Game of Thrones: 'The Sword in the Darkness' review: word games

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Telltale Games
Developer Telltale Games
Release Date

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is the latest episodic adventure game from Telltale Games, delivered in six parts instead of the usual five. It is based on the HBO television show of the same name. George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels serve as the original source material for both.

Telltale's Game of Thrones focuses on House Forrester, a minor clan that is mentioned briefly in Martin's books but has not appeared in the show. The game is set primarily during the fourth season of the TV series. Players take the roles of five different characters: Rodrik Forrester, Lord Forrester's first-born son; Mira Forrester, the eldest daughter; Asher Forrester, the exiled second-born son; Ethan Forrester, the third-born son; and Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester.

Senior editor Ben Kuchera reviewed the first two episodes, "Iron from Ice" and "The Lost Lords," solo. In the spirit of the series' multi-perspective plotting, senior reporter Samit Sarkar now joins him for a back-and-forth discussion of Episode Three, "The Sword in the Darkness."

Ben Kuchera

"The Sword in the Darkness" is the third episode of the series, and it's the first where the multi-character structure begins to make sense and propel the story forward instead of hindering it. You'll need to remember who many people are, and why they matter, but that's old hat to anyone who enjoys any other form of this franchise.

This game deals with a house that has much less power and authority than we're used to seeing in this world, and that makes nearly every decision you make a dangerous one. "You feel like you're drowning, don't you?" a character asks you during the course of the episode. Of course he's offering help, and of course that help comes with a price.

That's the striking thing about this episode above the first two: You have to commit to your course of action and stick with it. During many conversations I tried to make two characters, both of which had much more power than me, happy in their own way. It always backfired. You have to annoy someone to make someone else happy, and you have to be constantly weighing what you're trying to do with what you're willing to give up. This is where the strength of Telltale working in Game of Thrones comes in: Both aspects of this game mean that anyone can die at any time, giving every decision more weight than you'd get in most other games. You know, for instance, Tyrion is safe for the obvious reasons, but everyone else is fair game.

game of thrones episode three screen two

Samit Sarkar

"The Sword in the Darkness" doesn't merely force you to jump off the fence you may have been sitting on; it repeatedly demonstrates there never was a fence in the first place. Appeasement isn't a viable strategy in the Game of Thrones universe, because in the end, everybody puts their own interests above those of other people.

I like to think of myself as an unselfish person. So Episode Three played out as a series of rude wake-up calls, challenging me to take sides definitively — and most of all, to look out for number one.

"I've been fighting for my family's lives here," I told Sera (through Mira), after Cersei banished us from Margaery's wedding party for our association with Tyrion. It's those kinds of familial machinations and political intrigue that Game of Thrones depicts so well, and Telltale continues to brilliantly capture those complex character and plot beats.

Like you, I felt the first two episodes dragged in parts. "The Sword in the Darkness" is still more of a parts-moving-into-place episode, so it helps that it's only about two hours long. There's clearly a lot of groundwork being laid for the second half of this series, but things finally start to happen, too. My favorite sequence was the forest meeting at Ironrath — by the end, I finally understood why Telltale's playable characters are scattered across Westeros and Essos, and got a sense of the Forrester clan's grand plan to make it through their current predicament.

game of thrones episode three tyrion tall
There's no winning here

Ben: What I love is that it's kind of an objectively bad plan, though, based on many assumptions about people with very few connections doing kind of crazy things. It's the underpants gnomes of Westeros: Step 1, get everyone on the same page; step 2: ????; step 3, sellsword army defends House Forrester and saves the day.

One of the characters can't even meet someone else under cover of darkness without his nose being shoved into the fact that he can't protect his lands. This episode does such a good job of putting you in situations that strain even a modest sense of pride, and you have to react knowing that any threats you may make, or any action that could be seen as fighting back, might have dire consequences for yourself or your family.

This stretches to almost all the characters in play; no sooner does one take a vow than it's tested in multiple ways. Every decision you're asked to make will likely upset someone you care about, and that makes this one of the most "realistic" adventure games I've played in some time. There is no winning here, not really; you're just trying to buy time and protection. The stakes are still relatively low when it comes to Game of Thrones: A house is trying to survive and hold onto its lands.

Telltale's formula is such a good match for this kind of story; you want the characters to win, and it seems very unlikely they will.

Samit: Well, those stakes represent life-or-death peril for the members of House Forrester, and that's what I love about Telltale's Game of Thrones. It would've been really easy for this series to fall into "mere side story" territory. The world-changing events of the books and TV show take place in the periphery of our characters' lives, but they have strong ripple effects for everyone — the Red Wedding sets Telltale's story in motion, and House Forrester is still dealing with its consequences.

In HBO's Game of Thrones, we rarely get to see how ordinary people experience life during the War of the Five Kings. Westeros is a land of ancient alliances, simmering rivalries, long-dormant legends and bloody politics. By giving us a glimpse into the lesser-known House Forrester, Telltale is declaring that everyone is wrapped up in the Game of Thrones, whether they want to be or not.

"The Sword in the Darkness" is Game of Thrones' best episode to date, but at the midpoint of the series, I feel like tensions are just beginning to boil. By now, even the slower narrative threads are ramping up in intensity. Telltale has spent six to seven hours building up a number of conflicts that are clearly about to explode.

Wrap Up:

'The Sword in the Darkness' finally rolls out the Forresters' grand plan for survival

Ben: The pieces have been set, we know the stakes and the "heroes" of this story have set up a shaky sort of plan to fight for their place in the world. This episode did a great job of quickening the pace of the story while offering the player the sort of hard choices that make Telltale games such terrible fun to play.

Game of Thrones: The Sword in the Darkness was reviewed using Xbox One download keys and Steam download keys provided by Telltale Games. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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