SPOILER WARNING: It’s not possible to discuss this game in any depth without revealing major plot points. If you’d rather not read any spoilers, please stop reading now.
The final episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones season one felt like a bit of a watershed moment to me. I feel like I invested a reasonable amount of time and money in this game since the release of the first episode , which came out just shy of a whole year ago. And I feel cheated by the way the story of House Forrester came to such an unsatisfactory conclusion and blatantly teased a second season to resolve the story.
Let’s back up a bit. I enjoyed the first few episodes of this season well enough, and was prepared to wait and see what would come of the various story arcs and the mythical ‘North Grove’. Moreover, I was prepared to put up with the endless humiliations suffered by House Forrester in the hope that, eventually, you’d get some payback against the Whitehills. You did get to briefly begin a comeback of sorts around episode four as Rodryk’s alliances started to take shape and, in hindsight, that feels like the high point of the series. The problem is what Telltale decided to do after that, as everything started to fall apart and everything that mattered was outside your control.
Now, you can argue that futility of effort and random and depressing acts of violence are major themes of the Game of Thrones franchise, and perhaps the game needs to recreate that in order to remain true to the source material. I’m not a fan of the franchise so I can’t really comment on that aspect. What I would say is that such a narrative approach does not help promote ongoing engagement with the story or individual characters, and we see the fruits of that here. This approach is even more problematic in a decision-based environment where your decisions are supposed to resonate.
In the absence of any freedom to shape the story, Telltale contrives scenarios which force drastic decisions on you, but they feel just that: contrived. As a result, over the course of episode six I found myself choosing the silent option time and again in conversations, as I didn’t care about any of the responses; or more to the point, my experience with the game had told me they would count for nothing. I’ve never done this in a Telltale game before. The pointlessness of it all was particularly apparent in the story of Mira, which for the first few episodes was perhaps the best part of the game. Episode six has nothing for Mira to do, except account for her underhand efforts to help her family–none of which, by the way, ended up helping the Forresters in their laughably one-sided and futile struggle against the Whitehills. By the end of the episode Mira is forced to choose between execution or a life of sexual subjugation to a sadistic master. Game of Thrones is a fantasy, not a historical drama, and so putting women in these sorts of positions can’t alone be justified on the basis ‘that’s what the world is/was like’. Yes, but one of the things about fantasy is that it gives us the opportunity to experience a world where things are different. Again, the ending of Mira’s story was deeply unsatisfying and makes everything that came before it count for nothing. Her efforts to help her family come to nowt and she loses everything in the process.
The body count in this episode is absurdly high, but I didn’t really feel moved by any of the perfunctory carnage. Bizarrely, the only character left standing at the end of all this is Gared, who has finally made it to the North Grove. Considering this place has been teased since the first episode as a place of awesome power and mystery, I was underwhelmed by the reveal, to say the least. Basically the North Grove is a place where two of the late Lord Gregor Forrester’s bastard children lead a small group of reanimated corpses to fight against other reanimated corpses by way of blood magic. Why is it supposed to be so important? Who knows. I guess we don’t want the skeletons fighting their way down south but, you know, House Forrester is being wiped out anyway so who cares? Presumably this will feature somewhat in season two, but I’ve already sunk £25 into this series, and I feel I deserve a bit more resolution than I got here. I’m not coming back for round two.
And so, back to my original point about watersheds. Telltale announced a few days ago that GoT is coming back for season two, and that intention was obvious looking at the unresolved ending of episode six. Telltale made their reputation on the strength of good writing and gripping stories, evidenced by the first two seasons of The Walking Dead and the underrated The Wolf Among Us. But playing this season of Game of Thrones I really feel like their writing has lost its way. This makes it more difficult to tolerate the endless glitches, load times, frozen frames, and like that plague their games. What Telltale should do is develop a new engine and focus on one or two games, providing the best stories they can. Instead, they look set to be cranking up their output, with two new parallel seasons of Walking Dead, more Game of Thrones, Minecraft, a Marvel collaboration and a new IP. They’re chasing the money and in the process they’re going to stretch themselves too thin and lose what set them apart. For me, the evidence is they had six episodes of Game of Thrones to work with and by the end of it, I didn’t care about it at all. Is there anything more damning in an environment where your choices are supposed to count?