[Major spoilers from 'Iron From Ice' lie ahead!]
Let's start this off with a confession: I am not a gamer. My experience with remote-controlled play did not extend past "Mario Kart" and "Kingdom Hearts" (one and two) before I picked up Telltale Games' "Game of Thrones," but I was a voracious consumer of George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" books, and of course a viewer (and reviewer) of the HBO series.
So basically, I had everything I needed. And I'm glad I made the decision to spend the $4.99 for part one of the six episode series, because the graphic adventure game is a must-play for anyone who has wondered what it's like to live in the sh--ty-slash-wonderful world of Westeros. And what it's like is just that -- totally s--ty, because every decision you make often ends with Ramsay Snow stabbing you in the neck, but also wonderful, because you can choose to make allegiances with the likes of Tyrion (all cast generously provided their vocal talents) to stab Cersei in the back, which is pretty much what every "Thrones" fan has always dreamed of.
It was a great "learning" experience, since now that part one is behind me -- and oh, I will definitely follow up with the next five -- I can honestly say that I'm slightly more seasoned than the average viewer when it comes to actually living in Westeros. Here's what I learned:
It's fun to deceive the characters you know.
The game mainly takes place in three different Westeros locations -- King's Landing, the road, and House Ironrath, the stronghold of the Northern House Forrester. (They're Stark bannermen in the books.) You start out as a Forrester squire outside the Red Wedding, which is the most action-packed (and least fun) sequence of the game. You do some point and clicking to defeat Walder Frey's men, but the real fun kicks in when you get to make the tough decisions that are typically given to your favorite characters in Westeros.
These decisions come to Mira Forrester, a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, and Ethan Forrester, who becomes Lord of Ironrath once his father is slayed outside the Red Wedding. Both of these characters are given decisions to make on what to say and do, and almost none of them are easy (am I going to get screwed for stealing Margaery's secret key?)
However, you can try to predict how people like Cersei will act when you're forced to prove to her how loyal you are to Joffrey -- this all takes place between the Red and Purple weddings, by the way -- and you can decide whether or not to trust Tyrion after that meeting is over. (Also, in case you were unfamiliar with Ms. Tyrell, a little bit of diplomacy goes a long way.)
Basically, it's a blast to try to deviate your way through King's Landing using the characters you already know. I used "What Would Lord Varys Do?" as my mantra, which surmounted to "tell everybody what you think they want to hear." (Though at one point I was given the choice to either trust or shrug off an Arya Stark-esque street urchin, and I'm still not sure if I chose right.)
However, the characters I met as young Lord Ethan -- AKA "Bran Stark With Legs" -- were all new, so in that case...
It's really f--king hard to be a Lord.
You interact with numerous characters as both Ethan and Mira, and you have to think of every conversation as a chess game... which is tough, because you only have about 15 seconds to answer each question. Each decision you make will send you down a different path, so it's important to choose wisely -- and difficult, because it's nearly impossible to predict how some of the more volatile characters will respond to your decisions. I found myself struggling most to choose between Ser Royland Degore and Duncan Tuttle as my second-in-command: Royland has a bit of a Hound vibe going for him (with a little Tywin mixed in), while Duncan is an honor-happy Ned Stark copycat.
Which man would be better when it came to dealing with Ramsay Snow, who was coming to Ironrath to demand fealty to King Joffrey? Who could I trust to not Littlefinger me in the back? I ultimately chose Duncan, but knowing full well how honorable people can be treated in Westeros, I'm already kind of regretting my choice. Would Royland have been a better choice, given what happened next? Will hurting Royland's tough-guy feelings have negative consequences moving forward? (Yes, almost definitely yes.)
Ramsay Snow sucks.
Sometimes no matter how well you choose your path in life, you get Starked. This is certainly the case for young Ethan, who gets stabbed in the jugular by Ramsay Snow in the game's truly out-of-left-field ending. (And having watched the series as a longtime reader of the books, it was refreshing to feel totally surprised by a sudden act of Westeros violence again.)
I tried so, so hard to cater to what I knew about Ramsay and tailor my responses to what he'd want to hear, but failure was in the cards for poor Ethan (well, me) either way. Sometimes people are legitimately terrible, and Ramsey definitely entered Ironrath poised to kill.
I mourn my character's loss -- should I have made him tougher? Kissed Bolton's ass even more? But ultimately, in the "Game of Thrones," he lost and he died. I just pray that, in chapter two, I'll be given the option to avoid Ramsay Snow.