I think at this point, I've got a decent handle on the Game of Thrones franchise. Yes, I've seen every episode of the TV series at least twice, but that obviously doesn't make me a Song of Fire and Ice acolyte, as I've only ever found the show to waffle between average and good (never great). I've also only read half of the first book and snippets of the second before realizing with finality that George RR Martin is a dreadful, derivative, fan-fic quality writer. Finally, I've played and reviewed the abysmal Game of Thrones: Genesis strategy game, which obviously made me wary of this RPG. So when I say I have a handle on the franchise, I don't even necessarily mean that I'm even much of a fan, just that I understand enough about the setting and the style to appropriately gauge my expectations. Needless to say, they are never very high.
Why does any of this matter? Because when I say that Game of Thrones: The Role Playing Game is actually fairly entertaining, you know that it's coming from someone that's hard to please with this material. The game starts a few weeks before the events of the novel/show from the point of view of Mors Westford, a Night Watchman on The Wall, as he leads a few new recruits in hunting down wildlings that have snuck through the line. In a similar mechanic to the novels, you also end up switching to the view of Alester Sarwyck, a noble coming home to bury his father after a decades-long pilgrimage abroad. What follows for both men, as the point of view shifts back and forth each chapter, is a weaving plot of political intrigue, mixed with a bit of combat.
As far as presentation goes, GoT does an adequate, if not inspired, job in most regards. The graphics aren't very impressive but they get the job done. Likewise the voice work and dialogue fluctuates in quality from scene to scene. I will say that the characters of Mors and Alester seem a bit more two-dimensional (still waiting for a three-dimensional character out of this series) than their novel and TV counterparts, but that could also be the effect of playing a character vs. watching a character; the addition of player input goes a long way towards establishing the idea of inner conflict, as you pick between two or three morally distinct dialogue options.
But an RPG can't just be about dialogue, now can it? Despite the fact that the vast majority of the playtime consists of calmly jogging around "corridor worlds" (environments that, visually, look open and interesting, but turn out to be confining hallways lined with invisible walls and sealed doors) and talking to NPCs, there is some fighting and dungeon crawling here and there. Any fan of the Dragon Age or Neverwinter Nights series will instantly recognize the formula: a real time tactical combat engine where skill usage and pausing are necessary for survival. How you build your characters goes a long way towards the play style of each. During my playthrough, I made Mors a duel-wielding berserker, keen on making the enemy bleed, and I turned Alester in a water dancer, proficient in stunning, knocking down, slowing and generally status-juggling his foes. The skills you employ all synergize with each other, so after igniting his sword and slashing at someone to apply the "On Fire" effect, Alester can then turn that fire into an explosion, which stuns everyone in the area. Depending on how much you micromanage, you can string together some truly impressive effect chains.
On top of the general class, you also get to specialize your characters further with strengths (such as Born Leader, Master of Poisons and Honed Reflexes) and weaknesses (such as Gout, Hematophobia and Collapsed Lung). These need to be in balance before you finish character creation, so while my Mors was an Ambidextrous Acrobat (making him a better duel-wielding critical hitter) he was also a Psychopathic Bad Leader (meaning his team members fought worse and when they dealt a killing blow instead of him, he got sloppy). You're also assigned more strengths and weaknesses as you move through the story, based on how you complete missions and navigate conversations. Finally, Mors, as a skinchanger, can call upon his dog for added combat abilties and Alester, as a priest of R'hllor, can manipulate fire with his mind. All in all, while somewhat limited in breadth (there are only six classes total), the leveling system provides a nice depth of character options, even though by the end, you will have unlocked almost every skill, making the choices on level up more of "when rather than if" decision.
The combat itself is handled well (about the same as every other Dragon Age type game out there) but, man, is it hard; I had to play the game on easy just to get through it. And even then I had to reload more than a few battles. Also, though not directly connected to the combat, the game's economy seems out of balance. Throughout the whole game, you will only be able to buy a handful of good items as everything is super expensive and there just aren't enough treasure boxes and stashes to produce much of a spending budget. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your skill and gaming preferences), combat is more of a side distraction to the game's main focus: story and dialogue. This fact can cut both ways, as fans of the series will probably appreciate the focus on writing and roleplaying over brute combat, but those seeking tons of action should look elsewhere.
As mentioned above, this is also not much of a game for exploration-minded players. The rare times that I was allowed to venture off the linear story path, there just wasn't much to find. The odd, meager coin stash here, the short, simplistic side quest there...none of it was really worth the effort, if I'm being honest. The game provides both Alester and Mors deeper treasure hunting abilities (Alester can light up hidden stashes with fire, and Mors can use his dog to sniff out treasure chests), but even here, there were precious few opportunities to find anything (I can't tell you how often I performed Alester's flame search ability only to be met with disappointment).
When all is said and done, Game of Thrones: The Role Playing Game is tough to firmly quantify. It really comes down to what the player expects or wants from the experience. If you are a fan of the show/books and you simply want to inhabit two random men as they make their way through the Game of Thrones universe, this fits the bill quite nicely. I've actually come to realize that that universe makes for a better game world than TV world, as player input goes a long way towards energizing the story of competing houses and families. However, while that input synergizes well with a dialogue-heavy roleplaying experience, it doesn't extend to the action, and if you want memorable combat and a wider scope with tons of side quests, stay away from this one. Myself? I had more fun wandering through this linear RPG than I did rolling my eyes in frustration at the season two finale. Take that for what it's worth.
This review is based on the PC version of Game of Thrones provided by Atlus USA.