It’s been two weeks since I played the first episode of Game of Thrones – A Telltale Games Series, an episodic game based on the world of the TV show. Episode 1 was released back in December 2014, Episode 2 on February 3. Much the same way that I listened to the audiobooks, reserving them for treats, I’m putting off playing Episode 2 for as long as I can so that I can savor it more when I finally do get to it. If you gathered from that statement that I liked it, you win.
In fact, I really liked it. Similar to The Walking Dead Telltale adventure game, GoT is a personal crisis and decision making simulator. The game succeeds when it gets you to buy in to the reality that the choices you have to make are 1) meaningful to you and 2) consequential in the world of the game. In a typical RPG, I might save my progress and go left to see what’s in one direction. Then I’d reload using the old save to take a right turn instead to see what’s in that direction. Once I see which way is best, that’s the direction I take and save. Contrary to that practice, in GoT I owned my choices and took whatever consequences came. The characters in the game world responded to my consistency or lack thereof. Wondering what would have happened if I went left instead of right becomes part of how I feel about the character I’m playing and how the story is told. It adds to the role-playing that takes root in my imagination when I attempt to play my character in a way that makes the most sense for that character.
I’ve spoken with other players reluctant to get into Telltale adventures because they see behind the illusion of choice into the mechanics. They can’t buy into the reality of the game worlds and characters. They’re doing it wrong. They’re playing the game seeking the optimal paths through the story when the point is to win, but to get the most moving experience. That happens when you let the game get to you. Instead, they’re trying not to make the wrong choice that leads them away from the optimal story path. Perhaps the optimal story path is the one that most people pick or perhaps that’s the one where keep your favorite characters in your party and alive. Keeping on that optimal path involves seeing spoilers and save scumming. That’s self-sabotage! I understand the temptation and sometimes it may be driven by immersion, but don’t blame the game if you’re if you break your own immersion to “win.” The game is only at fault if it’s OBVIOUS that your participation irrelevant to character or story development. However, the most stunningly obvious moments in my experience with the Episode were when story elements, circumstances, and motivations began to shape themselves into a dangerous choice. The sense of tension I felt when knew I’d be asked to decide or act is was practically physical.
It’s the weight of those moments that have made this installment good. I don’t want to oversell it, but I did experience excitement.
A few more thoughts.
This Episode is told from the perspectives of members of a previously unmentioned minor noble house that remained loyal to the Starks all the way up to Robb’s very last wedding feast. Players meet the first character outside the hall of the Frey’s just before things get interesting. For better or worse, the game starts with multiple quick time events as the character fights and dodges his way to safety. This is the way the character is most often played. This was also the biggest negative point of my experience with the game. There were some action choices that I made early on that were merely due to my not realizing realizing that I had to control the game with arrow keys. The second playable character in Episode 1 is introduced unsympathetically from the perspective of the first character. Fortunately, once you’re driving him, you realize that is will be the character who will make decisions about how to rule his endangered lands. He’s really just a kid with a lot of new responsibilities. Telltale hasn’t force you to play as a brat. The final character is an attendant to Margaery Tyrell at King’s Landing. She is tasked with supporting her Northern family under the thumb of the Lannisters. She gets to tangle with Cersei and Tyrion. She is easily more likable than Sansa. As the Episode plays out, you see how each character’s actions play into the circumstances experienced by each other character. The ripples here cause great waves there.
After a little warm up period, playing GoT was like controlling three people crossing an extremely precarious rope bridge. By the end of the episode, I was convinced that no step was safe. I felt like every good intention could be subverted and every lie might explode in my face. Best of all, as one should expect in a work derived from GRRM, tragedy was spontaneous.
The next episode will be from a different game. I don’t even know which one yet.