First Look: Game of Thrones

‘Video game adaptation’ doesn’t carry a positive connotation – it’s hard to remember a game that did a movie or TV series justice. Dramatic scenes, a well-tempered script and commendable acting have a tendency to not translate well into gameplay and cutscenes, but fortunately French developer Cyanide Studio have recognised this problem. The self-proclaimed ‘huge fans’ of George RR Martin’s fantasy epic have set the upcoming RPG not in the footsteps of the original series, but as a totally separate plotline within the same universe.

At first, I was disappointed not to be cutting down enemies as the great Ned Stark or going on wild misadventures as Tyrion ‘The Imp’ Lannister. Upon seeing more of what Cyanide have done, I’m glad. Had it attempted to directly adapt from the series, it would have been trying to be something it’s not, its primary aim to replicate a creation built for a different medium altogether. Instead, here is something built from the ground up to be not a clone, but an RPG. The game visits many classic areas brought to life by the show, and some old faces can be seen – but it steers clear of the main narrative. The original characters were each delicately built to have their own charms portrayed by their actors, and Cyanide do not risk losing this in heavy-handed cutscenes.

Instead, the player takes two different roles: Mors, a recruit of the Night’s Watch at the Wall, and Alester, a ‘red priest’. The familiar classes of ‘knight’ and ‘mage’ may be coming to mind at this point, and this brings on the next important point – Game of Thrones is a great deal more ambitious than the everyday adaptation. Sylvain Sechi, level designer at Cyanide, noted in his presentation that most video game adaptations do not aim to be hugely involving or story-driven, but are merely action games that bring back memeories of the original material. GoT, on the other hand, claims to be a full-blooded RPG that simply shares context with a popular series without leeching off it.

Worthy of note is that Game of Thrones is much more old-school than the majority of contemporary RPGs: not only does character creation sport an expansive list of stats and attributes, including a Fallout-esque ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ section, but combat is heavily influenced by more archaic turn-based systems. Aiming to be more paced and tactical than fast and intense, bringing up a menu in combat will greatly slow down time, giving you the chance to plan your attacks and choose your weapons. Different weapons deal varying damage to enemies with certain armour types, and damage is based on the classic D&D dice-rolling system – yes, this is as much a title for classic RPG fans as it is for fans of the show.

The nearly-finished game seems to play fairly well. Apart from the punishing difficulty – even on the presentation several skirmishes were barely survived– it appears to be systematically approachable, yet with enough depth in skill development to please the hardcore RPG audience.

Graphically, unfortunately, the game is hardly up to scratch. The visuals would not look out of place in an Xbox 360 launch title, nor does the script shine with anywhere near the sharp wit of the original. However what Game of Thrones lacks in presentational quality it can, perhaps, make up with quantity. According to Cyanide the game can span 40 hours, even without side quests, and considering the linear format the main quest primarily sticks to, that’s a heck of a lot of story.

It was also mentioned that choices made in the main quest can have impacts of Mass Effect proportions, affecting events as far as seven chapters later depending on lives you must save, take or change. This may well be where the game truly comes into its own, especially if its plot can have nearly as much draw as RR Martin’s original work. Depending on the scale of the story Cyanide choose to tell, this could range from the fate of single characters to whole factions and the outcomes of wars, but so far our knowledge is limited.

Cyanide Studio and Focus Home Interactive have marketed the title as Game of Thrones: The Role Playing Game, and the game hastens to remind you at every moment that is what it is. This is no knock-off adaptation rushed out in an 8-month development slot to match the on-screen release: this is truly an RPG of its own. You’d better be ready to play the Game of Thrones. After all, you win, or you die.

Game of Thrones will be released for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in June 2012.