with people, conversations will come to a close on their own, with any appropriate consequences or benefits getting doled out as a result.
Talk will rely on non-verbal subtleties that you’ll need to pick up on to be successful. You’ll also not be shown what choices in conversations are "good" or "evil," as the designers felt this leads to really thinking about what you want to say rather than just choosing a path and not really ‘playing’ the conversation for all its worth.
If you’re really into the franchise, hopefully you pre-ordered the game. As a free giveaway, pre-ordering from GameStop, Amazon, or HBO got you a copy of a Game of Thrones: Visuals from the RPG book. However, many times, I've walked into GameStop on a game's release day and left with the pre-order bonus, even though I never pre-order, so if you didn't, you may not be out of luck.
Of course, there’s the usual caveat that games based on TV or movies often aren’t so hot. But Atlus has a strong history of great games, and the fact that they delayed the game from its initial launch date shows they did care about getting everything right. Starting today, the reviews should come out indicating if they did so, and if this is worth your time and money.
Game of Thrones is rated M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, and Strong Language).
Jeff is currently playing The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass; follow him on Twitter at JKLugar.