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Game of Thrones [Preview] – Welcome back to Westeros

3 May 2012  by   John Robertson
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Building a narrative within a framework that already exists doesn’t seem like the easiest of tasks. Sure, the characters, locations and lore may have been created for you already, but you need to find a niche for yourself within that. Simply retelling the same story isn’t going to cut it, and nor is changing things so dramatically that the fan-base becomes disengaged before the first act has played out.

This is the dilemma Cyanide Studios face with bringing Game of Thrones to the fantasy RPG landscape. Set during the events of A Song of Fire and Ice, the first of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones novels and the basis for season one of HBO’s TV series, Cyanide’s RPG is attempting to add its own flavour to the world Westeros by following the stories of two original characters.

Mors is a skilled and respected member of the Night’s Watch, while Alester is a Red Priest of the Lord of Light (the guys who like to say “the night is dark and full of terrors”.). The Night’s Watch and Lord of Light will mean something to those familiar with Game of Thrones; seriously, I’m not just making it all up. If you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, it’s probably good enough to think of Mors as a rough, tough soldier and Alester as a more mysterious man possibly with a grip over magical powers.

The game follows two parallel narrative paths, seeing you play as Mors for a chapter and then as Alester. At a certain point in the story the two characters meet and you control them both in a party of two. Of course, during the course of a preview demonstration it’s impossible to get a proper indication of how well such a setup will work, but the idea seems sound. Those of you familiar with the books will know that they follow a similar structure, with individual chapters told from the perspective of different characters.

As far as mission structure, the vast bulk of the game is concerned with the primary path. Only a few side-quests exist, and those are supposedly very lengthy and designed to provide a deeper understanding of the worlds and the events within it. Cyanide joked about the number of games that still include the standard, story-devoid, ‘fetch quests’, saying that those are something they’ve gone out of their way to avoid.
Development on this title began some three years ago, before the TV show had even seen the light of day which goes some way to explain Cyanide’s claims that this is a game based primarily on the books rather than the show. George R.R. Martin has been consulted on the story numerous times, so here’s hoping it retains the same intriguing mix of blood, sex and politics we’ve come to enjoy.

However, the HBO series has not been completely left out in the cold. Frankly, given its popularity, Cyanide would have been foolish to ignore it completely. The TV show’s visions of King’s Landing, the Iron Throne, the Wall and characters such as Cersei Lannister, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch Mormont and the eunuch Varys are all present here as they are on the silver screen. HBO’s musical score is also being used.
Cyanide told us that despite the TV show coming out during the development of the game, the changes they’ve had to make to fit fan expectations have been minor because HBO has kept things so close to the content of the novels. Whatever the case, if the game has halve the variety of the TV show’s locations, expect a game that packs a much stronger visual punch than many of today’s fantasy RPGs.

Game of Thrones is trying to mix up its combat by giving you the ability to switch loadouts on-the-fly, slow down time and make use of a canine companion. Slowing down time gives you a chance to analyse the types of opponents you’re up against and work out the best strategy. In this time you can queue up to three abilities which will automatically execute themselves, adding a little bit of turn-based spice to the real-time options.
Different enemies wear different types of armour, which require different types of weaponry to combat efficiently. This is not a game of hacking and slashing and, given that you can die with only a few strikes against you, such an approach will only result in frustration. Mors is accompanied by a dog that is rather handy in battle, if only to distract the enemy and allow you to attack in relative safety from behind. The same dog can also be brought under your direct control and used to scout ahead to uncover the position of guards and other dangers.

Alester’s abilities are being kept more tightly under wraps, although we did see that he can set enemies on fire. Just how far his magical output goes will be interesting to see. Game of Thrones is not a franchise known for its gratuitous use of magic, but fantasy RPGs are a genre that thrives on such things. How Cyanide decide to address that balance will be very interesting.

What’s more interesting, though, is how well this game finds a place for itself within the Game of Thrones universe. It’s a clich├ęd truth that licensed products don’t tend to translate well into videogame form so, no matter what, Cyanide have their work cut out convincing the educated gamer that this is somehow different.
Licensed products are dark and full of terrors, here’s hoping Cyanide provide something that’s dark and terrifying for the right reasons.
For more on Game of Thrones, read our interview with the game’s lead designer and art director.

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