Game of Thrones Episode 6: The Ice Dragon PC Review
Some videogame success stories simply write themselves: the mere pitch of the idea to have Telltale create a videogame series based on Game of Thrones was worth more than all the gold at King’s Landing. And just like the fictional kingdom that serves as one of the major set pieces in George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed series, what was once a thriving city of riches and royalty has instead fallen into disarray due to arrogance and incompetence. A more avid fan would be able to create a more appropriate metaphor, but the long and short of it is that what should have originally been a landmark adaption from Telltale instead became a frustrating slog that has long overstayed its welcome.
The final chapter in this videogame-exclusive story spun off from the original source material finally showcases the confrontation it had been building up all year…which to its credit did not take nearly as long as the original books to resolve. Without getting into spoilers, things spiral out of control in the usual series fashion, resulting in betrayals, character deaths and…well that’s about it. As far as the writing and action goes, when things finally go south, they go far south in a momentarily satisfying way.
“Momentarily” in that the lead-up to the big finale is rife with the same problems that plagued the previous episodes. Quick-time events continue to use the same patterns that they’ve long since become tedious (mash one button a bunch of times then follow-up with another button), players are forced to examine certain key items for the umpteenth time in a row, and the single worst mechanic in the series continues to be the one that Telltale should have gotten right from the start: the key decisions.
As has been stated in previous reviews, the choices that players are forced to make in this game dictate their actions and the narrative of the story…or at least that’s what the opening blurb says before every episode. Instead, the decisions that are made only matter for maybe a moment or two before the game decides to put you on the path it feels like taking anyway. No matter how courteous or diplomatic players will try to play their protagonists, the outcome will always be the same and rarely in their favor. One particularly infuriating twist happens with no context or build-up whatsoever, turning what originally appeared as a game of human chess and flipping the table over in frustration. Worse yet, this portion of the story takes up the majority of episode 6’s short runtime, and the perspective will constantly interrupt the other scenarios in order to arbitrarily switch over to the dullest character with the dullest storyline (which is something the books have been guilty of for years but the TV series has managed to largely avoid…mention “the Bran chapters” to have longtime readers cringe at the mere utterance of the name).
There are some games that would relish over the lack of control players have over the narrative. In a Telltale adaption of Game of Thrones, this frustrates in an entirely unpleasant way. The final episode continues to hit players with “crucial” choices that not only determine the outcome of the finale, but also what may transpire in the already-confirmed second season. At first these decisions felt like important choices that could radically alter the shape of the story, but after seeing past the game’s tricks they no longer hold any sway to players’ feelings. It grows especially annoying how the game utilizes the exact same dramatic hook, where players must ultimately decide between A or B, which also puts them in bad standing with whichever character favored the choice you didn’t pick. Worry not, though, because once again: your decisions hardly matter. The game will decide what happens, and the ending sequence goes so far as to have the surviving characters practically mock you for your poor decisions, implying that things could have played out better. A dirty lie and a bitter pill to swallow.
In the end, what should have been the next evolution in Telltale’s reputation for brilliant writing and meaningful choices has instead shown how outdated the company’s engine and storytelling structure has become. The limited palette of expressions turns several serious situations unintentionally comical (no one should be smirking so much during such a bloody fight for survival), the combat frequently changes its mind on whether a missed QTE prompt should lead to a Game Over or not, and the writing, while still written very well, is largely hindered by outcomes that scream “wait for season 2!”. After the poor showing of such an anticipated adaptation and the growing list of alternatives that do the concept far better (including the real surprise hit from Telltale, Tales from the Borderlands), Game of Thrones is like a pauper posing as a prince; it’s a suitable imitation, but upon closer glance the façade becomes clearer with every passing moment.