Game of Thrones: The Ice Dragon Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
The final episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones series arrives quite literally as winter is coming. Things have never looked bleaker for the Forrester family, spread across George R.R. Martin’s expansive world. As the series hits its culmination, strands of plot come together as do many of the Forresters themselves. After a strong start, Telltale’s latest has proven to be something of a disappointment - can this final episode rejuvenate interest in the Forrester clan?
In terms of sheer action this episode proves fruitful, with battles, one-on-one fights and more for almost every member of the family. This can be a bit of a double edged-sword (appropriate, I know) - while action certainly livens up proceedings, the real highlights of the series have often been moments of tense dialogue. The negotiation with the Whitehills a few episodes ago was a real standout, hinting at the depth a confrontation laced with threat can bring. The Ice Dragon - a name that seems irrelevant once you’ve reached the end - is more about spur of the moment action - not bad, per se, just… expected.
The essence of my problem - and it is a personal thing - with Game of Thrones is that, for all the trappings of the television series, the characters are nowhere near as memorable or likable. It’s been said before, but too many of them run close to similar counterparts in the HBO show. Mira is just Sansa, Gared is Jon Snow and Rodrik runs exceptionally close to Ned Stark. Asher comes across as the most charismatic (and by default the most likable) simply because he has a degree of wit and humour, while also not acting overly righteous or stupid. We’ve all watched or read Game of Thrones and wondered what we might do in the same situations - Telltale give us this choice but it’s still too confined. Over five episodes these characters have developed little of the depth that we see in someone like Tyrion or Arya. There’s not much progression to their character arcs either - Mira starts out a naive handmaid who occasionally lies and by this final episode it’s much the same.
That’s not to say there aren’t characters who leave a lasting impression. The Whitehills are absolutely awful - all braggadocio and spiteful torture - but they are so nasty in a pompous, villain-of-the-week way that again there’s little depth. They are Disney cartoon villains granted an 18+ rating and we’re only reminded of this when placed next to the odd Ramsey Bolton cameo. Other cameos, aside from Ramsey, have been disappointing and there aren’t many in this final episode, save for an epilogue featuring voiceovers.
Meanwhile, things north of the Wall take a turn for the Narnian as some of the more supernatural elements of the books come into the fore. Final episodes of the television show tended to introduce wilder ideas, as if sneaking actual fantasy into a series that focused on politics and familial turmoil. What is introduced is fine but again story beats seem mirrored from the show - is Gared’s wildling friend to be trusted? That’s just another version of the Ygritte plotline.
Everything builds up to a typical ending for Game of Thrones. For the sake of spoilers we won’t go any further into this only to say that if you’ve read the books or seen the programme you can probably guess what’s coming. That these characters haven’t found their way into our hearts makes the ending expected and predictable, lessening much of the shock. Of course, decisions will play into what happens but the game runs the risk of the player losing empathy with select individuals.
Perhaps the best part is the aforementioned epilogue, narrated by the cameo actors with delivery ranging from passable to phoned in. It’s all so dour and rote - perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to play Tales from the Borderlands in between episodes four and five. That’s probably Telltale’s best game in recent memory, full of wit, humour and an excellent voice cast made up of actors known for VO. The A-listers of Game of Thrones pale in comparison - you can almost hear the cheques being cashed in the background.
Production values are a mixed bag as well. When the series started, there was a real thrill in seeing the famous title sequence rendered in the game engine as well as the aesthetic of the HBO show represented. By this point Telltale’s budget is beginning to show - epic battle scenes rarely feature more than a handful of people and bugs abound. One conversation saw every line delivered by Mira clipped at the end. Even the credits have a massive formatting typo right at the start. It all feels rushed or as if Telltale are spreading their teams too thin. Lastly, the music is passable but compared to Ramin Djawadi’s stirring themes it doesn’t fit. Both Jared Emerson-Johnson (Telltale composer) and Djawadi use samples - unfortunately the Telltale game sounds like a poor MIDI version at times, despite some perfectly fitting melodies.
Overall Telltale’s Game of Thrones has not lived up to the license - it may look the part and have the right ideas, but it just never connected. Fans of the series will probably find a lot to like in it but anyone looking for a truly involving story might want to try something else. It’s a shame - and we’ve mentioned these both before - that Life is Strange and Tales from the Borderlands both overlapped some of Thrones long release window as they had genuinely engrossing stories. The Forresters feel like a second-run family, their story never really affecting the overall plot of the story of Westeros. Unfortunately, this makes Telltale’s version feel more of a spinoff than a must-play - a footnote consigned to history and only sought out by the truly curious.