Game Of Thrones: Iron From Ice
360, iOS, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One
Telltale’s Game Of Thrones series opens during the cataclysmic events of the Red Wedding. As such, its first episode, and this review, are perilous territory for those wishing to avoid spoilers. But Telltale’s adventure is a poor choice of jumping-off point for newcomers to George RR Martin’s fantasy world anyway. Unashamedly fan service, Iron From Ice bombards players with family houses and character names, both familiar and new, in its opening minutes and barely lets up for its two-hour duration. It makes for excellent immersion in the lore, but you’ll quickly get lost in all the political machinations unless you know your Starks from your Lannisters.
Still, even the well-versed won’t necessarily feel part of the intrigue. As the game begins, a devastating act of betrayal is taking place in The Twins, House Frey’s stronghold, but you’re stationed outside as Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester, whose lesser-known house plays loyal bannerman to House Stark. When Frey’s troops launch a surprise attack on the Forresters’ army, Tuttle’s role in the fallout is significant, but the Forresters’ part in The War Of The Five Kings is anything but. And this sense of being on the periphery of Game Of Thrones persists throughout Iron From Ice, even when you take on another role in King’s Landing.
That’s not to say the decisions you make along the way lack weight, however. In fact, Iron From Ice, just like The Walking Dead, revels in presenting you with tough choices, and you’ll barrel into the first within minutes of starting, ill-equipped to understand either outcome’s potential repercussions. Telltale’s proven formula is a great fit for Game Of Thrones, then, and while the stories you control may feel like bit parts in the wider conflict, Iron From Ice captures the spirit of the show – if not necessarily the books – perfectly.
The two other playable threads examine the lives of siblings Mira and Ethan Forrester, the former a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing, the latter reluctantly bestowed the duties and title of his deceased father. As a narrative device, it allows Telltale to better span the vast scale of Westeros and successfully ape the multiple strands of the HBO series. It means your decisions can have more far-reaching consequences, but also has the unfortunate side effect of reducing the amount of time you spend with each character, and thus your ability to develop relationships with them. This will hopefully become less of a problem as the series goes on, but by the end of Iron From Ice, we couldn’t help but notice the absence of anything close to the bond we had with Lee, let alone Clementine, a couple of hours into The Walking Dead.
Despite this, the Forresters are immediately appealing because Telltale has, broadly, modelled its addition to the Thrones pantheon on the Starks. The family certainly isn’t a carbon copy, but there are several parallels in Mira’s difficult adjustment to life in the capital of the Seven Kingdoms and Ethan’s shouldering of responsibilities far beyond his years. It’s a conscious choice, of course: guiding a Northern family struggling to deal with the insidious influence of less honourable houses allows Telltale greater freedom to weave tragedy into your plight, subtly signalling the absence of any obvious hero or the guarantee of anyone’s survival.
Most importantly of all, and irrespective of its relative lack of influence, House Forrester feels like a congruous addition to Game Of Thrones’ competing families. Seated in the previously unmentioned Ironrath fort within the largest ironwood forest in Westeros, the house stewards the valuable timber, which is famous for its extreme resilience, while fending off the interests of bitter rival House Whitehill. The struggle for control over this vital resource forms the core of Telltale’s story as the North descends into chaos and you must do everything in your limited power to prevent the dissolution of your house.
You attempt to manage this through the usual mix of QTEs and conversation trees, of course, a modicum of free exploration thrown in for good measure. But while there is one violent action-driven scene, the real battles are conversational. A scene in which Mira must convince Cersei Lannister – voiced by Lena Headey, who reprises her role along with other members of the TV cast, including Peter Dinklage, who puts in a decent shift – of her fealty to the crown over her family is a particular highlight.
That we’ve followed much the same scene between the Queen Regent and Sansa Stark in Game Of Thrones’ noninteractive variants doesn’t diminish its impact at all, and moments such as these perfectly recreate the heady mix of fear, mistrust and social manoeuvring that the series is famous for. But while several encounters achieve this, others are less successful. Deciding who Ethan should appoint as his advisor by talking to everyone in order to canvas their opinion of the two candidates, for example, is simply tedious – especially given the fact that you will likely already have made up your mind beforehand.
When this episode gets it right, it shows much promise for the series ahead, and it’s worth bearing in mind during its less successful moments that Telltale’s episodic arcs typically suffer from growing pains before finding their flow. But taken in isolation, Iron From Ice can feel patchy as it struggles to establish its huge cast in a remarkably short length of time, and often does so at the expense of gameplay. Fans of Westeros will likely be delighted by Telltale’s exploration of a formerly undocumented northern clan, but there’s nothing here yet to match up to the greatness of The Walking Dead.
While the stories you control may feel like bit parts in the conflict, Iron From Ice captures the spirit of the show perfectly