George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed series A Song of Ice and Fire has become synonymous for cruelty, malice, trickery, and grizzly violence that has captured the eyes and minds of millions of readers and HBO GO borrowers across the world. To capture that same hardened soul and convey a similar disparity in the form of a video game is one I was skeptical for anyone to accomplish. At this point, I should stop betting against Telltale and simply accept the encouraging truth that there truly isn’t any story they can’t adapt.
Hot on the heels of their other (and far more light-hearted) series Tales from Borderlands, Iron from Ice is the first episode of Telltale’s 6-part series set inside Martin’s blood-soaked land of Westeros. Although Iron from Ice is no different than any of Telltale’s other episodic series using their expansive dialogue tree and choice-based gameplay mechanic, it is perhaps the first time one cannot truly begin playing a Telltale game without having prior knowledge of the world upon which the game is based.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Iron From Ice begins right after the final pages of the series’ third book, A Storm of Swords, and incorporates several major spoilers about key characters. If you do not want anything spoiled regarding the books or the HBO series, I implore you to catch up to that point before picking up this game. Having said that, this review is spoiler free for both the books and the game itself.
Much like the books and TV show, the story of Iron from Ice unfolds from multiple perspectives that jump in and out from one another often: Gared Tuttle, a shy squire serving the Forrester House that are loyal to the Starks; Ethan Forrester, a young teenager who must serve as lord of Ironrath while his father is at war; and Mira Forrester, Ethan’s older sister who serves as handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing. Each face a series of mounting difficult choices as they try to salvage the Forrester house against threats of being overtaken by a new ruler.
Each thread carries equal weight in building the overarching story of the series, but they all excel in their own particular way. Gared’s is QTE heavy but helps break up the ample conversations with the visceral result war has on family and loved ones. Ethan shoulders the emotional weight as he is suddenly forced into heated arguments and making difficult decisions no teenager should ever have to be faced with. Desperately wanting to earn the respect from his people as his father did, he must weigh every single decision in the face of the looming threat of the Bolton’s as they continue conquering the Northlands.
At some points, I almost wished Telltale would give me more time before making certain choices, but the lack of reaction time needed is precisely what the developers had in mind to underscore the important of even the smallest of Ethan’s decision. Make no mistake: you will second-guess yourself more than a few times, which only serves to the anxiety and excitement I have to see what my choices bring me in future episodes.
Mira’s perspective easily has the most entertaining and compelling interactions of the entire episode, as she shares conversation with some of the story’s most important characters. Mira’s delicate dance between her loyalty to Margaery and appeasing the venomous queen Cersei is the most Game of Thrones’ moment of all two hours, and all vocal performances are all expertly done by the TV show’s actual actors and actresses. It was relieving to hear Peter Dinklage’s voice as Tyrion Lannister in all of its womanizing, sarcastic glory and not making any mention of wizards, moons, or interplanetary conflicts.
The episode clocks in right around a very brisk two hours, which may feel a bit short even for episodic gameplay standards, but its climax is undoubtedly characteristic of Game of Thrones’ graphic nature. More importantly, it serves as a brilliant capitalization of the series’ future episodes and reminds the player exactly what kind of world this is – bleak, harsh, and every bit as entertaining as it was when you started the books or the show.