Episode Two – The Lost Lords
Naturally, one cannot expect the wheel to be reinvented between instalments of Telltale’s episodic adventure series. So it comes as no surprise that the sophomore entry bears very few changes that set it apart from the initial title. In terms of visuals and sound quality, in fact, there are virtually none at all. This is far from a bad thing, as they were pulled off well initially. (An odd shimmering effect makes a nuisance of itself here and there, causing parts of the background to look as though seen through a heated haze – otherwise, the game’s look remains pretty consistent.)
In the arenas of playability and design, Telltale has – dare I say it? – given players even less to do to move the story along than before. As bare-bones as player participation was in Iron from Ice, The Lost Lords offers very little to do when not engaged in dialog or a timed-button action sequence. Even moving through environments is more often than not an on-rails experience: coming out of a cinematic, players are often only allowed to go forward, straight into a new conversation or cutscene. Puzzles are still entirely absent, and the inventory system has been relegated to “useless” for the duration of this episode (the few items I picked up in the initial episode went completely ignored).
One area that has been beefed up – though the initial game already managed it well – is the skillfully written plot, which kept me even more riveted than before, filled with emotional drama while still managing to impart the necessary exposition. After the uphill pacing of the introductory episode, tension ramps up sharply here, and the stakes are made ever clearer: war’s in the air, family feuds become more urgent, partnerships and unions stand on a knife’s edge, and the writing’s on the wall for some epic clashes further down the line.
The exiled Asher Forrester makes his appearance early on, while the remainder of his family back at Ironrath comes to terms with their latest tragedies. Gared Tuttle arrives at Castle Black to begin his initiation into the Night’s Watch, and is immediately harangued by cold weather and colder company. At court, Mira Forrester is further drawn into the political web of King’s Landing, and becomes the target of an unknown danger lurking in the shadows. There are several well-used opportunities for engaging new characters, such as Asher’s mercenary partner Breskha and would-be love interest Elaena, and Cotter and Finn, two new brothers of the Night’s Watch serving time at Castle Black. The new characters are immediately relatable, and each one seems to figure into the greater scheme of things in their own important way.
The story, equally brief at two hours, incorporates some genuinely surprising twists, keeping the pace moving at a good clip throughout. More importantly, after the lackluster way choices (and their consequences) were implemented in Episode One, this time you’ll be forced to choose in tougher situations that offer meatier decisions with weightier consequences. While it could all just be illusory, it seems like player agency counts for more than just window-dressing this time around. Apart from the 5 main choices – one at the end of each major section – there are about 20 or so minor decisions to be made, through word or action, most of which felt somehow more vital than the previous episode’s. While I didn’t notice my decisions from Iron from Ice coming back explicitly to help or hinder me, there were some distinct differences in my two opposing playthroughs. Surprisingly, my anti-hero persona received more desirable responses than my Goody Two-Shoes, while, try as I might, I somehow just could not tread a saintly path of pure righteousness. It will be interesting to see this tree branch out further and further as the story continues.
Overall, though I felt more a passive observer in the actual action than ever, the high quality of the narrative more than made up for this and made this foray into the Game of Thrones universe more enjoyable than its predecessor.
Episode Three - The Sword in the Darkness
Marking the halfway point of Telltale’s six-part Game of Thrones series, The Sword in the Darkness elevates the narrative’s conflict to new heights, but does little to improve on any of the series’ shortcomings to date.
In terms of content, this episode offers up a bit more than the previous two. New characters are introduced, like the despicable Gryff Whitehill, sent to Ironrath to bully the remaining members of House Forrester, and familiar faces return, like wiry Britt, the man who slew Gared’s family, now a new arrival at Castle Black just as things at the Wall were starting to go Gared’s way. Players will also be treated to more set pieces and scenes than before, including a nasty encounter with one of Daenerys Targaryen's dragons. Already lengthier than its predecessors, due to Telltale tightening the story’s pacing and switching between locations and storylines more frequently within the episode, the game seems still longer.
As characters get tangled even further in the webs of intrigue, I was surprised to find an actual puzzle included in the game! While the first two episodes were DOA on the puzzle front, this time a scene taking place at Castle Black requires players to finally use an inventory item attained in Episode One to solve a map puzzle by manipulating both objects and revealing a secret location. Most inventory items make their presence felt solely within conversations, and you’ll have several opportunities to access specific responses, provided you collected the appropriate item when it was available.
The Sword in the Darkness tightens the screws on House Forrester’s dilemma with their overbearing neighbors, the Whitehills. They are bullied and buffeted from every conceivable angle, pressed into making grievous missteps in this game for power. Meanwhile, the rest of Westeros follows the established events from the show. These are far more than mere window dressing to the story at hand, however, and our protagonists are swept along in the wake of these events, affected by them in both helpful and perilous ways.
Overall, the drama in this episode becomes more personal than ever. As the Whitehills make their presence felt in Ironrath in increasingly spiteful and nasty ways, choosing how to react often became an issue of biting back my own thirst for satisfying vengeance in favor of a more level-headed approach… or giving in and letting the fists fly, and consequences be damned. Choosing whether to prioritize accomplishing my goals, even if it meant putting characters I’d come to care about in foreseeable peril, became a serious balancing act, and even after two differing playthroughs, I’m still not convinced I’ve accomplished it in a way that satisfies me.
What struck me the most, however, is that the further the story progresses, allowing for multiple plot twists and how I’ve treated various characters, the harder I’m finding it to play and influence it the way I want. This includes being shut out of a positive outcome to a situation due to having mistreated a possible ally in a previous episode, or maybe just misreading a situation and choosing an action that is contrary to what I interpreted. Sometimes, having to choose a response in a matter of seconds leads to poor decisions. I suppose, depending on your point of view, this could be either a positive or negative aspect of the game, though I prefer my choices to actually reflect my intentions, especially when playing a game meant to give me choice.
Of course, I’m still not entirely convinced that any of Game of Thrones’ choices actually amount to a noticeably different outcome – to date, events have happened the same and characters have survived or died completely independent of my choices. Honestly, I’m still of the mindset that choice is just a thinly veiled illusion, affecting only the most trivial of details. I’ve successfully impacted how events have come to pass, but not whether they transpire at all. That’s something I’d still love to see the concluding half address: to be given some actual authorship of where the story eventually leads.Continued on the next page...