Telltale Games is rapidly expanding their stable of established properties that they are making games based off of, and their first shot at Game of Thrones was pretty good. While crammed to the gills with references to HBO’s Game of Thrones series, including the likeness of many of its actors, Iron From Ice staggers a bit technically and with some lackluster writing. It’s important to keep in mind, throughout this Iron From Ice review and if you plan on playing yourself, that this game is extremely short (my first run took about 2 1/2 hours), but is also the first episode of six.
In this short first foray into the well-established Game of Thrones lore, Telltale starts the game off during the unfortunate events of the series’ Red Wedding. This, as any Game of Thrones fan will tell you, completely shifts the power dynamic of Westeros, and Iron From Ice does a satisfying job of letting you feel that shift through a smaller house that is never mentioned in previous works, House Forrester. While other larger houses are dealing with changes that change the landscape of the world as a whole, House Forrester is more concerned about their precious Ironwood that they use to forge weapons and armor for the king. I can see a lot of people wanting to be in control of the larger-scale story, but I really like the niche tale that this game tells. There can be a bit of a disconnect when you are making choices that affect an entire nation, but when they affect your own house, the ramifications of each decision can be much larger on a personal level, which is great.
Also like the show and books it is based off of, Iron From Ice’s story is told from the perspective of multiple characters. Who exactly you follow is based at least in part by your decisions, but for the most part you control Ethan Forrester, a child who is now left to rule his house’s fort after his father’s death, Mira Forrester, who serves as Handmaiden to Margaery in King’s Landing, and the main character Garred Tuttle – steward to House Forrester. Garred eventually brings a whole heap of trouble onto House Forrester after committing a murder to avenge his family (who are killed off almost immediately in the game, mind you), which sets the events of the game into motion.
From there, over-arcing story is about House Forrester and dealing with the repercussions of Garred’s actions. Ethan must deal with a quickly approaching Ramsey Snow and their rival House Whitehill, while Mira in King’s Landing spends her time trying to sway Margaery to help her house, which is already on the brink of destruction.
I wouldn’t call the writing or story terrible by any stretch, but it really doesn’t feel all that Game of Thrones-y. I could see the characters growing over the next five episodes, but as they are now they lack any real depth. Garred has the death of his family to wrestle with and grow from, sure, but the rest of the characters are just kind floating between conversations without any real emotional impact on the story.
The game’s story in general has the difficult task of toeing the line between letting you make your own decisions that shape the world, and not letting you destroy the deep and intricate world that George R.R. Martin has built in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, which Game of Thrones is based off of. It succeeds for the most part, but this short leash leads to a lot of your decisions not really mattering. No matter which way you do a lot of certain actions, the end result is almost always the same, which can be a major downside in a choose-your-own adventure style of game.
By far the most fun I had with the game was the conversations. The first few feel like warm-ups meant to get you used to how the system works, but after that the momentum within each conversation is palpable, and you can really feel conversations slipping away from you if you say the wrong things. Especially talking with characters who appropriately hate you, like Cersei, it never feels like you’re saying the right thing no matter how hard you try, and it really adds to the tension and weight of every single thing you say. It’s just unfortunate that these well-done and intense conversations don’t lead to much in the end.
My only real gripe with the story itself is how forced all the references are. The game goes way too far out of its way to namedrop every character you know from the show. It’s one thing to drop a reference in here and there, and it’s bound to happen with the show’s characters playing such huge roles in the world, but having entire conversations crafted for the sole reason of mentioning a name you might recognize is a bit much. There’s no logical reason some of these characters in the game should even know about the characters in the show, yet they constantly spew their names out every chance they get.
On a technical level, Game of Thrones: Iron From Ice is pretty deeply flawed. Even running at it’s best (and I checked multiple playthroughs on YouTube to make sure it wasn’t just my system) the game’s framerate is just awful. I’m not normally a stickler for a high framerate, but it gets so bad at it times that it pulled me out of the action several times, especially during fight sequences. The graphics themselves aren’t a whole lot better, with everything being extremely flat. Not quite cell-shaded, but not quite realistic, just some gross combination in-between that results in some truly hideous character models.
Another problem is how you are shuffled between set pieces. While individual conversations and events are satisfying enough, the way you are just plucked from one scenario to another is jarring, especially when there is no shift between characters. It lacks the polish of the HBO show, where all the transitions are well thought out and fit together like a puzzle; these are just a group of randomly cut pieces of wood being crammed together by a toddler drooling all over them.