1) I'd hoped to do a full, thorough review of the Game of Thrones videogame that came out a few weeks ago; the game's release was timed perfectly with the ending of the show's second season, and since the Great Bearded Glacier's next book is probably a couple of decades away—
—I'd assumed a lengthy, sleep-depriving visit to Westeros via my Xbox would be a foregone conclusion. However:
2) The Game of Thrones videogame is remarkably mediocre; after having it for several weeks, I still haven't managed to force myself to play much of it. It's a chore, and while I might be a Thrones junkie, I'd like to think even junkies have their limits.
3) Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. The game isn't terrible, and once you get past its dated graphics, bland quests, clunky combat, and bare-bones presentation—the game frequently looks like it's from the last console generation, not this one, and there's a severe lack of polish to the interface and menus, where you have to spend a lot of time—there are some good ideas here. For example: When you pick your abilities, you also have to pick a set of weaknesses. (I picked a collapsed lung! Because I had one of those once! IT'S LIKE I'M LIVING THE GAME) Or: George R.R. Martin helped out on story. Or: You can tell that the developers at Cyanide dig the books' universe; the graphics might not be much, but the style and the color palette do a solid job of matching what Westeros should feel like.
4) Well, what the books' version of Westeros should feel like, anyway; while there are some elements here from the HBO show—the theme song, a few of the actors, but not any of the ones you care about—most of them feel like they were tacked on at the last-minute. Cyanide reportedly worked on this game for seven years, which maybe explains why it feels so dated; it also might explain why the newer, HBO-approved elements stand out like Varys at a whorehouse.
5) Skyrim kind of ruined things for big dark fantasy RPGs, didn't it? Hell, compared to Game of Thrones, Dragon Age kind of ruined things. Both of those games—both of them bigger, both of them far more popular—clearly took a lot of inspiration from Martin's books, but here's the thing: Both of them do it better than the official game does. If I'm gonna spend $60 on an RPG and sink more than a handful of hours into it, I want the one that's going to feel most like the experience I'm aiming for. Neither Skyrim nor Dragon Age are actual Game of Thrones games, but tell me wandering around in the northern regions of Skyrim doesn't feel a whole lot more like the North of Westeros than anything in this game does, or click through a few conversations in Dragon Age and tell me the dialogue and the nuance doesn't ring truer to A Song of Ice and Fire than the long-winded, simplified interactions here. Game of Thrones might have the ™ on the cover, but if you squint a bit, there are better Game of Thrones games out there.
6) So I guess that's it: I would've loved to give you guys a thorough review of Game of Thrones, 'cause I'd have loved to thoroughly play Game of Thrones. But life's too short and RPGs are too long; and when I've got the urge to hang out in Westeros for a while, both the books and the TV series are better ways to do it. If you've played the whole thing and disagree, I'd love to have you weigh in on the comments—maybe Game of Thrones really turns around in its second half; maybe the story gets good enough to make up for its muddy look and clumsy, repetitive gameplay. But shit, I waded through all those damn Brienne chapters in A Feast for Crows. I think I've done my time when it comes to less-than-great Game of Thrones stuff. I don't want to have to do even more of it in a videogame, and certainly not one that feels this stilted.
7) This post ended up both being longer and meaner than I thought it would.
8) Oh! There isn't a Joffrey slapping minigame. This seems like something that would've been super easy to implement, right? And totally worth $60.