Game of Thrones: Episode One - Iron From Ice - Xbox 360 Review

Game of Thrones (or, as the series is called, A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R.R. Martin has become something of a media juggernaut in recent years, going from a massively popular book series to an ever more popular HBO series. In this day an age, as popularity increases, it is a near guarantee that a video game will be released to capitalize on the success of the other media types; Game of Thrones has not escaped this fate. To fans of the series' dismay, a number of fairly abysmal games have been released under the property, to the point where the best game is not actually a game, but rather a total conversion mod for Crusader Kings II.

Enter TellTale Games, beloved creators of the absolutely wonderful The Walking Dead series, The Wolf Among Us series, and the newly released Tales from the Borderlands series; when I heard that they were releasing an episodic adventure set in George R.R. Martin's massive universe, I was excited. Hopeful even. Fast-forward a few months an Episode 1 "Iron from Ice" has been released and here are my thoughts on the first entry of the series.

To start, my review is for Episode 1 on the Xbox 360 and the console is showing its age. For a majority of the game the framerate was in the sub-20 FPS range, often getting down to as low as single digits. While the art style is similar in vein to TellTale's other title, being more of a moving watercaller than any sort of cell-shading or 3D graphics, on the 360 it is fuzzy like it is out of focus and is just too much for the aging console. When the more active aspects of the game require precision with Quicktime Events (QTEs) and the framerate drops significantly as more action is on-screen, it becomes nigh impossible to react appropriately to the instructions on screen.

Outside of abysmal framerates and a fuzzy appearance, Game of Thrones does not look all that bad and each character's likeness is easily recognizable (Tyrion Lannister looks like Peter Dinklage in the HBO Series). There are a handful of stunning vistas throughout the episode (which is, for normal people, about an hour and a half adventure; more on the "normal people" later)  that will appear as you transition from one area to the next, though the grand scale of things is diminished due to the strange out-of-focus appearance.

Outside of the graphical woes exhibited on the 360 there were also a lot of audio stutters and skips throughout the course of the entire game. I noticed it more when there were more than two or three people onscreen and heaven-forbid any other sort of animation happening in the background. I restarted the Xbox a number of times and it did not really help, but I did fire up Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 1, and Kingdoms of Amalur just to make sure the Xbox was not acting up; all titles worked as expected with no issues. There were a number of times where entire lines of dialog simply never appeared after I selected them from the choices on screen. Other times I would hear music then nothing then it would suddenly pop back in without warning.

It was all very bizarre and a bit frustrating, especially since Peter Dinklage and Natalie Dormer offer outstanding performances and to hear them just skip words is weird. Very weird. Outside of those hiccups though, holy cow is the audio good. From the voice acting from the new characters (of the Forrester family) to the existing characters like the ever-hated Cersei Lannister (played by the lovely Lena Headey) and deplorable Ramsey Snow (played by the eerie, yet awesome Iwan Rheon), you will have some of the best voice acting in a game to come out of the West (face it, Japanese seiyu are light years ahead of us in terms of quality of actors). On top of the stunning cast of characters and rich acting you have some excellent music; suitably tense while still providing an epic and grand feel, the score for this short episode is nothing short of amazing.

If Game of Thrones is your first foray into Telltale Games' style of adventure game you are in for a treat. Simple to follow QTEs (unless you are me, but more on that below), as well as some of the best storytelling in gaming await you. Given these are more like the point-and-click adventure games of old than modern day "adventure" titles, you will spend the majority of your time weighing the dialog options against one another as you attempt to determine their consequences and trust me, there WILL be consequences. While playing the game there was one recurring thought that I had, "this feels like the books."

While the show is excellent, it does not quite have the same gravity, oppressive atmosphere, or consequence-ridden story that you will find in the books but man, Telltale's take on the series hits the nail right on the head. I could go as far as saying that this is the best piece of media that works with an existing universe. The story, the characters, even the same panic-inducing atmosphere would feel right at home in the books; I swear George R.R. Martin himself could have written the content, it is simply that good and could be a contender for best adventure game of the year, were it not riddled with slowdown and performance-related issues on the Xbox 360. Honestly, I believe it is about time Telltale move to the PS4/Xbox One only territory, as it would be far better received than on the older consoles.

To explain my "normal people" comment; some of you may know by know that I am color deficient (those not in the know call it "color blind") as I have mentioned it a time or two in the past. A lot of people, when they find out, incessantly bombard me with stupid and insulting questions ("what color is this?" "do you even see color?" "what's it like" and other nonsense) and it is nearly impossible to accurately describe to someone who has normal color vision (so don't ask). Now, the reason this is important is because Game of Thrones Episode 1 "Iron from Ice" should take someone about 1.5 hours to complete. I clocked in just over 5 hours in one playthrough. Now you might be sitting there thinking that I am just a lousy gamer and that I suck at my job; totally untrue.

The reason it took so long is because the first half of the game has QTEs that require speed and precision and targeting reticle is in a color that I cannot distinguish from the background. I was literally playing blind until I finally got so fed up with the game that I had to have my 7 year old daughter tell me what to do while everything was happening. First, Game of Thrones is a mature game, using extremely strong language (a lot of f-bombs, a lot of c-bombs) and very graphic content, and second, do you know how impossible it is to get a 7 year old girl to adequately relay (i.e. interpret) color and direction as it flickers on-screen for only a brief moment is? I was so fed up with the game and disgusted at the lack of a color deficient mode such as found in Call of Duty or Battlefield's poorly named "Color Blind Mode" that I nearly tossed my controller in frustration and stormed out of the house in fumes. You may call me whiny and entitled brat, but really, it sucks. Horribly.

If I was only rating the game on this initial experience, I would have wound up giving this first episode a 3 out of 10 (that score based solely on the voice acting and excellent music). Once I was able to get past the first few scenes (with all of the action), I was able to see things like the cursor and selection rings because they are in a fairly bright white; from what my daughter says, and I ask you take this with a grain of salt, she is 7, there are pseudo-transparent grey/green arrows (indicating swipe direction) that I could not see as well as these rings that appear in combat/action that could be green or red (she said some were green, some were red). Once you get through the opening few scenes the action items become the standard buttons (A, B, X, Y and their corresponding colors) and any cursor movements become white, using a small white targeting reticle; much easier to see but frankly, the first few hours struggling with the game had already put a REALLY bad taste in my mouth. At that point I just wanted to be done with it. Honestly, I have never cursed being color-deficient (nor a studio for not including a mode to compensate for those like me) so much as I have with Game of Thrones by TellTale because I was so looking forward to this game; now I do not want anything to do with it.

I really struggled with Game of Thrones, as evidenced above, but that is not to say that it is a bad game. Yes, it is slow and choppy on aging hardware, but it is more than playable and an extremely enjoyable journey. Could it have been a bit more optimized for the less powerful last-gen systems? Absolutely. Does that make it not fun? Not at all. The story pulls you along and lets you see the consequences of your actions by the end of the episode, which will lead right into the next release. Could Telltale have altered the colors slightly (or given the option for those of us suffering from color deficiency)? Absolutely. If I were scoring the game solely on my experience and the technical issues, this would have been one of the lowest-scoring games here at Chalgyr's Game Room, but because I understand my eyes are unique and this issue is likely only going to affect a small percentage of gamers, I will not hold it against the game, but I did feel that it was important to let you know that it is problematic for some of us. Based solely on the quality of gameplay, engaging story, and wonderful world, Game of Thrones Episode 1: Iron from Ice is an excellent game that fans of The Song of Ice and Fire truly deserve.

Review by Robert

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