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A Game of Thrones: Old School Role-Playing

I finished Chapter 1 today of the Game of Thrones RPG from Atlus/Cyanide. You have to understand that I go into this with a huge deal of skepticism simply due to my experience with Cyanide’s games — specifically Blood Bowl and the Game of Thrones RTS. I like Atlus as a publisher quite a lot so I’m hoping for the best but expecting…well, Cyanide.

This is merely a cursory look as Chapter 1 isn’t terribly long, but so far — I (mostly) like this game.

What strikes me is how old school the design is. If you are unfamiliar with A Game of Thrones the RPG it’s a 3rd person action game set in the George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire universe.

You almost always read “action” after 3rd person but this is anything but an action game. It’s the anti-Dark Souls in terms of combat. Mechanics like these are a relic of role-playing games past. That’s not necessarily a knock on it but it’s not what I was expecting. It’s sort of…Mass Effect/Dragon Age-y in its approach. Here’s how it works:

You have your avatar, in all of his 3rd person glory. You start as a veteran of the Night’s Watch with your war dog companion. You move around like a normal 3rd person game, but when combat starts you can slow-motion pause the action. It’s not totally paused — it’s sort of like the “pause” mechanic in Witcher 2. Things are still moving so you don’t have unlimited time but it’s slow enough to make decisions.

What you are deciding in AGoT is what skills to use. You start off with a few skills from which to choose –a knockdown attack, an attack that stuns foes or a headbutt. Each skill requires energy so you can’t just spam them over and over. You may also chain skills together if you have enough energy. So I can try the stun attack followed by the headbutt (which causes extra damage). If you don’t use a skill you just do a regular attack and you don’t need to keep pressing buttons to do it, it will auto attack your desired target. The game will also automatically move you to the closest enemy after you kill your current one. Very old-timey.

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It comes off feeling almost turn-based in its pace.

When in a group you can switch members by pressing Y or even issue commands to your war dog by pressing LB which brings up its own radial menu. There is a certain amount of pleasure I still get from a slower paced combat model such as this. It’s not hands on tactical like Dark Souls or Witcher 2 — it’s more methodical, but I don’t mind that.

The writing isn’t bad, either and much like the books no character is safe — you learn that as early as Chapter 1. There is a metric TON of dialogue so far and I’m thinking you may need to be a fan of the books (or the show I guess) to get a lot out of what is going on. They include a codex but it will help if you know King’s Landing from Castle Black. Hell I even like the dialogue tree options because unlike a Bioware game you don’t click on EVERY option eventually — you have one choice in how to approach a situation verbally and it is not clear cut how “best” to handle it. I really, really, like that.

I also love the perk system. You can choose “advantages” and “disadvantages” when creating your character — like “gifted” or “asthmatic” but you can also earn them as you play. I tortured a Wildling early on and gained the Sadistic trait. I like how your actions can shape your character; a nice touch.

There are some oddities, of course. I don’t like that a veteran of the Watch will find a Wildling armor set that is better than what he’s wearing and don it without hesitation. I put on a weird demonic looking helmet which looked ridiculous in context. Same with some heavy armor I found. I mean just…no. I also don’t like that I can find coins in crates. Come on, now. Will we ever get past this in RPGs? And yeah, it’s not the best looking game around, either. Murky textures, mediocre animations, the budget was clearly limited here. This isn’t a sexy game by any stretch. If you demand top shelf visuals, move along.

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This game, and again I am a mere two hours in, comes off as Todd likes to say as a “slow burn”. It’s not instant action but it shows promise.

After writing that I went to Metacritic out of curiosity to see that the game is at a rough “54” score. IGN gave it a 4/10 which for IGN is like saying the DVD is radioactive. Guess I’ll have to wait for it to turn terrible?

Right now, I admit, I’m into it.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

16 thoughts to “A Game of Thrones: Old School Role-Playing”

  1. So you said in a previous podcast that you were somewhat enjoying Prototype 2 (after saying in the podcast right before that one that you wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole), and now you’re enjoying a Cyanide game? Are you on strong painkillers or something?

  2. Sounds like it turned out better than expected. I especially like what you say about the combat and dialogue. But as someone who could not get into the books and never watched the show, will I still find the game worthwhile?

    1. I’d lean …no. It’s very heavy with lore. If you really dislike the setting then this is a tough sell.

  3. I’m not much of a Game of Thrones fan in any form, but could someone tell me if there’s some point in book, show or game where somebody says “why must we play…this game of thrones?”

    Looking for a titular line. Personal edification.

  4. Oh Bill…this is Cyanide. You know there’s a train wreck around the corner.

    I wish a good license like GoT could get a good game but I’ll just keep playing dark souls.

  5. I’ve been playing this game myself slowly, got it on launch day and am at chapter 8. I’m enjoying it tremendously, huge fan of the books and show and I just wanted a game that wasn’t terrible. But the narrative is really strong, the review scores have shocked me. Honestly I’d say it’s probably a 7/7.5 type of game IMO looking at it coldly.

  6. To be fair, IGN, Gamespot, and quite a few others have a tendancy to score down heavily for old fashioned game systems, as well as poor graphics and a lack of polish, so the scores are no surprise. That said, I’m yet to try this, nervous about it as I am.

    1. Well, this game is not:

      polished
      pretty
      or even terribly innovative in its system

      And it might not hold up, I dunno yet. I also liked Binary Domain at first and it fell off a cliff. I need to play more.

      1. Judging by the ham and cheese sandwich that was Binary Domain’s launch trailer this cliff would have to be the grand canyon, that was not lofty heights to fall from.

        I would hope the GoT game holds up, and holds to the theme of the books. I know they claim to be huge fans, and that writing was important to them. I would love an RPG where manipulation and intrigue was more important than your ability to beat up every poor sod you see. The fact you start off as a member of the Watch doesn’t give me hope that is the case though.

  7. Man, with this, Diablo III, and Dragon’s Dogma, it’s a good week to be Jumping the Shark! I really hope Brandon’s playing that last one, too. The surest test of whether his addiction to Achievements has been broken will be the easy ten points he’d get for dressing his male pawn in women’s clothing.

    Oh, and by the way, can you try to trick Brandon into revealing his opinion of The Avengers? It probably goes without saying after his Arkham City review, but I’m really curious what he thought. But don’t be too obvious! Try telling a story about playing Diablo III in Iron Man mode, and when your hawkeyed archer was taken down by a black widow, you got so angry that you put on some purple pants and smashed up the house.

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