But with no new George R. R. Martin novel due this year, and with weeks remaining until the TV show returns for season 5, Telltale have a monopoly on new A Song of Ice And Fire content, so I slightly reluctantly jumped back in for episode two.
I’m glad I did. The Lost Lords solves many of the technical problems I had with Iron From Ice, and is an all-round improvement. When I finished episode one, I couldn’t see how my choices stacked up against other players’ in-game. I got a rather terse message telling me to go to Telltale’s website. That’s fixed for episode two (and I checked episode one again, out of curiosity. It’s fixed there too), with all my choices present and correct, along with a percentage of other players who made the same decisions I did. That was another problem I had with episode one: when I did go to Telltale’s website, only two of my choices had been recorded. There was a well-publicised issue with the Xbox One version of the game where it would forget any choices you might have made in the previous episode, but I didn’t experience that either. Everything worked as it ought to. The animation seems better than it was in Iron From Ice, too. I didn’t see any characters randomly spasming or disappearing and appearing this time, although character movements are still a bit stiff and unnatural.
The pace of the episode is better than in the first instalment. There are more characters (four, as opposed to three last time) and the game moves between their stories much more frequently. Last episode I had a real problem with Gared, whose story was deathly boring. This episode, he’s got slightly more interesting things to do. Mind you, his is still the least interesting plotline, and it’s unclear how it’s going to tie into the larger narrative, but it’s a definite improvement.
It’s not all good news though. Several issues that I had with the first episode are still annoying me. The frame rate is still lousy (which is a rather poor show given the Xbox One’s power and makes me wonder if the Telltale Tool, which Telltale use to make their games, might be just too long in the tooth these days). Occasional lines of dialogue stutter or restart. The “oil painting come to life” effect that Telltale have chosen for textures and backgrounds is still incredibly ugly to my eyes and makes it look even more like the game is melting. Worst of all, the insta-death quick time events – which I hated in Iron From Ice – aren’t just present, they’re everywhere. Previously, they were only in Gared’s part of the story. Now every character has them, and they are spread pretty evenly throughout the entire episode. In a type of game which is all about shaping the narrative through your choices, having an instant fail state is jarringly out of place. It wouldn’t be so bad if you still managed to survive whichever encounter the QTE took place in, but there was another consequence. That’s what happens with the dialogue choices after all, which are really just another type of QTE. But instead, if you fail one of them, you die and have to retry. It’s irritating, it doesn’t fit the game, and it’s very disappointing to see Telltale increasing their frequency.
But what of the story? It’s the most important thing in Telltale games, after all. In my opinion, The Lost Lords’ story is a definite improvement over the previous episode’s. I thought Iron From Ice’s story was dull when you were Gared, who had nothing of any interest to do and had all the QTE’s. I found playing as Ethan better than Gared, but his plotline felt rather like a fanfiction story. All the ‘Game Of Thrones’ aspects were present and correct, but they were rather predictable. The game was at its most interesting when you were Mira, politicking in King’s Landing.
This episode, things are much better. Gared still doesn’t have any real agency, but at least he’s acquitting himself better than the bumbler he was last time. He’s at the Wall, meeting other new recruits and rubbing shoulders with Jon Snow.
Asher Forrester, one of the two new characters this episode introduces, is the dull one this time around. He’s in Yunkai, and is summoned home to help with the situation at Ironrath. The problem is, he needs an army to do so, and he doesn’t have one. He doesn’t get one this episode, either. He doesn’t get much of anything done, but at least he has a companion to chat to. The banter he shares with this companion, Beshka, is often easy and amusing (and always well-acted) but occasional lines fall flat and seem a bit heavy handed. Overall, Asher’s story is inconsequential but it’s better than nothing, and better than Gared’s was in the first episode.
Mira’s story is still the most interesting, seeing the player navigating the deadly currents of King’s Landing. It’s eased off a bit from last episode, although you do get to see the consequences of some of your previous choices, which is very satisfying. And Tyrion makes another scene-stealing appearance which is always welcome.
The final playable character is Rodrick Forrester. Believed dead through all of episode one, he’s returned to Ironrath grievously wounded, and has to pick up the pieces left by his brother Ethan’s fateful run in with Ramsay Bolton at the end of episode one. He’s also got to bury his dead, court a prospective wife and manage the presence of enemy soldiers in his home. It’s a tricky situation, and the one in which The Lost Lords feels like a genuine Game Of Thrones plot, rather than a weaker version of the Stark family’s story. Rodrick’s story is the one that affected me most, even to the point of me getting something ‘wrong’ and wanting to play it again to see if I could change the outcome. It also has the least quick time events of any of the plotlines, which is a huge relief.
Overall though, very little of consequence happens in The Lost Lords. This episode feels very much as though it’s preparing for some bigger events to come, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does mean that some will feel short changed by the dearth of decent ‘moments’ in this episode: it’s all very low-key, even when it’s trying to be dramatic. Personally, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the first episode, but that’s an opinion I’m not certain most people will share.
I’m a bit cynical about Telltale’s ability to pull off anything very interesting with this series: they can’t change the events of the show, so nothing too momentous can happen. That means the story will have to be more intimate, but so far the Forresters feel like a weak copy of the Starks with a dash of a couple of other families thrown in. They don’t really have their own identity. There were a couple of glimpses of interesting character developments in this episode, but glimpses won’t be enough to sustain an entire season of the game. It will be interesting to see if Telltale can make me care about what happens to them, especially if the next episode’s release date comes after the new series of the TV show premieres. At the moment, I’m feeling relatively positive for the next episode: I want to see what happens with Rodrick and Mira. Gared’s still pretty bland, and Asher will need to do more than just swan around Essos bantering with his companions, but by the end of episode two there’s a feeling that something’s building. Let’s hope it doesn’t build for much longer before it starts to deliver.