We gave it a B
The key to winning a war can be knowing when to pick your battles, and Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones continues to hammer that point home with “The Sword in the Darkness.”
The game, which ties into the universe of HBO’s hit drama, reaches its midpoint with the third episode—and as many of its plots come into focus, it’s clear that the members of House Forrester can’t come out on top in every battle.
But if they, and players, want to survive, it’s about determining which of those battle are worth fighting for… and which may be worth losing to win in the end.
“Darkness” picks up with all the game’s major players: Mira in King’s Landing, Gared at the Wall, Asher traveling back to Westeros, and Rodrik at Ironrath. Despite some repetitive scenes and a middle portion that drags, it’s bookended by incredible opening and ending scenes that include some of the series’ best moments.
One of the episode’s strengths is how it makes the player feel that the payoff for their choices will come soon. Telltale knows how to balance the short and long game, pulling from Game of Thrones itself in how it juggles its plotlines. Unfortunately, like the show, “Darkness” has so many storylines and characters that the weaker ones stand out even more when set directly against the stronger ones.
Any time Asher appears on screen, for example, I’m completely hooked. It’s almost like playing a lighter version of Game of Thrones—and, like Tales from the Borderlands, this story demonstrates how great Telltale can be with humor. His swashbuckling tale is fast becoming a highlight of the series. From tackling one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons in the opening to a tense and brilliantly paced scene toward the end, Asher feels most like the spirit of Telltale married with that of Game of Thrones.
But Gared Tuttle’s plotline hits a few too many of the same beats as Jon Snow’s story, and some of the moments at the Wall feel like the series running in circles. In both his and Mira’s segments, some interactions feeling unwinnable no matter how much you try to please the characters around you. True, that’s part of the fun of Game of Thrones—you never really know who to trust. Still, occasionally it’s more confusing than intriguing.
Thankfully, both of their plots end in particularly dramatic fashion, with major decisions that will have consequences I can only begin to imagine. Gared’s in particular may include one of my favorite sequences in the game thus far, even if I immediately regretted the decision I made at its conclusion.
Rodrik’s story is also repetitive, but it comes through in the end with some fascinating questions of morality. As Rodrik, “Darkness” forces players to make the choices of a leader under duress, one who has to consider his own fate versus the fate of his people and family. The conclusion to Rodrik’s storyline in “Darkness” involving his sister Talia explores the complexities of a family in power in an honest and satisfying way.
“Darkness” has to keep the series progressing without letting it run out of steam too quickly. But three episodes in, Telltale is steadily finding its groove, balancing the unforgiving world of Westeros with the game developer’s own inclinations. And by capping things off with some brutal but memorable story beats, “Darkness” sets the stage for a thrilling second half of the season.