Telltale Game Of Thrones: Glitches and weak resolution drag down an engaging season
We're finally here: almost a year after the journey started with opening episode Iron From Ice, the saga of the Forresters comes to a close with episode six, The Ice Dragon. All the branching choices reach their ultimate conclusions and everyone who is ever going “to remember that” finally does...sort of.
Some of the endings are satisfying and draw story arcs to a close, while others are left completely open-ended and make all the work to reach the finish line feel pointless. It should go without saying that massive spoilers abound, so stop reading if you haven't played yet.
Glitches and technical issues
Before getting into the heart of the story, the many technical issues have to be addressed. For a title with a tiny game world, limited animations, and a 2D oil painted style, it makes no sense why Game Of Thrones is so glitchy.
Nearly every scene has stuttering issues and jerky character movement, and there are 10 to 20 seconds of a blank screen between each of the flashback scenes in the “previously on” segment. Even more annoyingly, the opening credits froze on the executive producer slide, so for Mira's entire first segment in King's Landing I got to see the names of all the producers taking up the right half of the screen.
I would chalk all that up to the fact that I've been playing this on the Xbox 360 and the aging hardware isn't working with newer games very well, except I've seen reports of the same problems on the PS4/Xbox One editions, and these are all issues that occurred with older Telltale entries like The Wolf Among Us.
What Came Before: A Game Of Thrones Recap
Programming issues aside, I've been eagerly looking forward to the resolution of this 11 month long saga ever since that vital choice at the end of episode 5, A Nest Of Vipers. Picking whether Asher or Rodrik survives felt like the first choice in the entire season that truly mattered or had major repercussions -- and it does, as the segments are quite different depending on who lived and who died.
That was a long overdue development, as many of the choices in all the previous episodes led to essentially the same outcomes. A moment in the first episode that was particularly silly comes to mind when the game informed me that Gregor Forrester would remember something Gared said... about 15 seconds before Gregor dies.
Even other seemingly major choices frequently fell flat, like with who the traitor ended up being and how you dealt with him. I ended up getting Duncan, but because of the various options I'd taken throughout the game, the reasons he gave for turning traitor (after years of unfailing loyalty to a family he'd served his whole life) just didn't make any sense.
The North Grove
Wrapping up the main arc of the entire season, The Ice Dragon opens with Gared finally reaching the North Grove, at the cost of a good friend's life as well as his own honor, having deserted the Night's Watch. Once there, the story takes an odd turn though, adding in some overt supernatural elements that feel out of place for the setting.
Precisely why the grove is important or why Gregor hadn't utilized it up till now is never answered, leaving the end of the journey feeling hollow. You do get to make two major choices here about what sort of person Gared is going to be and whether the North Grove will end up helping the Forresters. But unfortunately the episode ends before anything comes of those choices, making them irrelevant.
The Fall Of Ironrath
Back at Ironrath, the final cataclysmic battle between the Whitehills and Forresters arrives, and it's kill or be killed time. Of course, being Game Of Thrones, there are no punches pulled and no innocents spared, as both sides take big casualties, some changing depending on what choices you make.
I decided to rescue Ryon and assassinate Gryff on my first playthrough, and there was an undeniable satisfaction in taking that sniveling worm's head as he cried out for his father.
It should be obvious at this point that there's not a happy ending in store for the Forresters though, as their demise has been a foregone conclusion since the family's head was murdered at the Twins during the Red Wedding.
All Mira's plotting, Asher's army-raising, and Rodrik's defiance of fate weren't going to save Ironrath in the end, although several members of the family manage to survive in different areas of the Seven Kingdoms, as it seems like Telltale is setting everything up for a sequel season.
In some cases it makes sense, and in others you'll be left scratching your head. I found myself wishing I'd saved Asher instead of Rodrik in the previous episode, because Rodrik's survival just doesn't make any sense. There's no way after all the wounds he's taken that he again managed to live, despite being run through by a greatsword, stabbed by a dagger, hit by a crossbow bolt, and pierced by an arrow.
How does he keep surviving all of this?
Mira's Plotting Comes To An End
Back in King's Landing, Mira finally finds out who has been trying to kill her and makes a fateful choice about whether she'll do something unpleasant to help the family – which again doesn't amount to much, since the season wraps up before the decision has any major outcome.
I went down the route of having Mira slowly turn hard and treacherous by living in the viper's nest that is King's Landing, so even though her segments in general just aren't as strong or interesting, I did get to watch a character actually change over time through my own actions. The problem is that knowledge of the show made it hard to care too much here. Why would I go out of my way to curry Maergery's favor or why should I care if she trusts me when I know she's going to end up in a dungeon not too long from now?
Yeah, we're bored with your segments too, Mira.
A conclusion to the story... kind of
The various story arcs in the Song Of Ice And Fire series typically don't have nicely wrapped-up endings, so in that sense this finale followed in the spirit of the books and T.V. show, although it would have been nice to get some closure on all these loose ends, of which there are many. There are some definite parallels with the show, with characters making tough decisions to save their families or finally reaching an important destination only to have it be too late to really matter.
As a conclusion to a story that people have been invested in for months, The Ice Dragon does fall short, although gameplay-wise the episode remains fun to play through multiple times. It really doesn't hit as hard as earlier episodes though. Ethan Forrester being cut down out of nowhere by Ramsay Snow was shocking and really drew you in way back at the beginning of this tale, and there's nothing on that level this time around. While lots of main characters die, here the story sort of just peters out without a strong resolution.
Although I didn't particularly enjoy the ending, I do still want to go back and play through some other options to see what changes, so clearly Telltale didn't completely bungle Game Of Thrones. That being said, this was a pretty weak ending, and it really doesn't stack up with something as gut-wrenching as the end of Telltale's The Walking Dead Season 1. It seems likely they'll have a chance to rectify that with a second season, but my hopes aren't high that the ending to that hypothetical future series will be any better.