Game of Thrones: 'Iron from Ice' review: for the trees

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Telltale Games
Developer Telltale Games
Release Date Dec 2, 2014

A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that spawned the Game of Thrones television show, is a story of a few powerful men and women fighting for control in a world where human life is just another currency. Telltale Games' latest episodic adventure is set in the world of Game of Thrones, and the first episode, "Iron from Ice," attempts to show the player just how desperate life can be for individuals who don't stand at the top of the most powerful houses.

It all boils down to the land you control, and the swords you command. Power, or at least the appearance of power, is everything. It's a wonderful setting for an adventure game, but "Iron from Ice" spends a significant amount of time on conversations about very important things that are about to happen — and all that table-setting drags the pace of the episode to a near halt.

All the table-setting drags 'Iron from Ice' to a halt

The meat of these stories, no matter the medium, can be found in the political maneuvering of these great houses. Just in case you need to be beaten over the head with this fact, the game, just like the show, begins by showing you Westeros laid out like a giant game of Risk as the camera flies from location to location.

iron from ice review screen 1b

"Iron from Ice's" story begins at the infamous Red Wedding from the HBO series' third season, as members of House Forrester are enjoying the festivities outside the castle of House Frey. The Forresters have long been bannermen of House Stark, and when Robb Stark is murdered during the wedding, the Forrester patriarch is also cut down outside. The young Ethan Forrester is named Lord of the house and is forced to kneel before Roose Bolton, the new Warden of the North.

If those names and that sequence of events means something to you, you're in luck and will probably enjoy the rest of the story. If you're already lost, it would take me pages to explain who these people are and what's going on. "Iron from Ice" isn't a game for casual fans.

To wit, "Iron from Ice's" premise rests on Westeros' war economy and its politics. House Forrester is in a precarious situation. They control the supply of ironwood, a tree that is used to make sailing ships, shields and buildings. It's nearly immune to fire and impervious to blades. The craftsmen have mastered the art of working with the trees, and indeed their skill with the raw material is its own bargaining chip. It's not enough to control the land on which the trees live if you don't know what to do with them.

These politics are viewed through the now-typical Telltale Games lens. You'll be taking part in quick-time events during action scenes and picking from dialog trees to guide conversations with other characters.

The gruesome, nearly pornographic violence of the show is intact. You'll hold a button to spread open a terrible wound while another character sprinkles in maggots. On the other hand, Game of Thrones' frequent "sexposition," where characters deliver background information to the viewer while others have sex, is so far nowhere to be found.

iron from ice review screen 2

You'll meet some of the better-known characters from the show, individuals who could put you to death for saying the wrong thing, and you're forced to react to them knowing that you have very little real power.

This can be horrific, as in the scene where you have to square off against a sociopathic Ramsay Snow, or it can be incredibly boring, as in the scene where you have to pick a close adviser. "Iron from Ice's" POV moves between three members of House Forrester, and you'll sometimes be asked to make impossible decisions, or at least to act knowing that it will likely lead to terrible things down the road. More point-of-view characters are set to be introduced in later episodes.

Which is the problem with "Iron from Ice": We have no idea how these decisions will pay off or punish us down the road. It feels like a slow episode of the show, and although the story could go into a few interesting directions, as it stands it often feels like you're simply standing on the periphery of much greater struggles.

iron from ice review screen 3

While the relationships between Margaery Tyrell, her house and King Joffrey are used to move the story along in the television show, in the game you're reduced to playing as one of her handmaidens, giggling with another handmaiden about men. Margaery has a conversation with Joffrey that impacts your fate and later tells you about it, but all the important things happen off-camera. Exploring the side characters in a story can be interesting, but these characters have nothing to do.

Characters and events are often brought up seemingly to remind the viewer that they're in Westeros, and not enough time is spent making us care about House Forrester before the characters are put in danger both direct and existential.

Wrap Up:

'Iron from Ice' is a rocky start to a promising story

"Iron from Ice" has enough interesting choices and more than enough tension to grab me as a Game of Thrones enthusiast, and at its best this episode suggests the desperation of the books and show. It forces you to react to horrific circumstances.

But anyone new to the setting will likely become bored long before anything interesting happens. So far, Telltale's game leans too heavily on prior investment in this world. It's possible all of this is leading someplace interesting, and the final scene shows the kind of spirit and verve missing in the first two hours. But "Iron from Ice" is a rocky start to a promising story.

Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice was reviewed using a pre-release Xbox One download code provided by Telltale Games. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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