It all comes down to this. Whereas the five previous episodes of the Telltale Games storytelling title Game of Thrones gave players a lot of choices, the finale more or less has you locked in, a slave to everything that happened previously. You are still going to get a deep and impressive story with Game of Thrones: The Ice Dragon, and it’s going to follow the Game of Thrones style and theme. You are just more of an observer here than with previous episodes.
As with the previous episodes in the series, this one follows the trials and tribulations of House Forrester and includes old favorite characters that have been with us from the beginning as well as new ones that we met in episodes two and into episode three and four, assuming they made it that far. And while episode five was a real barn-burner, the finale, Game of Thrones: The Ice Dragon is more of a wrap-it-all-up chapter.
With my previous reviews of episodes in the series, I was mostly keeping things spoiler free. However, this being the last episode, and with it having been out for a couple weeks, I will probably touch on a few things, especially as it relates to the fate of some of the characters and the choices players can make to help their survival chances. So there will likely be spoilers and I wanted to warn you about that.
The main focus of episode six is Gared Tuttle and his adventures inside the mysterious North Grove. Having been searching for it for seemingly forever, you stumble into it near the beginning of episode six and spend a lot of time there making choices that seemingly will affect the Game of Thrones universe, though we don’t actually get to see any of them because the game, and possibly the series, ends with episode six. The other main events take place at Ironrath where Lord Asher or Rodrik (depending on which one is still with you at this point) help to decide the fate of House Forrester once and for all. Finally, there is some minor gameplay that takes place at King’s Landing to wrap up the fate of sister Mira. However, this part almost feels cobbled on, and despite having one major choice that will change what happens to Mira, everything else is more of an on-rails epilogue there.
The visuals and the voice acting for The Ice Dragon are both very professional, as we have come to expect from The Game of Thrones title and Telltale games in general. The area around The North Grove is particularly pretty, so it’s nice that a lot of episode six takes place there.
The gameplay surrounding The North Grove and the storytelling surprises you encounter there are the best of the series. There are a few plot twists that I did not see coming, and I’ve seen most of them in this double-crossing, back-stabbing world. In addition to learning about the secrets of the North Grove, we also have to help defend it. So there are quite a few of those action sequences that you either love or hate in these games. There are also some moral decisions and a bit of a minor power struggle happing there, and as Gared Tuttle, you will have the opportunity to actually change the fate of that part of the world. It’s the freest you will be in The Ice Dragon, as the other two story settings are pretty well locked down with few choices. But seeing the end story for (if there are no more games in this series) Gared Tuttle is very satisfying. Of all the characters in the game, he ends up in the best position at the end.
As I mentioned earlier, the King’s Landing sequences are more or less an epilogue for Mira. You are basically locked in to your fate at the start of the episode. I suppose the fact that Mira got to do a lot in episodes four and five means that she has few choices here. Near the end of her storyline, you actually have a choice about whether or not she lives or dies. You can choose to live in less-than-ideal circumstances, though with some hope for the future, or you can choose to die with dignity. This was not unlike the traditional “which character do you choose to save and which one dies” choices that are so prevalent in Telltale games, only you are deciding the fate of a single main character. I played it both ways, and found the ending where Mira lives to be more satisfying, though the fact that she could also be dead in someone else’s game leads me to believe that Telltale isn’t actually going to continue with a new series. I think it would be too difficult to program such branching storylines.
If Mira’s fate is more or less on rails and Gared’s is more free-flowing, then the gameplay at Ironrath is somewhere in the middle, though much more locked down than in previous games. Whatever surviving Lord you still have in your family has some choices about how to fight, but the chips are stacked well against you and there is no real chance for a happy ending. I realize this kind of follows the depressing Game of Thrones books to an extent, but when playing a game, I know that gamers want to be heroic. Being put on-rails on a path to a bad fate feels unfair at best, and really, really unsatisfying at worst.
And you can’t really escape your fate. I tried to fight and I tried to be diplomatic. Both choices ended in combat and ultimately the fall of the house. In fact, for a developer that prides themselves on story-heavy titles that give gamers a lot of choices, The Ice Dragon kind of falls well short of the mark. I lowered the gameplay score because of this. The ending offered makes sense. This is no Mass Effect 3. But the inability to produce a happy ending despite six episodes of gameplay choices is disappointing.
In fact, I almost think that Telltale should avoid heavily licensed properties where the story is so well-defined. With The Walking Dead, which I think remains the best Telltale series, the story focused on unknown people other than a cameo or two, so anything was possible. With Game of Thrones, almost all of the minor characters in the game (and a few of the nearly major ones) were straight from the book and television series. So when the people you are playing are unknowns and your enemies are all main characters from the book, who do you think is going to win? Telltale would not be able to let you kill one of George R. R. Martin’s characters, so if you really think about it, why would you bother to fight them? You have to lose because you can’t change the main story. And that is what happens to the Forresters, despite anything you do over six episodes to try and stop it.
Game of Thrones: The Ice Dragon tells a nice story. Fans of Game of Thrones will relish the opportunity to fall into the fantasy world that they love. However, the lack of real choices and the inability to change the world significantly makes this series weaker overall than other Telltale products where players are given more or even total freedom. And The Ice Dragon, being the conclusion to the story, is even more locked down than the other episodes, and thus becomes the weakest of the bunch.
This is by no means a bad review. Game of Thrones: The Ice Dragon earns 4 GiN Gems, but gamers should know going into it that this series is less of a game and more of a story. Thankfully, the story is quite good, so you will probably enjoy playing (and watching) the fall of the noble but tragic House Forrester. Iron from Ice!