Telltale's Game of Thrones series features their most ambitious storyline yet. The season premiere focuses on the happenings of Westeros, alongside the events of season three in the HBO show. The game assumes the player is familiar with the canon Game of Thrones events and characters, so anyone new to the series is in for spoilers and a bit of a confusing experience - but for those familiar with the show, the game picks up at a recognizable and terrifying time.
Much like the book series the show is based on, the episodic game will keep transitioning between characters as new chapters begin and close. The focus for this season is set with House Forrester, whose motto 'Iron From Ice' is the title of the season premiere. As players are quickly introduced to House Forrester, it becomes clear that this is Telltale's best foray into developing characters yet - by the end of the first episode, each playable character has made several gut-wrenching choices, and each of them feel like they had a unique personality within the harsh world of Game of Thrones.
The classic timed conversations of Telltale Games are thrown at the player at a fast and brutal pace like never before, and players may find themselves overwhelmed making so many bold choices under pressure. At the beginning of the game, players must choose between the duties of their House or saving the person right in front of them, and it sets a tone of danger that the entire episode keeps up with easily - it's the perilous experience one would expect in Westeros.
The oil-painted graphics of Game of Thrones is a mixed bag - visually, the characters retain the distinctive Telltale Games look and when the environment isn't playing against the game, it manages to look great. When there is plenty of movement, however - which is most of the game - the background often distracts from the gameplay as the engine renders edges in quite a noisy and uncomplimentary way.
In contrast to a somewhat sloppy graphical performance, the voice acting is top notch - of course, the actual HBO cast retains their voice credits for characters, which means the actual voices of Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, Margaery Tyrell and Ramsay Snow lend their expertise to the dialogue, and each deliver a fantastic performance. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, which really helps their character development and sets a high standard for the rest of the episodes.
Fans of the show may be a bit miffed at the storyline, which seems to place a heavy emphasis on the importance of House Forrester's ironwood - with Ramsay Snow and Queen Cersei both taking a personal interest. Curiously, Mira Forrester - a mere handmaiden in King's Landing - seems to be able to speak on behalf of her entire house and negotiate in stead of the House's actual Lord, which is an illogical decision in both reality and in the show. It's clear Telltale Games did this so her decisions would carry weight, but it came off as a little forced.
The rest of the storyline was much more plausible, and the ticking clock on the decision time will leave gamers sweating at the fast-paced conversations and arguments that flow within the game. By the end of the season premiere, the plot is building up pace rather quickly and plenty of pieces have already been set in motion in typical Game of Thrones style. Weighing in at around two hours, the first episode represents an excellent platform for the rest of the season to build off of, and delivered a pleasing amount of content in comparison to other Telltale experiences.
We played the PC version for our review, and constantly ran into graphical glitches throughout the episode. The mouths of characters would sometimes stop moving during their dialogue, and NPCs would sometimes quickly slide in or out of the screen as one scene would transition to the next. Likewise, after a second playthrough it seems like a lot of the under-pressure choices the player makes were a moot point - the same situation unfolded eventually, with the same results. While some of the choices were clearly slow burners that will impact later episodes, we hope Telltale Games manages to prove that player choices can lead to a diverse playthrough experience, rather than different paths that lead to the exact same conclusion.
Ultimately, Iron From Ice more than makes up for these setbacks by providing a story-driven and engaging experience from start to finish. Whether it was vying to tactfully pass off lies in King's Landing or dodging spears in a woefully outnumbered situation, Game of Thrones is proof yet again that the Telltale formula works - and compliments the world of HBO's Game of Thrones perfectly. The first episode got the season off to an entertaining start, and graphical issues aside, the next episode still can't come soon enough.
The next episode of Game of Thrones has yet to be announced, but Jon Snow (and therefore Kit Harrington) are confirmed to feature in it.
Follow John Jacques on Twitter @Makelevi.