Game of Thrones: The Sword in the Darkness Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
We’ve been reviewing each Game of Thrones episode as they are released so will refer to events from each episode up to The Sword in the Darkness. Therefore beware - this review will be spoilertastic for anyone new to the series, as well as the television programme.
The mid-season point of a series can be a tricky one to master. There are often multiple plotlines in full flow, often requiring a change of scenery or momentous event to keep things fresh. The Sword in the Darkness introduces new characters and even throws in a dragon for good measure, but there’s a nagging air of stagnation to the story of House Forrester. Can a game series encounter a mid-season lull and, more importantly, should it?
Last we left clan Forrester, things weren’t looking good for anyone in particular. Now things are definitely up Flea Bottom - Asher Forrester on the run from Meereen, Mira Forrester struggling with Lannister diplomacy in King’s Landing and their homestead of Ironrath under occupation from the Whitehills. Also in peril are evidently the writers at Telltale, doing their best to make us care about these characters during an episode where the plot barely inches forward.
Three episodes in, it’s easy to spot the trademark Telltale gimmicks - choices are signposted long before you have to decide what to do. This doesn’t make things any easier - these are tough decisions after all - but there’s a lack of surprise, of fraught panic that The Walking Dead could cause. The introduction of the episode features one of Daenerys’ dragons; it should be a thrilling, awe inspiring scene. Given the episode is advertised with an image of the dragon that surprise is soon ruined but it is the bare-faced choice that must be made that turns the scaled beast into a prop, a gameplay prompt that soon flies off along with any palpable tension.
Even in just the first season of The Walking Dead it was easy to grow attached to Lee and Clementine, whereas Game of Thrones’ Forresters can leave you cold. Perhaps it’s because they feel so close to the Starks, second-shelf facsimiles encountering similar problems to the Northern brood. What events occur in The Sword in the Darkness all run extremely close to plotlines from the show and while there have been moments of shock (mainly in the first episode) there are none in this third part. Telltale even introduce a new antagonist, Gryff Whitehill, a Disney villain with a blonde sweep of hair to boot, lacking any of the subtlety of George R.R. Martin’s conflicted villains. When the whining, overtly sneering Whitehill is placed against genuinely scary psychopaths such as Ramsay Snow it becomes clear which one can imbue real terror.
But perhaps it all goes back to the fact that, three episodes in, the Forresters are a dour, unlovable lot. While the Starks weren’t rainbows and smiley emoji, they weren’t the sole focus of a show that also spent a lot of time with the charming Tyrion and powerful Daenerys. Here they are relegated to cameos that were highlights in the first two episodes but, through familiarity, have now become predictable means of spouting exposition and creating manufactured conflict. They also reveal another trick of Telltale that has become apparent. It’s related to the denouement of this particular episode so we’ll avoid mentioning it, but safe to say it’s a weak payoff to a few hours that already fails to grab the attention.
Gared mooches about the Wall before a mishap lands him in trouble. Mira mulls over her midnight assailant. Rodrik continues to despise the occupation of Ironrath by Whitehills. Asher remains on the run. Note how all of these are continuations of what happened in the previous episode - there is no new predicament to shake things up, at least not until the end of the episode. With little new characterisation to explore, there’s the sense of waiting, waiting for the next catastrophe. Running alongside the main events of the TV show something does indeed come up, but off-camera as it were. We know that we’re dealing with a different set of characters, but the way in which momentous events are dealt with portrays the Forresters as sideline nobodies, unimportant away from the main action. Unfortunately it also belies Telltale’s budget, given a certain poisonous wedding occurs entirely off-screen.
The one gameplay twist to the episode - a button prompt reading of the Night’s Watch vows - can be achieved by watching the exact same scene in the TV show and pressing a button every time someone starts a new sentence. This summarises the problem with The Sword in the Darkness - there is nothing new here. The flames of my attention are beginning to wane, my empathy draining, especially with the return of HBO’s flagship show. The next episode will need to step it up, in terms of story and in finding a way for me to care about the Forresters again. As of now, this family is coming across as decidedly wooden, in need of a chop.