It's the biggest thing in fantasy and right now, with the possible exception of The Hunger Games, the biggest thing in entertainment, especially with its second season about to kick off this weekend. So why has George R R Martin's Game of Thrones series been given such short shrift by video game publishers and developers?
While HBO's TV series exploded onto the scene last year, gathering the tale millions of new fans, it's not like it had previously been some obscure little book series. What was once known as A Song of Ice and Fire has been a very big deal for well over a decade now, with a novella based on the first book winning a 1997 Hugo award and the second, A Clash of Kings, making the New York Times best-sellers list.
So when a TV adaptation was finally announced a few years back, and when it quickly became one of the most expensive ten-part series ever made (with a budget of around $US60 million), you'd have thought that securing a quality video game tie-in or two would have been high on the producer's agenda. Sadly, that doesn't seem to have been the case.
While developers Cyanide have long been working on a number of games based on the property, that deal was signed a year before HBO green-lit its TV series. So the games are occupying a very strange place. The first, A Game of Thrones: Genesis, is already out, and is quite terrible, both as a strategy game and because aside from the world map and house names it has almost nothing in common with the spirit or characters of the series.
The second, the upcoming Game of Thrones RPG (sadly, not this one) looks to share a similar problem. While it features a handful of characters from the TV series, and benefits from their vocal talents, for the most part it looks utterly indistinguishable from any other Western fantasy RPG on the market.
Aside from The Wall and King's Landing, you'll be spending most of your time in places either never or barely mentioned in the books, and aside from a few characters like Jeor Mormont and Varys, you'll be spending most of your time talking to people created solely for the game. You're also given a choice of two characters you get to play, and that's it. You're a Red Priest or a member of the Night's Watch.
You can't be a Hedge Knight, you can't be a bandit, you can't be a Bravoosi. You can't even choose your gender. Even by action RPG standards, and not true RPG standards, that's pretty damn limiting.
To me, that's like licensing a Star Wars game and then having the player manage the moisture farm next to Luke's on Tatooine. After Luke's already left. It's got almost nothing to do with the reasons I would want to play a game based on that property.
Martin's world of Westeros may not be as iconic as, say, that of Middle Earth, but it's still full of interesting places unique to the series and which fans would quickly and happily identify with. Dragonstone, the Dothraki Sea, Winterfell, Oldtown, the list of things people would want to see in a Game of Thrones title could go on forever. Just as long would be the list of people you'd want to run into.
I don't want to make it sound like I'm picking on Cyanide, because this RPG might turn out to be great, and I'm sure working with Martin before the TV series was green-lit, then having to obviously move to accommodate the series' imagery later, must have been a nightmare. It's also hardly their fault they're going to be bearing the full force of fan expectations given this is the first time we've been able to explore Westeros in a proper video game, when really, that should have happened a long, long time ago.
I'm just more disappointed with whoever handles Martin's rights and maybe even at HBO. I'm probably being terribly unrealistic here, since this game will sell a ton solely on the strength of its cover, but given the popularity of the books and the investment made in the TV series, it would have been nice to see them think a little harder and give the property to someone who could have made a single awesome game instead of three (Bigpoint are also making a... browser-based MMO).
Sure, call me spoiled in this post-Skyrim world, in which I wish every fantasy title and RPG let me wholly customise my experience and explore a sprawling world, but when I think of what I'd want a Game of Thrones title to be, what such a series deserves, I think of all the things I love about the franchise: the scale, the characters and the politics. They're three things the excellent board game gets very right, but are sadly also three things the two video games we've actually seen stuff from so far can't seem to manage.