Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Game of Thrones - Genesis - 2/20 hours

After two hours with A Game of Thrones - Genesis, I have to say, I think this experiment of mine might get a little rough. This game is . . . not good.

Part of it is technical problems, like the floaty mouse that plagued me when I first started the tutorial, or the inexplicable glitch that granted me a bunch of achievements (most laughably - the 50 hrs of gameplay achievement), or the crash to desktop that occurred in my first half hour.

Part of it is presentation. The relatively unpolished graphics don't bother me - I've been gaming since the early 90s, so anything that looks better than A Link to the Past qualifies as incredible in my book. But there are a lot of little details that aren't quite right. The fact that you "hire" Noble Ladies and Peasants, for instance (and while I'm on the subject, it's kind of offensive that the Noble Ladies' anti-unit ability is to "seduce" the enemy - yes, there aren't a lot of opportunities for women in the source material, but this is not a mechanic that lends itself to verisimilitude either - I don't believe for a second that a Noble Lady would go after some grubby mercenary). Likewise, the minimap is overly simple, and the screen that pops up when war is declared is just . . . odd. I suppose the best way to describe it is "cartoony."

More generally, the presentation simply fails to capture the scope and grandeur of either the books or the tv show. I can't quite articulate why, but the game feels small. It probably has something to do with the way it divides the land into villages and castles, each of which is little more than a waypoint for your troops and/or envoys. The sense of scale is also not at all helped by the way food and gold costs for your units increase each time you buy one, so you can only really field a small force at any particular time (yet, on the other hand, there's not a lot you can do to micromanage your troops, so these small armies also lack intimacy).

Finally, the actual mechanics of the game feel a little off. A huge aspect of the strategy lies in diplomacy, and yet the game's diplomacy doesn't really feel like diplomacy. It feels like another sort of combat (though, to be fair, this is true to the game's source material). I'm a huge fan of games that let me advance and solve problems through non-violent means, but A Game of Thrones - Genesis doesn't really satisfy in that regard.

I think the problem is that the way the diplomacy system is set up, it is very difficult to get the sense that your are doing something constructive by avoiding war. The basic gist of it is that you "ally" with castles and towns by moving your envoys onto them and parking them there, but your enemies can oppose this by sending envoys of their own to eject yours, or by sending spies to create "secret alliances" (which means the game lies to you and shows the towns as allied on your screen, but denies you their resources and guarantees that they'll flip to the enemy if war is ever declared), and then rogues can subvert your diplomats and spies, so that when they create their alliances, nothing will happen, but the game will show you as being successful diplomatically. And it all adds up to the fact that, barring massive suspicion of your own units, it is incredibly difficult to know who your friends actually are.

I know, I know, "just like the show," and I agree that it's an intriguing idea, but in practice I'm finding it a little frustrating, because it's not so much a battle of wits (because of the binary nature of the politics - an apparent ally is either genuine or not) as it is a test of one's attention span. The game asks the question - "do you have the mental stamina to constantly check and recheck your troops and holdings for signs of betrayal?"

On the balance, I wouldn't say this game is terrible. It does have some unique ideas, and the plot of the ASoIaF backstory is strong enough to keep me interested in the campaign mode, at least, but I would say that, after two hours with the game, my first impression is that it is the very definition of mediocre.

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