The Sword in the Darkness continues the thread of mischief management associated with the Game of Thrones and does so with real panache.
Game of Thrones, Episode 3: The Sword in the DarknessPublisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release date: 2015-04-24
One of the elements that enamors me about Telltale's games is that the events of an episode stick with me long after I've played it. The first season of The Walking Dead was especially good at creating scenarios that would make you doubt yourself long after you finished playing an episode. The developers also created cliffhangers that made me want to come back for more. Every episodic game that Telltale has made since then has created something like a little bookmark in the back of my head that every so often reminds me of its existence and gets me excited about the next episode of the series that is next in line to be released. I'm not feeling Game of Thrones in that way.
I was excited to see where the game's story would go after episode 2, because it felt like that episode was offering something new as a game style. We were engaging with intrigue instead of putting off disaster or investigating a mystery. "The Sword in the Darkness" continues that thread of mischief management and does so with real panache.
The highlight of which has to be when Mira Forrester deals with Tyrian while also having to contend with the wishes of Margery, the soon to be queen, balancing all of this against the need to help her own family. It's a precarious enough position to be in, but then the Purple Wedding happens and throws a roughly stabilized situation for a loop, as viewers of the television show knew it would. This aspect of the episode becomes something of a daytime thriller, and is rather nerve-racking to be a part of.
While that is going on, Lord Rodrick Forrester has to deal with Lord Whitehill's fourth born son, who is now in charge of the garrison meant to keep your family in line. Gryff's a self-important prick, there's no two ways about it, but that's the point. He's there to instigate, to create a situation in which the Whitehills are given a reason to attack.
Gared Tuttle up on the wall. He takes the black and has to make peace with his brothers of the Nightswatch. Then, one of his family's killers shows up, who has been sent to the wall himself. Things don't go well.
And finally, there's Asher's storyline, who is on a quest to raise an army of sellswords to aid his family. Along the way, he comes face to face with a dragon. Quite frankly, this was my favorite part of this episode. Not only are things at this moment just not as tense because you are playing as the fully capable badass that is Asher Forrester, the game also feels like it is in a completely different genre. While everyone back in Westeros is dealing with family politics, Asher's quest is more of a fun road trip adventure. Angry mercenaries nipping at his heels, a fire-breathing flying lizard in his path, and a whole lot of bad decisions possibly catching up to him. Playing this segment is fun in a way that allows me to relax instead of being reduced to a ball of panic and self doubt.
None of this episode was bad. Everything engaged me in the moment. I was right there alongside the Forrester family, doing my best to keep them alive in the short term and get into position for the long term. Yet, when the credits finished rolling and I quit the game, I fell out of that space. Some time has gone by, and I've stopped thinking about the game. Game of Thrones is now back on HBO, and my mind isn't on the game in the meantime.
In pushing the envelope, especially regarding tension, Telltale might have pushed things a bit too far. In forcing the player to contend with balancing so many things, they might have lost the ability to create a sense of investment for the player. With too little pressure on the player, of course, nothing will feel urgent or dangerous, but too much pressure on the player and he or she may stop feeling the need to be a part of the drama.
That's one possibility, in any case. Another possibility, which if true might localize this issue exclusively to "The Sword in the Darkness," is that I've seen much of this before. I was engaged with Asher's shenanigans and by Mira's dabblings in politics because to some degree their stories feel fresh in the Game of Thrones universe. However, I wasn't so engaged with Gered at the Wall or Rodrick at Ironrath because I've seen those stories told before.
In particular, Gered spends a lot of time getting advice from Jon Snow. It's appropriate because so much of Gered's story feels like a retread of Snow's early days at the wall. Both come from a noble upbringing and put aside ego in order to bond with their brothers. Then each goes beyond the wall to swear vows to the old gods to finally contend with the need to break those vows. Meanwhile, Gryff Whitehill's story feels like Theon Greyjoy's when he took over Winterfell. However, there are major hints that things will not continue along the same lines and that we will get something different in the next episode.