Game of Thrones: The Lost Lords Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
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Given its episodic nature and intrinsically important story details from the first episode ‘Iron From Ice’, beware that events from the first part of Game of Thrones will be discussed in this review. We won’t spoil this episode here but conversely we won’t dance around major spoilers from episode one.
Second episodes always tend to be a little tricky to pull off - you’ve had your first episode to set out the scene, usually with a set-piece or two to pique the curiosity of attention-fickle viewers. It’s even more difficult with games where the passivity of watching a series is replaced with interactivity - not only does the story have to be compelling but the gameplay has to avoid becoming stale. That’s not to say it needs to radically change in every episode, but when you go from escaping the terror of the Red Wedding to moving a heavy barrel across the courtyard of Castle Black, you can’t help but feel things have been dialled down a notch.
The shock ending of episode one means new characters are introduced, complete with a couple of fresh locations to visit. The Wall and Yunkai offer a change of scenery, the latter opening the game with a wonderfully tense fight and flight character introduction to Asher Forrester, exiled son of the family. Mira Forrester remains a hostage in handmaiden guise in King’s Landing, negotiating the garden politics of the royal court. Meanwhile, Gared Tuttle reaches The Wall and takes the black under the careful eye of Jon Snow.
Everything about Telltale’s approach to the franchise is remarkably faithful, from the title sequence rendered in-engine to familiar tropes from the series. A song plays a rather large part in this episode, echoing the use of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ or ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ in the television series. Kit Harrington adds further credibility to the cast, although once again his likeness doesn’t quite capture that affronted-puppy look he so often sports in reality.
The faithfulness to the series has a main drawback, though - on so many occasions does it feel as though Telltale are retreading the same ground. Gared Tuttle’s experience at The Wall is so similar to Jon Snow’s first arrival that there’s no doubt he takes a shine to this facsimile of himself. Mira Forrester is essentially occupying the Sansa Stark role while newcomer Asher has elements of Jorah Mormont and Jaime Lannister as mercenary-with-a-heart. This feeling of deja vu extends to events as well, although this works to the game’s benefit. Whether with a palpable sense of dread or morbid curiosity there are likely more than a few moments in the books/TV series where you contemplate what decision you would have made. Here you can choose and on your head be it, often literally.
The Lost Lords also suffers from second episode syndrome in that there aren’t quite the same shocking moments or perilous decisions to make. Quite a lot of it can feel like admin - the training at Castle Black feels tired both in gameplay and as a story beat. Not wanting to sound like a philistine, but there also seems to be a great deal more conversation. Game of Thrones dialogue can ensnare you as well as the most heated battle, but certain scenes here fall flat or are plain unmemorable.
One nice touch comes in hearing established characters talk in-depth about events seen in the series. A first-hand account of Jon Snow’s feeling post-Red Wedding offers something we hadn’t really heard him vocalise on the show. Giving the television series more breathing room is where Telltale’s game shines, offering a new angle on something we’ve seen before. Not, it should be emphasised, repeating something we’ve seen but with a different character undertaking the task.
Ramifications are a fundamental part of Telltale’s approach to storytelling and Game of Thrones seems to be the series where these hold sway more so than ever before. The joke whereby ‘so-and-so will remember that’ is accurate - an item you may have swiped in the previous episode might be useful again. The longer tail to decisions really fits with the fiction and promises great things in the future.
By now we’ve also had a better look at the visual aesthetic used to depict locations old and new. While characters generally look acceptable, the methods Telltale use to show some of the larger vistas reveal a few corners being cut, most likely for budget reasons. Still paintings are used for distant cities, which is perfectly serviceable. What’s questionable is the filter Telltale have applied to the middle-ground of scenes - a blurry, shimmer effect that almost looks like a glitch. It’s likely meant to lend a painterly sheen as well as cover some of the simple set design, but it doesn’t half distract on occasion.
Reaching the end of The Lost Lords I realised that, aside from the song, I couldn’t really remember what had happened over the course of a few hours. The shock of episode one hadn’t quite settled and the brutality of Ramsay Snow overshadowed much of the menace inherent in this follow-up. Based on the story so far, Game of Thrones is very much worthy of your time but has plenty to prove in the space of a handful more episodes to come. It also needs to find its own identity and move away from archetypes already covered in the books. Hopefully this will be the expository episode, with the tension ratcheting up as things continue to fall apart for House Forrester.