‘Game of Thrones’ video games: Here’s why there aren’t any good ones

Jason Faulkner/Mic
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Game of Thrones season seven has officially begun, and everyone has A Song of Ice and Fire fever again. If you’re all hyped up about the franchise, you might be thinking about playing a video game based on the series to tide you over till the next episode premieres. Well, too bad. There aren’t any outstanding titles — at least not any licensed ones. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones has joined the pantheon of the terribly handled movie, TV and book-based video game licenses.

Looking at Game of Thrones, it seems like you could craft a great game for almost any genre. You could have a hack-and-slash, a roleplaying game, grand strategy, real-time strategy — the franchise has a huge amount of material from which to draw. But the few games we’ve got have been mediocre at best, and most are better off being ignored entirely.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s available for any video game fans looking to explore the world of Game of Thrones.

(Editors Note: Spoilers for the A Game of Thrones franchise below.)

Game of Thrones Video Games: Why each of them sucks

Below we’ve collected the licensed Game of Thrones games in chronological order and what exactly went wrong with each of them.

A Game of Thrones: Genesis — PC (2011)

The first Game of Thrones video game isn’t actually based on the TV show. Instead, this is the only game built around the A Song of Ice and Fire book series. It released in late 2011, and you’ll see none of the likenesses of the familiar characters from the TV show. It references lore from the books heavily, meaning the majority of people who bought it probably had no idea what the game was going on about, and it was generally a huge cash-in on the TV shows popularity.

Welcome to Castle Whatever, home of House Those One Guys
Welcome to Castle Whatever, home of House Those One Guys Games Avenue

Even if it was a bait-and-switch by not including material from the TV show, A Game of Thrones: Genesis could be forgiven if it was a decent game — but it’s not. It features a brown generic Westeros with a bunch of generic characters. Visually, this game is only Game of Thrones in name, and it looks like it may have started as another title and ended up getting skinned as Game of Thrones later in development. The gameplay is okay, but its introduction of convoluted, non-standard real-time-strategy mechanics was a turn off for many.

A Game of Thrones: Genesis ended up alienating Game of Thrones fans by presenting a generic form of Westeros with no connection to the TV show. It also managed to alienate RTS fans by trying to reinvent the wheel in a mediocre way.

Game of Thrones — PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (2012)

Game of Thrones is the appropriately named first video game adaptation of the TV series. Unlike A Game of Thrones: Genesis, this title seems to make an effort to appease both fans of the TV show and gamers. It might even accomplish the former, but suffers from a multitude of flaws. Instead of picking one genre and focusing on making the best Game of Thrones game within that framework, developer Cyanide tried to capture a little bit of everything that makes the TV show popular, to the detriment of the whole.

The writing is decent but lacks the punch and complication of the books and TV show. Instead of focusing on the primary cast, you take the role of two randoms during the events of season one. Major events and characters weave in and out of the plot, but because the game relies on the TV show canon, nothing of consequence actually happens since they couldn’t alter any major events.

Cersei showing her impression of a nutcracker.
Cersei showing her impression of a nutcracker. Vergoagogo/YouTube

The combat is interesting but poorly executed. It feels like Dragon Age: Origins but clunkier. You can queue actions for your party and then unfreeze time to see them in action, but the interface is terrible and lacks relevant information. The voice acting is rough, to put it gently. The graphics lack any polish and approach PlayStation 2 level at times, and it seems like the game didn’t get the benefit of a full development cycle.

Predictably, it got poor-to-mediocre reviews, and fan response was so bad that Cyanide didn’t even release the “Behind the Wall” DLC in North America, leaving only the European market to have to suffer through it. Game of Thrones really could have benefited from a more focused design plan, a bigger budget and more development time.

Game of Thrones Ascent — Facebook, iOS, Android (2013)

Game of Thrones Ascent is a mobile game, so it’s not fair to compare it to the full-scale releases above. Like virtually every major “free” Facebook and smartphone game ever, it has an interesting premise, but you’ll have to mortgage your house or sell your car to enjoy any of it.

Ascent is a casual role-playing game where you can pledge allegiance to a major house and build your personal holdings while playing through small story vignettes. Unfortunately, after the first hour or so, you run into timers for nearly everything and it stops being fun.

