Platforms: PC/Steam, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 | Developer/Publisher: Telltale Games | ESRB: M | Controls: Mouse/Keyboard, Controller
Telltale’s quest to out-Martin George R.R. continues as the fifth episode of their six-episode season released this week. As in previous segments, our story centers on the Stark-light family, aka the Forresters, as they all are slowly killed and their family, friends and lands destroyed or stolen… at least that’s how it’s feeling to this point. Before we see how the family fares at the present in the lands of Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea, let’s take a quick look back at Sons of Winter.
Previously on Game of Thrones
The story of Asher and his mercenary sister remained the most interesting in Telltale’s series. They were tasked with helping to infiltrate Mereen and free its slaves, thus giving Daenerys Targaryen control. In exchange, she was to give him an allotment of sellswords to help retake and defend Ironwrath back at home. They did so, but deviated slightly from their commands when Asher’s companion caught sight of her old slave master. If Daenarys chooses to use this fact to wiggle out of their bargain, there could be trouble.
Mira Forrester continues to fight the odds and put herself in precarious positions in King’s Landing. She has lost the favor and support of Margaery Tyrell and her fellow handmaiden, along with Tyrion Lannister (after his imprisonment). She forces her way into a party for the new king in order to confront the rumors of some Whitehill conspirators raising an army. In doing so she has no doubt furthered her own isolation, and to have no friends in the capitol city is to truly lead an increasingly tenuous existence.
Garred Tuttle has escaped with his fellow former brothers, an idea further enhanced by the fact that one of his friends was not a brother at all, but a Wildling in disguise. Though wounded and tired after a confrontation with some of the free folk, they continue their way into the cold beyond The Wall searching for the fabled North Grove. This is supposed to be a hidden key to the Forrester, and thereby Tuttle, survival. The meet up with a Wildling sister in a group of seemingly abandoned group of tents.
Rodrik Forrester, the head of the family, has survived his hostile meeting with Lord Whitehill, though nothing has been resolved. His little brother and Whitehill’s son both are still held captive in the opposite strongholds. The recently crippled lord of Ironrath returns home to find another surprise visit from the truly devious and disgusting Ramsey Snow. And now we are left to wonder, will any of these minor victories pay-off for the family, or are they simply setups to yet another catastrophe?
Episode 5 – Nest of Vipers
Nearly everyone loves the emotional turns in Telltale’s work, and I’m no different. When they hit the right chords, the music they make in those specific moment is stunning. However, too-often I am hearing extended moments of what I would compare to generic pop music that simply repeats a catch-phrase over and over again… to the destruction of the music…. maaaaaan. Ramsey Snow and his crew have become that annoying top-50 earworm for me. He’s awful, he flays people, randomly murders the good guys, and shows up when you don’t expect him. It would be fine if it was something that repeated in this confined game world.
And so we begin Nest of Vipers, with some more of the same – Ramsey being Ramsey. We also have some more of Rodrik getting kicked around and then attempting to be brave and resolute. If, like some sort of professional wrestling show or late-night TV appearance, characters had theme music piped in to announce their entrances, the Forresters would be that “Everything is Awesome” song from the Lego movie — except that it would be more like “Everything is Awful”.
I do like most of the characters of this family, though I have issues here and there with their story arcs thus far, especially for Mira and Garred. However it feels too much as if Forresters and their friends are just another version of the Starks – a Northern family, who are generally kind and noble, and for their goodness are rewarded with utter destruction and despair. It’s as if there is an unspoken contest to see if Telltale can tell the story of a family that is even more sad than any that Martin has envisioned to this point. At times I feel as though I am slogging through this muck with no real shot at any sort of redemptive cleansing.
Maybe the story is becoming a victim of my own hopeful projections upon it, though no one has ever made the mistake of considering me an optimist. I think part of my internal pushback against the Stark-like arc is paralleled in my feelings for the Telltale characters and the Martin characters. The “cannon” connections, through Tyrion, Ramsey and so on always feel like the weakest parts of any episode – as if they are simply there to further legitimize that this is without question a “Game of Thrones” story. When focused away from book and television characters the story becomes more interesting. Which perhaps explains my reticence to support to the Stark-like shadows permanently cast upon our more focused narrative here.
Technically and stylistically speaking the game remains the same as ever was, same as it ever was. The visuals appear to have settled, but I noticed the pops and stutters in animation more than ever this episode. The more time spent within Telltale’s system the more their quirks, both negative and positive, stand out. I keep hoping that items and inventory become more integrated into gameplay, but instead this happens less frequently. Objects are simply things to look at more often than not, slightly prolonging gameplay until the next round of dialogue choices.
In the books and the show I find the lands of Westeros and beyond the Wall grab my attention far more than the deserts on the other side of the Narrow Sea. However, in the game, as I have mentioned, Asher’s side of the world has been far more fun to inhabit. Episode five was no different. And as the conclusion of Asher’s journey happens, one which took nearly five full episodes to setup, but 30 seconds to complete, his arc provides the most powerful choice and resulting emotion of the episode.
Though my enthusiasm has started to trend downward for Telltale’s Game of Thrones, they continue to hit me with powerful decisions and poignant moments that keep my interest going. Nest of Vipers ended strongly, and I am far too invested now to check out. All of the remaining forces are converging on the finale, and I genuinely need to know how it ends. Sadly this is not Netflix or Amazon Prime, and I’m not in the middle of a binge-watch. So you and I will have to wait for that finale… which will most likely end with your favorite characters dying and the last living member of the family in some sort of awful cliffhanger predicament…
Cue the music… Everything is awful, Everything looks bad for the Forrester team. Everything is awful…