So, Telltale’s Game of Thrones game dropped today, and I played through it. Thoughts below the cut:
– You start out playing as Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester and son of a pig farmer with ambitions, a few minutes before the Red Wedding starts. It’s a great way to start – as the player, you know even before Gared (who’s more observant than every other Northman who don’t see the obvious signs of military preparations and the terrible acting job of each and every Frey) that it’s all going wrong here. The theme of class inequality is strong from the start – your fellow squire Bowen is constantly bitching about his lowly status, your even more lowly status, and how you’ll never get ahead (if you tell him you got the promotion, he starts bitching about nepotism). Lord Forrester’s sword is introduced even before Lord Forrester himself, making sure you key on the plot importance of the sword.
– Forrester himself isn’t a Ned Stark clone. He’s a bit more democratic in his attitude – raising up Duncan to castellan, Gared to sworn man, serving his own men wine rather than having the servants do it – he’s a bit more hands-on with his heir, etc. But I can see the similarities.
– Your first real moment of choice comes when Gared hears the Rains of Castamere playing and has to decide whether to run to warn Lord Forrester or to rescue Bowen. The first time through I chose the former – Lord Forrester’s more important, and Bowen is a sour asshole who spends his time constantly looking down on Gared as a pig farmer, so I wasn’t particularly morally invested in his survival. Showed up a little earlier to the fight as a result, but Bowen got a spear through the neck for being stupid. Second time through, decided to save Bowen. He promptly goes another way, and I haven’t seen him yet. However, him not being dead will probably have an impact later on.
– the fight sequence is very scripted. I’m pretty sure you can’t actually get your hand on the sword you’re told to grab, or change anything with Rodrik, who gets stabbed and horsed to death (and who never even gets to utter a word). I will say though that’s it quite engaging, the chaos of the camps is vividly rendered (there’s a bit where the Freys are preparing to crossbow three kneeling prisoners that looks like something out of modern footage of war crimes), runaway horses trample people to death, you have to crawl under burning carts, etc. Big focus on ironwood shields, another key plot element.
– You’re really there just to witness the deaths of Lord Gregor and Rodrik and to get the sword back to Ironrath along with the cryptic message to tell your uncle Duncan Tuttle, the lowborn castellan, and only him, that the North grove of ironwood trees cannot be lost. This is one of the more interesting elements of Episode 1, an ongoing mystery about the North grove, the truth of which is known only to Duncan. There’s an unintentionally funny moment where you’re told that Lord Forrester “will remember that” right before he dies; slight bit of ludonarrative dissonance there.
– You then get the standard Game of Thrones credits, with the addition of Ironrath…which is kind of in the wrong place. Pretty much exactly on top of Deepwood Motte. And although the Glovers are technically your liege lords, they don’t show up at all in Episode 1 – and it kind of feels like you’re playing as the Glovers anyway.
– You then get a scripted fight sequence where a Bolton man called Britt and two Whitehill soldiers murder your entire family and destroy their pigfarm for no particular reason. Whether you choose to fight or try to save your father, you’ll go through the same combat and get your leg injured. Not sure if the pitchfork vs. axe is really a choice either – got killed every time I tried to use the pitchfork. There’s no way around killing one Whitehill man with the axe, which sets up a lot of the conflict later in the episode, but you have a moral decision to kill the second after he yields. First time let him live, didn’t stop everything from going to hell. Second time, I killed the second one, and will see how that goes.
– you then get back to Ironrath. The Maester patches your leg up with maggots, you get a chance to nick a bandage and some herbs so I did. Then you get a chance to walk around the room and look at stuff that’s a little introduction to the family – the twins Ethan and Talia, the exiled Asher, Lady Elissa, poor little Ryon, and the dead Lord Gregor and his heir. You then get introduced to the main dramatic conflict of Episode 1 – defiance vs. diplomacy – in the form of Ser Royland and Duncan Tuttle, who quarrel over how to respond to the fact that you’ve just killed one or more Whitehill men.
– Ironwood comes in yet again, with the Whitehills being clear-cutters (they claim they had no choice because we took their share of the food) and poor craftsmen, to the Forresters’ artisanal environmentally responsible practices. And what about the North grove? About that, you have an opportunity to either honor Lord Forrester’s word and keep schtum about the North grove and only tell Duncan, or to tell both the Maester and Lady Elissa. Missed my opportunity to tell the master the second time, but will tell the lady and see how that goes. According to Duncan, no one knows about the North grove, with many deeming it to be a myth the wildlings spread. Might find out when you go to the Wall in Episode 2.
