Game of Thrones: 'Sons of Winter' review: turnabout

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Telltale Games
Developer Telltale Games
Release Date May 26, 2015

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.

In the spirit of the series' multi-perspective plotting, senior editor Ben Kuchera and senior reporter Samit Sarkar engage in a back-and-forth discussion of Episode Four, "Sons of Winter."

Samit Sarkar

Score one for the good guys, eh? "Sons of Winter" felt like Telltale cranking a release valve on Game of Thrones, relieving some of the pressure that had been building up over the previous three episodes. Much of that buildup finally begins to pay off in "Sons of Winter," and our beleaguered heroes finally score a few victories in long-stewing confrontations, some great action sequences and, most importantly, a few "oh snap" dialogue moments.

That doesn't mean the Forresters are out of the woods yet — not by a long shot. These were relatively small triumphs in the grand scheme of this series, offering players a satisfying but ominous dollop of good news. I say "ominous" not just because we've still got two episodes left, but also because the characters' current situations are still as precarious as they've ever been.

Having said that, "Sons of Winter" moved Game of Thrones' story forward more than any of the previous three episodes. In the process, it kept tightening the screws on players, continuing to force them to grapple with issues like friendship and trust. Having learned something about a character, whether friend or foe, do you use that fact against them in order to get ahead? Do you sacrifice your personal relationships for the good of the Forrester family? Do you dare to call someone's bluff?

Telltale's Game of Thrones Episode 4 screenshots

Ben Kuchera

I played on the Xbox One, and was frustrated more than once when technical issues kept sound files from playing. It's hard to keep the momentum up when something amazing happens with next to no sound. That being said ...

This was the episode that I said "screw it" and really went for it with my decisions, and that boldness paid off in many ways. Game of Thrones has always been a world where conversation can be just as deadly as combat, and trying to turn people against each other during a party as Mira can be just as fun as a major battle in any other game.

And this is a good time for the story to turn a bit. You can't ask the player to go through the entire season feeling like every character is under the boot of someone else; you have to let the pressure off somewhere, and the few victories here that House Forrester enjoys were a good step in that direction.

Game of Thrones episode 4 - Beskha review crop 720

One of the more frustrating moments happened during a dinner scene, however. I decided to press my luck a certain way, and things went poorly. They went poorly in a shocking, but somewhat interesting manner.

It didn't matter, though. I did it "wrong" and the game reset, and I had to play the scene another way to survive. In fact, I had to rely on a fact that the previous scene seemed to contradict; either a character cares about someone else or they don't, but it's strange to see it written one way as "wrong" and the other way as "correct." I get that sometimes you can fail a quick-time event and die, but it was a bummer to play a scene a certain way and be told that it was incorrect until I made another selection.

It was the first time I felt really boxed in by the game, and it was a bit disappointing, especially in the middle of such a good episode.

I decided to press my luck a certain way, and things went poorly

Samit: It sounds like I made the "right" decisions in that dinner scene, because I thought it was perfect. The option I chose had a callback to a scene just minutes before, and it was another instance of a character using their wits to manipulate an opponent. That was the best element of the Mira scene you mentioned, which was probably my favorite part of the episode. Mira and Sera against the world, y'all — after all, I did owe her a favor after she snuck me into the party.

There's an issue with that King's Landing sequence, though: Mira and the player learn information that the other playable characters don't have access to (Mira hasn't yet told her family, as far as we know). This episode doesn't contain any narrative payoff to that discrepancy, but perhaps it will come into play in the future.

Of course, it makes sense for the middle episodes to play out that way. Game of Thrones can turn on a single dialogue choice or quick-time event, just like Telltale's work with The Walking Dead, and our heroes' lives still hang in the balance. The studio does seem to be rewarding boldness, and based on the events of "Sons of Winter," there won't be any half-measures available to players as the story moves toward its eventual climax.

Ben: The best thing I can say about this episode is that I'm finally over the fact that the characters you know from the show are "safe." Now I care enough about the characters created for the game that I'm fine with the stakes being limited to their fates.

We may have been pulled into the game with the idea that it would fun to verbally spar with Cersei and Tyrion, but now I care what happens to the Forresters themselves. The story is picking up steam, and the wait between episodes is becoming even harder to tolerate.

Game of Thrones episode 4 - Gared review crop 720

Wrap Up:

Telltale rewards boldness in 'Sons of Winter'

Ben: It's going to be fun to see how people feel who pick up the game when all the episodes are out and scream through the whole story in a day or two; the wait helps keep the tension high, and it allows you to really stretch out and feel the changes from episode to episode. It's interesting that this episode came out so close to the last episode of the show, which is one of the best in the series. Game of Thrones as a sort of meta-property is doing very well.

Game of Thrones: Sons of Winter 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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