Game Of Thrones: Iron From Ice

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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

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