– the next brick to fall on Gared is that Duncan tells you to go to the Wall to ease tensions with the Whitehills and their Bolton patrons – doesn’t seem to work the first time through I played, so I’ll try to avoid going the second time, although I think that’s a forced choice.
– you then take over as Ethan Forrester, the new lord of Ironrath, and…a bit of a whiny, indecisive, and mopey child to be honest. Not digging him that much as a protagonist, although spoiler…Ramsay murders him at the end of Episode 1 no matter what. Ethan spends a lot of time trying to be a good lord, torn between Royland’s militarism and Duncan’s diplomacy in trying to deal with the Whitehalls and which of them should be made Sentinel (kind of a local Hand). I chose Royland on the first playthrough, who advised barring the gates and trying to bluff the Boltons. Didn’t work. Will choose Duncan next time, although it’s possible he amscrayed and abandoned Ironrath when I chose Royland.
– you then meet the Lord of Whitehill, who’s a Captain Planet-esque villain character, eager to sneer at the losses of House Forrester and stamp around demanding your ironwood, Gared Tuttle, and anything else he can get his hand on. One thing that makes absolutely zero sense is that Lord Whitehill claims to have served the Boltons for five centuries…despite being a neighbor to House Forrester, who are decidedly on the wrong side of the Kingdom for that to make any sense. Bit of a screwup on the developer’s part; it would have worked just as easily for the Whitehills to be recent Bolton loyalists who get in with the new boss first.
– You then take over as Mira Forrester, handmaiden to Lady Margaery, which I found to be one of the more interesting sections of the episode in that there’s a lot going on. There’s a charboy who definitely seems to be someone’s spy who you can befriend, you have an interesting if fraught relationship with Margaery, and the scene in the throne room where Cersei is essentially making you choose between her and Margaery is quite tense. I tried to appease Cersei as Margaery advised, but Cersei found me a bit too pliable to be trusted. Tyrion offers to try to help, I took him up on the offer. Asked Margaery to ask Joffrey for his help, that blew up in my face. Not sure if it’s actually possible to get help from King’s Landing before Ramsay Snow shows up, but will try a different tactic in the second playthrough.
– You then briefly, and rather unnecessarily flash back to Gared, who encounters Ramsay recreationally torturing one of his own men. You have a choice to run or stay still, but I’m pretty sure you get away regardless.
– Then it’s back to Ethan, who in addition to choosing between Royland and Duncan also has to choose whether to send a thief named Erik to the Wall, cut off his fingers, or let him go. This is one of the key choices in the episode – I sent him to the Wall, where he’ll probably encounter Gared. Have to say I wasn’t convinced that a man steals weapons to save his starving family. Will try something else in playthrough two to see what difference you get. There’s two significant but smaller choices as well: the choice of whether to send your uncle Malcom Branfield to Essos to bring back Asher, a more natural warrior than Ethan but a threat to his lordship as an older brother, and the choice of whether to requisition food from the smallfolk to stretch out supplies for Ironrath itself. Did the first (although this may be a forced event, as Asher definitely shows up in Episode 2), didn’t do the second; will try doing the latter next time.
– the next big choice is whether to try and fight, negotiate, or bargain with the Boltons. The difference is a little unclear – doing the first as I did means you meet Ramsay at the gate instead of the hall, you negotiate with him about ironwood and the like, but you don’t seem to stop his men from entering the hall at the end anyway. Maybe Duncan opened the gate for them? He seemed somewhat betrayed when I didn’t make him Sentinel.
– then there’s a brief flash to Mira where you get to choose a key or a seal, and get the bad news from Margaery. This relationship is a bit rocky now, as is the one with the other handmaiden Serra. Putting family first has its consequences, I suppose.
– Then it’s back to Ethan as Ramsay arrives. And I have to say, this was the best sequence in the episode. Ramsay is such a live wire, a force of completely random malevolence, that I really felt like I was scrambling to avoid an inevitable apocalypse. I let only Ramsay in, but that didn’t seem to help prevent Ryon from being taken and 20 Whitehill soldiers from being stationed in Ironrath. I tried to argue the superior craft of the Forresters, which seemed to keep half the woods for House Forrester. Protected Talia from being taken by Ramsay, got stabbed in the neck myself.
– And there you go. Will update later with full results of playthrough 2. Let me know what you did, and whether it made a difference.