With the final installment of Telltale’s Game of Thrones Series already here, I guess that a (quick) discussion of its penultimate episode is in order. Unfortunately though, with Tales from the Borderlands and Life is Strange recently completed, Telltale’s contribution to George R R Martin’s violent world seems pretty humdrum by comparison.
When both Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands were both announced by Telltale, all of us at HereBeGeeks thought that Game of Thrones would be the game to watch. We kind of assumed as much, given the strong plot and character development in both the TV series as well as books, as opposed to the relatively two-dimensional blood splatter cutouts of characters in the Borderlands series. In hindsight, it appears that we were immensely wrong.
It could be that Telltale has a much smaller field to roam in Westeros. While Life is Strange was a wholly new and independent story, and Telltale had Borderlands 2 Scribe Anthony Burch in cahoots with them for Tales, their foray into Game of Thrones seems a lot more restricted. In Tales from the Borderlands, Telltale was able to make some pretty significant changes to the characters and even the locations of in Pandora, but they were unable to do the same thing in Game of Thrones. This means that all characters from the books main are walking around with plot shield, and that when you see a recognizable character, you have to treat them as a cruel and capricious god. Which is bad where Ramsay Snow is concerned.
The issue of symmetric vs assymetric consequences has also been discussed in the Life is Strange review (For a more in-depth discussion, check out RPS’ Fail Forward series). I understand the necessity of symmetric consequences in an interactive story; certain logistic constraints means that the story has to proceed relatively ‘on rails’. However, symmetric consequences are okay when the context is small; whether or not you’ll bro-fist your bro for example. However, that illusion of choice wears thin when consequences are writ on a grander scale, since it becomes rather more obvious that there was no choice to begin with. When the fate of my house Forrester lay on a decision that ended up being not really a decision, I was understandably upset.
This issue of symmetric consequences feeds into a related problem; that of character development. When a certain plot point has to unfold, often the only difference in Game of Thrones is how it unfolds. Are you discovered at point A, or at point B? Are you betrayed by person X, or person Y? And when someone HAS to betray you, at a certain point it just seems arbitrary and out of character. Tales from the Borderlands was able to play this out more skilfully for certain reasons. Firstly, most decisions were of a personal nature, and thus did not need to affect the plot too much. Inconsistent or arbitrary consequences of larger decisions could be played off with snappy banter or comedy. In contrast, the heavy-handed and serious nature of Game of Thrones means that the important moments are held up to much higher scrutiny, and that internally consistency is a lot more important. I got very confused when a character acted in a way that I did not expect, purely because Telltale had to execute a certain plot point.
Thankfully, Telltale is much less worried about ensuring ‘the same results’ in episode 5. The fact that it is the penultimate episode means that they are able to make much more significant divergences from a choice without worrying too much about subsequent consequences. And this means that both Rodrik and Asher had their time in the sun. In spite of that though, I still found that the final decision in the episode smacked of arbitrariness. Why things have to unfold the way that they did? Couldn’t the Forresters have found a way to prevent the decision that had to be made?
Regardless, I’m glad that Telltale is finally brave enough to move forward in the plot again. After the epic (and frightening) events that happened in Episode 1, Episodes 2-4 seemed to be treading water. Episode 5 is definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully Episode 6 will be able to bring the story to a satisfying ending.