Game of Thrones: Episode 4 – Sons of Winter PC Review
When Telltale Games released The Walking Dead in 2012, it became an instant hit almost overnight. This was thanks in part to its association with the hugely popular franchise, but also in bigger part to its strong writing and characterization. Lastly, it was the first game to show off Telltale’s innovative feature of having the episodic story influenced by the critical decisions made by players. The idea of each player having the freedom to radically shape the story became a staple of all Telltale games preceding The Walking Dead.
It’s starting to become clear, however, that players may not have as much narrative freedom as they have been initially promised. With each new Telltale release, we are starting to see the limitations of their “choose your adventure” series of games; there is a growing frustration from players who dedicate time to try and shape the fate of several characters, either by talking them out of making a bad decision or even saving their lives, only to have such major decisions undone shortly afterward due to unavoidable outcomes. This is only made more apparent when compared to newer games that follow a similar format, such as Life is Strange, while also offering more varied story options.
With this growing criticism in mind, it is starting to look like Game of Thrones is another episodic game that might suffer from Telltale’s semi-illusory claims of meaningful player choice. In the previous episode, players had the choice to influence the decision of one of the principal characters from treading down a potentially hazardous path, while also dealing with a deadly duel to the death that should theoretically prove his actions were justified rather than excessive.
By the start of the newest episode, not only is he condemned for his actions (even with the added testimony of another character players may choose to befriend), but he proceeds toward the very mission he had refused to do anyway. This sequence alone proves that whatever decisions players make, the overarching story will only change in small, ultimately inconsequential ways. This is exemplified further with the addition of yet another famous character from the books and TV series, who behaves in an uncharacteristically hostile manner toward another player-controlled character, even if that character made all of the “right” decisions beforehand. Regardless of how that sequence plays out, players are still given their next objective from the same character, solidifying that they are still a slave to the overall narrative.
It’s a good thing, then, that the narrative continues to survive with its strong writing and characterization. While things continue to move in that all-too-familiar George R. R. Martin pace, there is a lot more excitement in this episode, followed by several new scenes of satisfaction revolving around characters previously jerked around by the more infamous jerks in this game. QTEs also make an infamous return, but an extended stealth/assassination section makes good use of the mechanic.
With two episodes left, it remains to be seen if any of these events will lead to a satisfying payoff, or drag their heels in order to hold off for the inevitable second season. It may be a fixed narrative with little alterations, but it’s still an interesting narrative, but should that fail at any point than this entire castle built by Telltale may collapse.