Telltale’s Game of Thrones Season One : Where Your Choices Don’t Matter

got telltale
I’ve just finished my playthrough of ‘Telltale’s Game of Thrones’ (yes a latecomer I know) after thoroughly enjoying my adventures in the ‘Walking Dead‘ seasons.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE GAME FOLLOW

I’m a big fan of the ‘Game of Thrones’ tv series, so this Telltale tie-in seemed a safe bet. Now I was aware from ‘TWD’ that a fair few of the choices you made during gameplay actually played out the same no matter what you did, but ‘GoT’ seemed to have taken that to a new level. It also seemed a whole lot less obvious in ‘TWD’ too. There was at one point a choice to take your sword with you when speaking to Ramsey Snow, or leave it behind. You could at this point place your sword on the table, or choose to take it. If you chose to take it, Ramsey would take the sword from you and put it on the table. So either way, your sword stays behind. This glaring example of how meaningless your player choices were was a pattern that ran throughout the game.

Whenever I finished a chapter, I had a little peek at walkthroughs and wikis to see how other options may have turned out, avoiding spoilers as best I could. I wasn’t looking to get the best outcome by cheating the game, I was only curious about what different options would have given me. I would live with mistakes.

The information seemed to say that in most cases, there would be either no consequences or minor consequences in the chapter. But I already knew that having finished the chapter. So, because I wasn’t checking chapters I was yet to play, I assumed that my choices would ripple into those more dramatically.

Well, I was wrong.

The game is sold on the concept that the story moulds around your choices. To an extent this happens, but in the grand scheme, very little changes. My conclusion is that there are less than a handful of actually meaningful choices that you can make.

1. In Chapter 5, who dies? Asher or Rodrik?
2. In Chapter 6 does Mira marry Morgryn or go to her death?
3. In Chapter 6 do you kill Gryff or Ludd?
4. Possibly…possibly… in Chapter 6, does Rodrik let Eleana stay at Ironrath or tell her to join her family?

As you can see, all of these choices only happen in the last two chapters. I almost included Gared’s choice to stay at or leave the North Grove, but we won’t know what happens regarding that until Season 2 comes out, if it ever does. The same goes for the fourth point about Eleana. If she stayed she gets dragged off by Whitehill guards. It could be that in Season 2, no matter what you chose to do, she is simply in their custody. So this might be another pointless option.

Now there’s a problem with both points 1 and 3 relating to what will happen next in Season 2. Telltale doesn’t like having too many branches in these episodic games. Here now they have a situation in which either Asher or Rodrik has killed either Ludd or Gryff. You could add to that that either of the potential Sentinels Duncan or Royland are alive too. So there’s a number of combinations of who is alive or dead here. Are the survivors Rodrik, Duncan, and Ludd as it was at the end of my game? Or the opposite with Asher, Royland, and Gryff? Or any other combination? Telltale won’t like these options, so it is almost guaranteed that in Episode 1 of Season 2, each of the three survivors will have a small part to play before being written out of the story (probably killed).
This means that Season 2 will probably make Ryon and Talia our new playable characters, while Gared Tuttle remains the only original to continue through.

Point 2 obviously also has this problem. Either Mira is dead, or she will be short lived in Season 2. She simply can’t have a large role in the next game, because at least 50% of players lost her in Season 1, which will cut their playtime down dramatically, alter the story too much for Telltale to bother with, and cause various other complaints.

Given that Season 2 can’t carry the weight of the options that mattered in Season 1, it’s very likely that those choices will end up being inconsequential too.

But that’s not the worst of it. My original point was that these 3 (or 5) choices are the only ones that mattered in a roughly 12 hour game built on choices. Throughout the game your goal was to fight, bargain, betray, convince, and do anything else you could in order to protect your home and family. That was your goal.

Once you learn the ending that you will always fail, and that a large percentage of your family will be slaughtered NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, it makes the whole thing an exercise in futility.
If this was just a movie and I was passively watching it, as I do with the show, this would be fine. This would be the story, and it’s totally in keeping with the type of stories we see in ‘Game of Thrones’. But it’s not a movie. It’s a game, and it’s one we play with the intention of winning.
I’m not saying that we have to win for it to be a good game, but my issue is that in this game that revolves entirely around player choices on a quest to save your family, that there should be a range of endings that reflect your performance throughout.

Mira’s story has particularly bothered me. She had this fascinating role, very different to anyone elses, where she had to use cunning that would rival Littlefinger to get her way or save her skin. She had to try and find a way to get money or soldiers or support for her family, and got involved in various deals to make that happen. While doing all that she had to balance duties, loyalties, and friendships between Margaery, Cersei, Tyrion, her fellow handmaiden Sera, a coal boy named Tom and others. There was so much going on and so much at stake for her. She had several options that asked whether she should betray a certain person, or support them. All the while as you played, you assumed loyalty would be rewarded, while treachery would cost you an ally. It needn’t have been that black and white for story purposes, but that’s at least what was going through your mind. Should you betray Margaery or would having the future queen on your side pay off one day? This is what you ask yourself.

