The Best, Worst, And Bloodiest ‘Game Of Thrones’ Video Games
Eight seasons of ultraviolent political scheming, extramarital incestuous breeding, and our lord and saviour Arya Stark – the HBO behemoth Game of Thrones TV series is coming to an end.
So, what next for you Westeros worshippers? How will you kill the time while waiting for the finale? Or more frighteningly, where will you get your GoT fix after the finale? It’s highly unlikely we’ll have more books to read anytime soon – thanks, old mate George.
Luckily, various GoT video game adaptations exist, allowing you to game some thrones across a range of platforms. However, the quality differs wildly across these games, so let us gaze into the flames to see what you should play.
It should go without saying there will be some spoilers throughout, but that ain’t no problem.
Brace Yourselves, Winter Is… Meh
PC players got the first chance to inhabit Westeros through 2011’s strategy game A Game of Thrones – Genesis, made by French studio Cyanide. As the title suggests, this game served as a Westeros origin story of sorts, using the books as source material.
Sounds cool, yeah? Unfortunately, Genesis copped a fair whack from critics en route to a Metacritic score of 53, including a Steam user review summary of “mostly negative”. Game Informer’s Adam Biessener praised Genesis’ innovative political systems but little else. Many suggested avoiding Genesis in favour of the many great strategy games already on PC.
The next game based on the book and TV series fared no better. In 2012, Cyanide tried again with the confusingly-titled Game of Thrones, an RPG take on A Song of Ice and Fire. The PS3, Xbox 360 and PC title landed with the same dull thud of Ned Stark’s head. Instead of Cyanide learning from their previous dance with direwolves, the Maesters of consistency were rewarded with a 52 on Metacritic.
This time, many reviewers expressed a fondness for the story, but every other RPG component was severely lacking. IGN’s Destin Legarie lamented having to endure “20 or so hours of bad game to get to the really juicy story moments”. Arguably, Justin McElroy said it best for Polygon when referencing Tyrion Lannister’s words to Bran Stark about cripples, bastards and broken things – an apt summary for the 2012 RPG.
It’s A Nice Day For A Red Wedding
I only witnessed Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding and Purple Wedding episodes for the first time last week, both on the same day. It turns out watching television from five years ago is going to keep my therapist in work.
I share this because Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is set adjacent to the book and TV series’ events spanning seasons three through to the start of five, during which these harrowing nightmares occurred. Released in six episodic chunks between 2014 and 2015, Telltale’s GoT sees you encounter in-game likenesses of major characters like brooding boy Jon Snow or the perpetually frowning Cersei Lannister.
There were no shortages of platforms to play on, either – the game came on PC, mobile, PS3, PS4, Xbox One and Xbox 360. You play from the perspective of House Forrester, a clan from The North not seen in the TV show and only mentioned oh-so-briefly in the fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons.
Telltale’s choice-infused narrative adventure divided opinion on release among both critics and players. Interestingly, the complete season’s PC release garnered a Metacritic rating of 64, but the average rating of each episode individually equates to a far more favourable score of 74. It’s almost as if the absurd act of arbitrarily rating a subjective medium on a numerical scale is deeply flawed and should go the way of Theon Greyjoy’s manhood?
While its reception was on the mixed side, Telltale’s take on GoT was a marked improvement on previous game adaptations. Unfortunately, plans for a follow-up season were put on hold in 2017, which likely would have resolved story threads left by the game’s first season. Additionally, poor employee conditions and Telltale’s subsequent closure meant that all subsequent projects were cancelled.
This is a shame, considering Telltale’s take on Westeros has seen something of a resurgence leading up to the conclusion of HBO’s epic TV series. Polygon’s Owen S. Good pondered “what-if” in the wake of Telltale’s closure announcement, whereas on the eve of TV’s season eight Cian Maher claimed the Telltale adaptation is an essential component of the wider Game of Thrones lore, due to expanding on the relationships between houses.
Game Of Tinder
The most recent major video game adaptation came in the form of the Nerial-developed Reigns: Game of Thrones. It’s the third game in the Reigns series, where you swipe dialogue cards left or right to decide the fate of your kingdom – like a dating app, but with a significantly lower risk of catching an STI. In fact, Francois Alliot of Nerial originally pitched Reigns to publisher Devolver Digital in 2015 as Game of Thrones-meets-Tinder.
Widely regarded as the best official Game of Thrones video game adaptation, with a Metacritic score of 84 on mobile, Reigns: GoT is a novel take on what happens to your favourite or most-hated characters in the series. Most importantly, aside from Steam, it’s a portable title across mobile and Nintendo Switch, thus the quest for the Iron Throne is fully playable on the porcelain throne.
The story of Reigns: GoT is a fascinating one which was explored in great depth at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year. Ultimately, discussions between Devolver and HBO escalated after showrunner Daniel B. Weiss expressed his fondness of Reigns on-set, which left Alliot feeling “a subtle mix of latent disbelief, quiet exhilaration and profound gratitude”.
While Telltale’s GoT gave you control over a minor house, Reigns: GoT lets you play with the fates of nine major characters. This was allowed because Nerial cleverly framed the story through the eyes of Melisandre gazing into her flames to see various what-if scenarios of different characters ruling Westeros following Stannis Baratheon’s demise.
“I like to describe Reigns: Game of Thrones as a ‘fan-fiction simulator’,” Alliot told Junkee. “In a way, we wanted the players to be able to explore this universe freely.”
“What happens when you put Jon on the throne? What if you trigger a war between the North and Dorne? And if you annoy the Dothrakis? I think that this freedom was actually the best way for us to make such a game, without messing up with canon.”
Mods And Executions
Beyond the official games, the thriving modding community has tinkered with many popular PC games to create authentic Westerosi experiences. Among the free downloads are mods for Civilization, Age of Empires, Total War – and, of course, Skyrim.
Arguably the best fit for George R. R. Martin’s messed-up machinations is the comprehensive Crusader Kings 2 mod. CK2 is well-known for its focus on grand strategy, managing delicate political relationships, and furthering your lineage through questionable means. With the mod, you can play up to 300 years of A Song of Ice and Fire history, from Aegon Targaryen’s conquest through to the start of book four, A Feast for Crows.
However, the most tantalising prospect was one that never saw the light of day. Obsidian Entertainment – a studio best known for deep RPGs like Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity, plus upcoming space RPG The Outer Worlds – declined an offer in 2005 to develop a game based on the books. Oh, what could’ve been.
Fans of the series would no doubt be indebted to whoever makes more good GoT video games – AAA, indie or otherwise.
Fans always pay their debts.
Chris Button is an Adelaide-based writer who only started watching Game of Thrones a few weeks ago. Please don’t judge him too harshly on Twitter @BibbyBhoy – gentle judgement is fine.