By Alex Hempel
There just had to be a video game based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire books. After HBO aired a very well-made 10 episode series of the first book, there was no way around it. But somewhat unexpected, this first game is neither an RPG or action game, nor is it particularly close to the books.
A Game of Thrones – Genesis looks at things from a strategy angle instead. Developed by French studio Cyanide (probably best known for Blood Bowl), it presents you with a number of ideas and concepts that you don’t see very often in a strategy game. Instead of having to build massive armies and crushing your enemies, the game focuses more on diplomacy and trickery.
The first unit you’ll learn to use in the tutorial and campaign is the envoy. The core gameplay is based around creating and maintaining alliances, and this unit does a lot of the legwork. Send it to another town, and it will create a new alliance or sway the inhabitants off an existing one. Keep it in an allied town, and it will repel open diplomacy attempts from other houses. Of course, your rival’s envoys can do the same. To protect your alliances, the next thing you learn is to seal them in blood. No, there’s no black magic involved – send a noble lady to an allied town and marry her off. Blood alliances are harder to break than normal ones.
And that’s where the trickery comes in. When being above board doesn’t get you any further, you resort to underhand methods. Spies infiltrate other towns and create secret agreements; Rogues buy off enemy units or incite unrest; Assassins backstab or poison people who are in your way. And if all that doesn’t help… well, there’s still the use of force.
But before war comes the economy. There are two resources in the game, gold and food. To build armies, you need food, which is produced by peasants. To build everything else, and to upgrade your units, gold is required. The game avoids senseless unit spamming; units of the same type get progressively more expensive as you build more of them. Combined with the fact that you can’t generally amass huge amounts of resources, it keeps you on your toes and forces you to manage your units properly, instead of just building more and more.
And there’s the problem already. The game requires a distinct amount of micromanagement, but it doesn’t give the player an easy way to do so. You can’t assign keyboard shortcuts to units, so you generally have to find them on the map and then issue commands. Which is fine as long as you don’t have more than five units overall…
The two main game modes are campaign and skirmish. Let’s not say too much about the former. It kind of builds on Martin’s lore, is heavily scripted and not overly satisfying. However, it does a good job of gradually introducing you to the game’s mechanics; which will come in handy in skirmish mode, where you are pitted against another house for domination of the map.
This is where it’s at; the AI is fast and pretty ruthless, and you’ll have to use everything at your disposal to be faster and get to the winning conditions first. Which – unfortunately – are always the same. Get more prestige points than the other house, and you win. Prestige is gained through number of allies, diplomacy, underhanded actions… Once you’re bored of that, all that’s left is the multiplayer, which does the same thing with up to 8 players.
The graphics are not very detailed and look a bit like 3 years ago. On the upside, the game runs smooth even on lower spec computers. The campaign cutscenes are pretty.
Pleasant music, good voicework during the campaigns, but once you play for a while, you’ll notice that your units always say the same things.
This is available on Steam for $40 (~ZAR320). For what it offers, that’s a bit on the pricy side.
Great ideas and concepts that you don’t see every day in an RTS, hampered by overly restrictive campaign scripting and an interface that can’t keep up with what the game does. Controlling units is made unnecessarily complicated. On some maps it feels as if the camera can neither zoom far enough in to give a detailed view, nor far enough out to give a complete overhead view.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, this might interest you. Playing with Direwolves and Dragons sounds pretty exciting; however, the lore feels a bit tacked on. This could be any other generic fantasy RTS, but obviously the license is going to garner more interest among the audience. What puts me off most are the unfriendly controls and the price point. There are better games out there for this kind of money, and it might be a wise decision to wait for a Steam sale.
Last Updated: October 21, 2011