Game of Thrones: Episode 3–The Sword in the Darkness
Developed and published by Telltale Games
Available on Ps3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Mac
When the idea of melding the rich world of Game of Thrones with Telltale Games’ unique talent for storytelling was initially proposed, it seemed like a match made in heaven. What better place than Westeros, a locale bursting with lore and dripping with morally murky situations, for a new Telltale series. Unfortunately, more and more as this series continues, it’s beginning to look like the weakest link in the Telltale chain thus far.
Now being the worst series in Teltale’s stable is by no means a negative declaration in and of itself, as Telltale’s major releases have often been in the conversation for the Game of the Year, but it does give rise to two major problems that this Game of Thrones adaptation has, problems that are unlikely to go away before this series is over.
The first, and most major one, is the Game of Thrones lore itself. Now obviously this is also one of the series’ greatest strengths as well, but that does not diminish just how much the constant fan service, the haphazardly shoehorned elements, and a collection of characters who absolutely cannot diverge from their HBO counterparts, and who clearly cannot die, take away from the general shock and awe storytelling model that Telltale games usually succeed upon.
Take the example of Daenerys Targaryen. She is a hugely successful character, and a major fan favorite, so of course she will show up at some point in the series. However, the hilariously contrived manner in which she makes her appearance here is via some of the most absurd coincidences imaginable. First, Asher stumbles into a cave, and just happens to find her missing dragon there, then he finds himself seeking an army from a group who is serving Daenerys, and finally he finds himself face to face with the Khaleesi herself at the episode’s conclusion. The fact that all of this seems to occur within a single day or two makes it even more preposterous, and shows how forcing the Forresters into meeting the legendary characters from the HBO series can come across as false and clumsy.
The other major problem that continues to rear its head relates directly to the Telltale Tool itself. The Telltale engine, something that was once a marvel to behold, even clunky as it sometimes was, is now beginning to look old hat. It’s slowly becoming more and more clear just how little consequence your choices really have, particularly in their Game of Thrones series. Twice in the latest episode you will be faced with a decision that seems to be completely irrelevant and only for the benefit of false dramatics.
One is a situation where you are given the choice between saving two allies, while the other is a choice to spare a wounded opponent or to kill him. In the first scenario, both characters seem to come out more or less okay, regardless of who you choose, while the second is revealed to be entirely pointless, as even if you spare your adversary, the trailer for episode 4 reveals him as having succumbed to his wounds anyway. As these choices, one of the most important and defining elements of Telltale titles, become less and less meaningful, so too does the plot that they revolve around, the illusion of cause and effect, and the entire experience in general.
It also doesn’t help matters that this latest release finds itself in the unenviable position of debuting precisely on the same day as the new episode of Dontnod’s vastly superior episodic title, Life is Strange. While Telltale games have generally looked great up until now, a game like Life is Strange, with its fantastic gameplay, stellar style, and high production values, only serves to further belittle the Telltale model, and show that Telltale have a lot of work to do for their next series.
All of that is not to be overly negative though, as this episode does have some strong elements to offset the less attractive bits. There is a particularly stirring scene toward the end that will remind any wayward Brando fans of the finale from the classic film On the Waterfront, and it’s every bit as powerful here. Other glimmers of hope shine through from time to time, but overall they are matched evenly with the less successful parts.
What you want from a series like this is for every episode to (hopefully) trump its predecessor but its understandable that not every part of a story can be a grand slam. With that said, elements of The Sword in the Darkness come across like bad fan fiction, and it’s not doing it’s source material much of a service on this particular go-around. Ultimately, it’s still worth playing for fans but the time may have finally come to either lower our expectations, or for Telltale to step up their game.