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'Game of Thrones' video game episode 1: 'Iron from Ice' review

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Game Of Thrones Game
HBO

HBO’s Game of Thrones imbues a fantastical political chess game with energy and intrigue. The show has excelled even when it can’t quite depict the blood and guts of an actual battlefield. Telltale’s new Game of Thrones game takes a more personal focus and somewhat smaller scope—though it’s still expansive in comparison to previous Telltale titles.

In the first episode of the six-part series, “Iron from Ice,” players take on the role of two members of House Forrester—Mira and Ethan—as well as Gared Tuttle, a squire to the house’s lord. This evokes the feel of the TV series while exploring a more concentrated emotional core. The episode’s function as a table-setting introduction, however, demands a little more of a “wait and see” approach than a “can you believe what just happened” one—though there are several moments that evoke the latter.

In traditional Thrones fashion, “Ice” bounces around from one viewpoint to another, never letting events drag on too long before switching to a new setting. The episode opens up on one of the biggest–and bloodiest–events from the show’s third season. This moment delivers both an exciting introduction and a declaration by Telltale that, while this game may not put players in control of the characters they know and love, it’s still an integral part of their story.

“Ice” plays like any of Telltale’s recent games. Players control the flow of conversation, making dialogue choices that affect how characters behave and where the story goes. There are some action sequences in which players tap buttons in time to on-screen prompts, but they aren’t as integral to the experience as in previous Telltale products.

The action sequences appear only at the beginning of the episode, whereas the player’s capacity to please, piss off, or manipulate other characters through conversation takes center stage throughout. Much like the show, there’s a war going on—but it’s one mostly being waged in meeting halls and throne rooms. HBO and Telltale are more intrigued by verbal and mental warfare than the physical kind, and Game of Thrones succeeds in how well it capitalizes on that idea.

The game is most fascinating when it explores the troubles plaguing House Forrester. Players watch and influence how the family contends with its losing position against House Whitehill, making for drama as intriguing as some of the HBO series’ most complex stories. Some choices may lack the subtlety of Telltale’s best work, but learning to rule as the far-too-young lord Ethan and defending your honor as Gared offer plenty of engrossing sequences.

The third point of view, Mira, is settled at King’s Landing. While it’s great to see the Lannisters and Margaery Tyrell in the mix, the scenes set away from Ironrath falter in their pacing. Mira isn’t a particularly interesting character yet, and the plots in these scenes feel more like stopgaps and less like a story that demands investment. Potentially interesting threads are established for future episodes, but this early in the story, Mira and her endeavors are nowhere near as absorbing as Ethan’s and Gared’s plights.

The game takes plenty of inspiration from the show, both to its benefit and to its detriment. While Thrones has more of a watercolor appearance than some of Telltale’s more stylized games, the muted color palette doesn’t make for the most visually dynamic game. There’s potential for a more vibrant appearance in future episodes, but for now, other than a few gorgeous scenery shots, the darker and brown tones don’t pop with the fidelity of Telltale’s other games.

“Ice” succeeds most in how it pulls from the show’s complex set of moral dilemmas. If the game is about anything in particular, for now it’s about influencing your enemies to protect your friends and family. Figuring out how to best exert that influence—and either achieving it or watching wildly get out of hand—is often thrilling.

Many of the new characters are great additions to the world, and some of the HBO hit’s stalwarts are intact—including a great theme song, surprising story beats, and a performance by Peter Dinklage that mirrors his work on the show (rather than his previous video game voice acting).

“Iron from Ice” evokes its source material while staking its own claim on the franchise, including an ending twist that, despite “Ice’s” faults, left me pining for the next episode. The episode may struggle in its pacing, which causes the actual episode to suffer a bit as a standalone experience. But there are so many threads left to be explored, and enough surprising twists and engaging characters, that the episode succeeds where it needs to most—leaving me curious to see what comes next.