But when you finish the game, you learn that it didn’t matter. None of it did. If you secured Tyrion’s financial support, if you betrayed Margaery, if you did or did not murder a Lannister guard. None of it mattered at all. Mira’s fate lay solely on the decision to marry or reject Morgryn.

As I played, I felt I had Margaery on my side, and I definitely had Tom on my side. I thought there was no need to get into bed (literally) with that scheming snake. I thought perhaps one of my friendships would pay off. At the very least I thought there was actually going to be a trial where I could attempt a defence of myself! I ditched that knife! They had nothing on me!
But no. If you reject the marriage proposal, that seals Mira’s fate. And after 12 hours of trying as hard as you could to help your family and strengthen bonds, you realise everything you did was pointless.

In the same way, whether Mira gets money for her family (although they probably never actually receive it), or she foils Andros’ scheme and costs Ludd some of his army, the battle at Ironrath also plays out the same.
It does seem that Episode 6 gets a very different playthrough depending on whether Rodrik or Asher survived Episode 5, but the end point remains very similar.

So the game we got was one that simply gave the illusion of choice, while always driving the story into bottlenecks where things reset, all the threads converged, and options you had taken up to that point no longer mattered in any major way.

The one choice that seemed to have a constant presence was who Ethan had chosen as his Sentinel in Episode 1. The Sentinel would from then on always be at the side of their Lord and offering their own brand of advice. Quite often the other one would also be there anyway and so scenes probably didn’t need to change much because of that. This choice also affected who would turn out to be the traitor within the court.
This was another thing I did not like about the game. When I first learned there was a traitor, and that we knew it was someone in the council, I assumed it could only be the Maester. There was no possible way it could be Duncan or Royland, they both seemed loyal to the core. There was a very short while I suspected Rodrik’s mother, but that thought passed. Duncan was Lord Gregor’s confidant, the only one who knew about the North Grove, and was very level headed. Royland, although he had a temper, was like a loyal hound. His rage was because he cared about the family, and nothing to do with his own skin. They were both like family, and the idea that either was a traitor made no sense at all. On the same note, it made no sense for the Maester to be traitor either for similar reasons. It would have been better if the Council had one or two more characters, one of which was always traitor, and the other to be red herring for the player. That way you could have actually done a little detective work and possibly accused the wrong man, as opposed to simply waiting for Talia to find out for you. That could have been something with a real consequence!

And this really is what drives my disappointment with the game. It was your choices, and your attempts to strengthen the house that drove the game. But your choices did not matter, and your house ended up the same no matter what.
I was playing a game that just led me down a winding path.
I thought I was playing a game that if I did well, I would have an army consisting of Glenmore elites, some Second Sons, and the pit fighters, armed with Ironwood weaponry and backed by Lannister gold. If I messed up along the way, I’d lose some of these things and maybe more. I thought I was playing a game in which the goal was to save as many Forresters as possible and I would see a checklist of who made it and who I lost at the end.

The game could have been so much more interesting if you could have through successes built a formidable stronghold to rival the Whitehills in the final battle and perhaps drive them off and win the day, while on the other end of the spectrum have an ending like the one we got, or worse.
I was expecting an ending something like ‘Fallout: New Vegas’ where in your dealings with the various Wasteland tribes, you get an army together who have an effect in the final battle.

It wouldn’t even have been so bad if the game always had the Whitehill’s take Ironrath, but depending on your actions, and the strength of your defence, you could save more of the family. That way the bottleneck that leads to Season 2 would be that the Forresters need to get their home back.

You can add all this to my usual list of complaints about these types of games. Such as how sometimes I can think of an extra option that is unavailable in game, but I would rather do it. Or that in many conversations I don’t see a reason why I can only ask one question and have to forfeit all of the others.
Also, although I said after checking walkthroughs I would live with my mistakes, there were two times that I decided to rewind and change a choice I made. The first was the choice to keep or ditch the knife used to kill the Lannister. The second was to kill or spare the traitor. When I first made both of these decisions I thought “Now is not the time. I will do it later.” So I kept the knife and spared the traitor. But on learning that you don’t get a second opportunity to do either, I had to replay so I could make sure the thing I wanted to do was done at the only time you could do it. So I ditched the knife a few feet away from the crime scene instead of in a river or something, and skewered Royland in the Great Hall instead of on an execution block. (Actually I would have liked the option to send the traitor to the Wall, but no choice there).

I realise a lot of this is due to the smaller teams and budgets that Telltale has to work with, but still even within that framework, this game seems like a huge missed opportunity.
If you are going to make games that are all about choice, let the choices mean something. Otherwise, go back to the standard linear stories with actual interesting and fun puzzles like the ‘Monkey Island’s and the ‘Sam and Max’s.

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