Apologies for the late-ish review. The episode was only released in Europe yesterday, and I didn’t have a chance to play through it until today. Unfortunately, despite some enjoyable moments, I didn’t enjoy “The Sword in the Darkness” nearly as much as the previous two episodes.
Telltale’s formula seems to be growing increasingly stale with this series – a pity and a surprise, since the simultaneously-releasing Tales From the Borderlands has the potential to be one of the studio’s greatest offerings.
I must admit, I am getting weary of Telltale’s constant shoving in our face of the fact that we’re playing a videogame. Many critical choice moments jerk the player right out of any immersion they may have had, as the choice is presented in such an on-the-nose manner. With the likes of The Witcher 3 coming out later this year, and considering what CD Projekt RED have claimed about their seamless plot-changing-choice integration, Telltale’s methods may well be highlighted for their archaic nature.
Contains full spoilers for the episode.
But enough about potential problems with Telltale itself. The end of this episode marks the halfway point of the series… and it’s quite boring, all things considered. Notable and exciting set-pieces do occur throughout, but the pacing seems off. If I had to compare it with an episode from the show, I would choose the Season 2 premiere, “The North Remembers”. Both serve to move the pieces into place for later episodes, jumping around from location to location with little consistency, and not much actually happening in between to drastically advance the plot.
In fact, the most noteworthy game-changing event in this episode is the death of Joffrey at his wedding – something that happens without any direct involvement from any of our playable characters. Of course, the game must operate within the constraints of the show-canon. But, the combination of characters being slaves to pre-ordained events outside their control, and the consistency with which our choices don’t even matter in the long run waves a red flag over the whole affair. This combination succeeds only in robbing players of their agency, and it makes the “Telltale formula” all the more evident.
An example of this was the confrontation atop the Wall between Gared and Britt, the Whitehill man-at-arms who murdered Gared’s family back in the first episode. I had Gared give him every chance to step down, in order to keep my word to Jon. Eventually, I saw that I was being forced into yet another situation where my choices didn’t matter, so I kicked the bastard off the Wall. And, guess what? Enter stage right: Finn, witnessing Gared’s fell deed at just the right moment. It was entirely predictable, but it had gotten to the stage where I really didn’t care. The major plot beats are most likely going to be the same no matter what choices the player makes, so why not have a bit of fun with the broken systems along the way?
Apparently, the Whitehills are the most sadistically evil pricks in all of Westeros, giving even the Boltons a run for their money. Literally every time they are on screen (with one exception near the end) they are sneering at Forresters, cursing Forresters, hitting Forresters, or making fun of dead Forresters. Honestly, Roose better watch his back with these comic-book schemers hanging around the North.
But, I digress. It wasn’t all bad. The game takes some opportunities to add tidbits of world-building and dialogue from the books that haven’t, as of yet, appeared in the show. From memory, this episode’s offerings include a repeat of “Words are wind”, and a mention of “Monsters and Maidens”. The episode also marked the first (and second) occurrence(s) of official music from the show – outside of the opening theme. As Mira flees the scene following Joffrey’s murder (and a very amusing reprisal of Margaery’s “Look, the pie!”), Littlefinger’s theme plays ominously in the background. It both perfectly suits the events that are happening on-screen, and hints at the larger game at play behind the veil.
The second track, “Mother of Dragons”, did not work so well. It was obviously chosen to contribute to building up the climax of Daenerys addressing Asher, but it is also playing during the scenes that come before… and it makes no sense. To the unaccustomed ear, I’m sure it would be fine. However, since I (and many others) already associate it specifically with Dany, it strikes a discord to hear this triumphant theme underscoring a touching piece of dialogue between northerners Rodrik and Talia Forrester, as they discuss how much they may have to change in order to deal with the yoke of the Whitehills.
To be honest, I will only play the next episode out of obligation to finish the season. It’s a sad thing to say as a Game of Thrones fan, but after this episode I have no great investment in the overall outcome of the game, Gared Tuttle notwithstanding.
Here are my choices, followed by a brief rundown of the episode:
- Rodrik hopes that with the combined efforts of Asher (securing an army of sellswords in Essos) and Mira (securing funding from King’s Landing to pay the sellswords), he can overthrow the Whitehills and restore House Forrester. While waiting for either/both of these to occur, he must deal with rowdy, entitled Whitehill fourthborn son Gryff as the latter attempts to usurp rule of Ironrath. He must also make the tough decision to either focus his full efforts on reclaiming his home, or diverting resources into a rescue operation for youngest brother
- Gared says his vows and becomes a ranger of the Night’s Watch. He is visited by his uncle Duncan and given the secret task of abandoning his post and seeking out the fabled North Grove. He must deliberate whether to hold true to his new brothers, or do what he can to assist his liege lord at Ironrath. Meanwhile, the man who murdered his family arrives at Castle Black – cue confrontation. At the same time, Finn and Gared make up after their fight, while Cotter reveals to Gared that he is actually a wildling (“I’m part of the free folk. What people around here call ‘wildlings’.” Ugh.). Despite my misgivings, Gared’s storyline remains the most interesting, and the prospect of going beyond the Wall in later episodes has me stoked.
- Mira continues to play the game of thrones in King’s Landing, and prepares to assist Margaery in the upcoming royal wedding. Falling out of Margaery’s favour for brokering a mutually beneficial deal with Tyrion behind the queen-to-be’s back, she is thrown into dire straits as Joffrey is poisoned and events conspire to possibly implicate her along with the Imp.
- Asher… wanders around Essos for a while until he meets Daenerys in the last scene. Along the way he and his supporting characters inexplicably survive a face-to-face encounter with Drogon in a cave, and meet old acquaintance Croft, captain of the Hellhounds, whose services Asher and uncle Malcolm wish to acquire for Rodrik. Upon finally being greeted by Dany in her tent, he is addressed as follows: “So, Asher Forrester. If you presume to speak of my dragons, choose your words carefully.” These are actual lines of dialogue in the episode. Woeful.