Look how free ‘Game of Thrones Ascent’ is!
Look how free ‘Game of Thrones Ascent’ is! Jason Faulkner/Mic

Game of Thrones Ascent suffers from the same issues every “freemium” title does. It’s unfortunate because, from my short time playing the game, it seems like Disruptor Beam put a lot of effort into making it an authentic Game of Thrones experience instead of a reskin of a generic app. However, most people won’t get to enjoy it because paying the amount of money they expect to skip timers is offensive.

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series — Android, iOS, PC, Mac OS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One (2014)

This is the best Game of Thrones licensed game available right now. Telltale’s title is the second video game to be named Game of Thrones, which is breathtakingly dumb, but whatever I guess. Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series follows the story of a rivalry between House Forrester and House Whitehill after the events of the Red Wedding. They’re both smaller houses, and are responsible for providing quality lumber for the Seven Kingdoms.

The plot hinges on House Whitehill desiring House Forrester’s tree groves. House Whitehill has deforested their lands while House Forrester has taken care to make sure that they regrow what they cut down. Ramsey Bolton, representing his father Roose, Warden of the North, goads the houses into all out war. There’s also a subplot with Margaery Tyrell and her handmaiden Mira Forrester, in which Mira tries to influence Margaery to intervene on House Forrester’s behalf. Mira’s relationships with those she meets in King’s Landing are way more interesting than the rest of the plot, which gives a slogging feeling to many sections of the game.

The members of House Forrester patiently waiting for their turn to be killed off for shock value.
The members of House Forrester patiently waiting for their turn to be killed off for shock value. Gamezone

Unfortunately, Telltale’s Game of Thrones succumbs to the same issues that affected the plot in the 2012 Game of Thrones. House Forrester and House Whitehill are so insignificant in the greater picture that when you pull back and look at Westeros as a whole, they’re not even a blip on the radar. Telltale has been criticized for only giving the illusion that your in-game choices, and there’s no greater offender of that than Game of Thrones.

No matter what you choose, the game will counterbalance your decision to the point where it’s inevitable your character will only do what’s necessary to move the plot forward. Everyone you encounter outside of House Forrester has more influence and power than you, and your decisions just don’t matter in the greater web of the Game of Thrones universe.

Nothing lends more drama to a moment in a video game than your characters face textures suddenly scrambling.
Nothing lends more drama to a moment in a video game than your characters face textures suddenly scrambling. Zach Curry/YouTube

Game of Thrones suffers for the invention of House Forrester and House Whitehill primarily. There are a ton of minor characters and houses that were already established that could have served the narrative much better. Instead, we’re asked to a fight about trees and forced political intrigue in King’s Landing that’s nowhere near as exciting as what we see in the show.

The game also suffers from the choice to stylize everything through a weird watercolor motif. The graphics could have been good, but the Telltale Tool game engine’s horrible optimization and bugginess end up making strange artifacts from time to time, and there are general technical issues with the whole production.

Game of Thrones Video Games: Will upcoming games suck too?

There are two Game of Thrones video games currently in production. Will they change the tide of mediocre titles for the franchise? Probably not. Here’s why.

Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms

Source: bigpointdotcom/YouTube

Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms is the answer to a question nobody posed. From Bigpoint, the makers of Battlestar Galactica Online, comes what will probably be a middling massive multiplayer online game with lots of premium currency. Supposedly, the game is being made in collaboration with HBO, but there hasn’t been any news about it since the above trailer was released in 2012. It hasn’t been officially canceled, but it was supposed to be released in 2013. So we probably won’t actually see this browser-based title.

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series: Season 2

Telltale announced in late 2015 they would be doing a Season 2 of Game of Thrones. Season 1 of the series ended with things still up in the air concerning the fate of House Forrester, so it makes sense that there’s a sequel season. We haven’t heard much about the progress or projected release date for Season 2, so we’ll have to hold tight on this one. If Game of Thrones Season 2 expands beyond the humdrum setting of Season 1, it will probably be better for it.

Game of Thrones Video Games: Where can I play a good A Song of Ice and Fire game?

The only place to get your Game of Thrones video game fix is PC mods. Sadly, fan modding projects have resulted in much better Game of Thrones experience than actual licensed games. You can check out three of our favorite here.

More gaming news and updates

Check out the latest from Mic, like this deep dive into the cultural origins of Gamergate. Also, be sure to read this essay about what it’s like to cosplay while black, a roundup of family-friendly games to play with your kids and our interview with Adi Shankar, producer of the animated Castlevania Netflix series.