Game of Thrones Episode 3 Review
Game of Thrones Episode 3 Review
The plot suffers from a serious mid-season slump and the choices you make seem less and less relevant.
Posted: 04/02/15 | Category: Review | Developer: Telltale Games | Publisher: Telltale Games | Platform: Android, Ios, Xbox one, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Windows, Mac

Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure
Release date: March 24, 2015

Telltale’s Game of Thrones series got off to a shaky but promising start. The raw material was intriguing but disorganized and too scattershot to make the player feel invested. Unfortunately, Episode Three, The Sword in the Darkness, hasn’t helped the series regain its footing. The plot suffers from a serious mid-season slump and the choices you make seem less and less relevant as this elaborately constructed saga continues on increasingly tight rails.

Story
 

As in Episode Two, the story toggles between the adventures of four members of House Forrester. First there is Asher, who is slowly making his way back home with friend and fellow badass Beshka while trying to recruit an army of sellswords. We also return to Gareth, who has been made a ranger at the White Wall and finds himself pulled even further into his family’s fight against the Whitehills when a potentially game-changing secret is discovered. Mira is still at King’s Landing proving her loyalty to Lady Margaery, and Roderick holds down the fort at Castle Forrester, once again defending his home from the occupying Whitehill army. 

I was extremely unimpressed in the plot department, which is a shame in a game that consists almost entirely of plot. Mira’s and Roderick’s storylines felt like near-exact repetitions of their problems in the last episode: Roderick isn’t being taken seriously as the head of house because of his physical weakness after being nearly killed on the battlefield, and Mira keeps getting herself into tricky situations where she has no choice but to either offend the woman she waits upon or infuriate Queen Circe, both extremely dangerous options given her sensitive position.

This will always be a problem for a franchise that has thousands of pages of writing and four seasons of a TV show behind it: not every plot we see is going to be something totally novel. But there’s a difference between recurring themes and retreading the exact same plot beats over again just to pad out the game’s length. What makes this even more infuriating is that while these characters function solely as figures of diplomacy, nothing they do can change what ultimately happens. Mira is in danger of banishment regardless of who she’s loyal to, which isn’t necessarily disingenuous in a world so saturated with bigger people seeking power. But it’s frustrating in a game, something that purports to respond in some way to a player’s input. Events at the end of this episode seem to suggest that Mira might be leaving King’s Landing very soon, which bodes well for the expansion of her character, but we won’t know for awhile.

Asher, one of the most promising figures of the series so far, is also hampered by the plot he’s been jostled into. Early on he comes into contact with a dragon (in case it hadn’t been obvious enough that his storyline was just an excuse to pull Daenerys into the franchise) and he doesn’t do much after that. He’s a real source of light, winking and bold and funny in contrast to the other hand-wringing Forresters, and the occasional flickers we get of Beshka are a refreshing departure from the other female characters who lack any ability to defend themselves. Watching this pair go on adventures would be fun, but instead they’re pulled along by a stodgy uncle who carps about loyalty after his family has exiled Asher so many years ago. It’s tedious and impossible to agree with, and I found myself wishing the dragon had toasted Malcolm like a marshmallow just so we could get away from his scolding.

And what’s to become of Gareth? Something, perhaps, but probably not for a couple more episodes even though we’ve finally stumbled upon something potentially unique beyond the show or the books. I like Gareth as a character but he’s been painted into a corner up at the White Wall with few ways to affect the drama that surges below it. A few plot points are introduced in this epiode that could pay off later, but that’s far from a certainty.

Gameplay
 

Your choices become, if possible, even less important in this episode than they were before. There are only two “major” decisions in the whole three hour runtime, and the outcome of the first suggests that even they don’t have much import. The elaborate construction of this multi-threaded plot means that it’s impossible for the game to make major divergences that don’t bring the whole story crashing down. Furthermore, the trademark flavor of the Game of Thrones universe is one of tragedy, especially tragedy that’s meaningless, arbitrary, and unpreventable. This doesn’t feed so well into a game about choices. 

So is the way to save this series to give the players more control over the outcome? Not necessarily. The problem isn’t so much that we can’t use Mira to change the entire course of a continental conflict, but that she isn’t treated any differently in the end whether she’s simpering or standoffish, whether her loyalty wavers or holds strong. Telltale games are about how you choose to deal with problems, but we can’t get to know these characters well enough to devise an informed strategy of how to play them. Who is Asher as a result of his whole family turning its back on him? How does Roderick’s position in his family dictate how he feels it should be run now that he is the head of House Forrester? Is Gareth more loyal to a family he’s spent his life squiring for or a brotherhood he’s been forced to accept? We can’t begin to guess at the answers because we aren’t given enough time with any of these people to decide how they should define themselves. All choices we make for them are shots in the dark that represent blind guesswork in a game with rules we don’t understand.

Conclusion
 

Perhaps I sound too harsh. Maybe I’m giving Telltale’s latest endeavor an especially hard time, but not without reason. Between reviewing the second episode of GoT and this one, I got the chance to play the series that started this whole craze: The Walking Dead. The brilliance of The Walking Dead highlighted for me exactly what’s been done wrong here, and it’s especially frustrating when you know the company is capable of making a good product but has fumbled so spectacularly this time. 

The short answer of why Game of Thrones isn’t fun is that you control too many people in a way that isn’t meaningful. A whole mess of characters and plotlines make for a story that gives the player no control. This structure works perfectly in the show because it allows us to feel the insurmountable weight of the struggles the Stark family faces in seeking to return to a calm that they’ll probably never experience again. But we still remember and talk about the heart-wrenching decisions we had to make for Lee, the protagonist of The Walking Dead. We got to experience and control the entire trajectory of a man with little direction to one who has learned to love again and who gets to make conscious choices about whom he trusts and keeps close. Even if we can’t prevent disaster, we can choose how we handle it.

Despite all this, I don’t think this series is irredeemable. There are still chances to self-correct this sticky mess, especially if the game designers make the daring choice to move away from storylines that feature characters from the show in favor of more original arcs (part of why The Walking Dead worked so well was that it had almost no connection with the characters from the TV series or graphic novels). Giving interesting characters like Asher more to do and pulling others like Mira into new settings that demand novel solutions could make this a plot worth following again. But if it continues on its current path, we’ll be begging for death by dragon before long.

Grade: C+ 
Hints that big new plot revelations are ahead
Moments of solid characters like Asher and Beshka
 
Even less choices than before
Rehashing of plot arcs we've seen before
Too many characters to keep straight
 Logo
 
 
System Requirements
 
MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows XP Service Pack 3
Processor: Core 2 Duo 2 GHz or equivalent
Memory: 3 GB RAM
Graphics: ATI or NVIDIA card w/512 MB RAM
DirectX: Version 9.0
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Sound Card: Direc X 9.0c sound device
Additional Notes: Not Recommended for Intel integrated graphics
 
MINIMUM Mac:
OS: Lion (10.7.X)
Processor: 2.3 GHz Intel
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: 512 MB NVIDIA or ATI graphics card
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Additional Notes: Not recommended for Intel integrated graphics, or Mac Minis, or early generation MacBook
 
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