Friday, July 19, 2024

Why did Telltale’s Game of Thrones Fail where the Wolf Among Us Succeeded

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So after a 4 years wait, it is finally here. Telltale just confirmed that The Wolf Among Us 2 is coming. In 2018, without any more precise date, sure. But, hey, when you have been waiting for years for just a sign, it’s like Christmas in July. I loved The Wolf Among Us. It is a fine game, set in a wonderful atmosphere, which gives hours of fun. It also made me discover Fables, probably my favorite comic and one of the few I can effectively follow.

So in 2014, Telltale’s Game of Thrones was released. Since I was still in my show-loving period I was eager to play this game. Especially when I learned that we would play a northern family loyal to the Starks. Unfortunately, the actual experience ended-up being disappointing.

With all those good news about The Wolf Among Us, I started rethinking about both experiences. Why did I have such a different way of seeing them despite the fact that the gaming system was so similar? I came to the conclusion that it is a question of narrative. So now let’s buckle up and dive right in into the Telltale game series and why it can be either great or meh.

Telltale and the ‘Revival’ of Point and Clicks

The Telltale games all work on the same system. You control one character at the time. You decide their dialogue. With them you play through what we can only call interactive cut-scenes that can change a little depending on your choice and if you miss an action or not. There are also more traditional game moments where you wander in a delimited map looking for things or characters to speak to. More importantly, there are moment where you might make important decisions that will impact the rest of the game.

Am I going to threaten someone in my fake sane persona or give them the fright of their life?

There are no real enigmas or really challenging decisions, though. Also despise what a first time player might think, you can’t influence the plot that much. It is going somewhere specific, and if your choices veer too far away from it you will be taken back to the correct road.

So, the Telltales games aren’t really point and click in the traditional understanding of the genre. I think it would be more correct to call them ‘interactive movies’. Hell, you can play with the American controls on a French keyboard (an AZERTY keyboard) without being really disturbed by it.

By no means am I trying to dismiss the gaming experience of the Telltale’s games. When done correctly they are incredibly immersive and just straight up fun. After all, not everyone is a fan of FPS, TPS, or beat them all. But it is important to be honest about what the game is and isn’t. What it is, is a fun experience that will not make you try and retry a level in order to progress in the narrative.

The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones, what are they about?

Even if they both operate on the same gaming system, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones are different. In one game you only incarnate one character and try to solve a crime mystery. In the other, you play 5 different characters and you try to save your family from destruction.

Bigby Wolf or the Sheriff of Fabletown

The crime story is The Wolf Among Us. Telltale got the rights to make a video game out Fables. However, it takes place before the beginning of the comics. For those of you who might not know it, Fables is a comics series following famous characters of fairytales. They are now living in our world, after having been cast away from theirs by the Adversary. They have two structures Fabletown, in NY, for the human looking ones and the Farm, somewhere in the American countryside, for the others. After the escape, every Fables character who managed to made it to our world was granted amnesty and now Bluebeard lives next door to Briar Rose.

The player controls Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby is actually none other than the Big Bad Wolf in human form (even if he can take back his wolf form at will), which makes him a brilliant agent of the law for Fabletown. However his case is a bit special since he is forbidden to go to the Farm. Indeed, his past crimes against the the non-human looking community were too big to be forgotten, and his own amnesty was…let’s say conditional.

If someone had told me that the Big Bad Wolf would one day be one of my favorite characters…

The game starts with Bigby being sent to apply the day-to-day law at “Get a glamour spell or go to the Farm,” but he is disturbed by one resident of Fabletown assaulting another. He steps in, fights with the Woodsman and saves Faith, a sex worker who, we will discover later, is more famously known under the name of Donkey Skin. She seems to be in some sort of bigger trouble but refuses to talk about it. Bigby goes back to the headquarters of Fabletown, where he meats with various characters (Snow White, Colin, etc). In the evening he discovers the severed head of a woman.

The point will then be to find out who is responsible, to stop them from doing it again, and bring justice to Fabletown. To do so you will dive right into the misery of Fabletown and its hypocrisy. What is justice? What is fair? What is right? And more importantly are you the best person for the job? Are you still at heart the Big Bad Wolf in sheeps clothing or are you a changed man(wolf)? The game is very much Bigby’s personal journey of rediscovery. And of the balance between what he is ready to do to get where he wants and what people expect of him.

More than a crime story, Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us is a game that explores morality, specifically that belonging to its main character and therefore yours.

The Forresters Remember

Game of Thrones is a family management game (sorry I don’t know what to call it otherwise). The game starts at the Red Wedding, which is where Lord Forrester, his oldest son, and his squire are. They get massacred, except for Gared, the squire. He comes back to the Forrester home castle. From this point onward you play different members of House Forrester and try to prevent the total annihilation of your family.

The characters that you are going to play are the ones in Red.

Expect for Mira, all the characters are at one point or another at Ironrath, their home castle. But you will also go to King’s Landing, Essos, The Wall, and North of the Wall. You will also cross paths with characters from the show: Ramsay Sue, Jonny Cardboard, Marg Bolelyn, Deadpan Card-born, and—of course—Saint Tyrion. The game takes place between season 3 and season 4.

Every character will have a different storyline. Mira will try to influence the court in King’s Landing. Asher has to find troops in Essos. Gared goes North to find the North Grove (what is this thing, it isn’t in the books, right?). Ethan and Rodrick will try to manage their estate to the best of their capabilities and discover who are traitors to their family. You will fight, scheme, lie, and form political alliances in order to have the Forrester House survive.

The playable characters are engaging (I lied I don’t care about Gared, I really don’t) especially Ethan, Mira, and Asher. They have distinct personalities but are a united family and care about each other. Ethan in particular is fascinating; he is a bookish boy with a love for music but he wants to do well, be honorable, and be up to the task. It is the kind of character we don’t get to play all that often, and it was great.

However, one major difference between The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones is the ending. The former solves the murder mystery while leaving some doubt about a particular character’s identity, but the latter ends on a cliffhanger in which you have no idea if you have saved your family or not.

How Well Do the Storylines Work with the Gaming System?

So now that I have explained the gaming system and the core of both stories, it is time to ask the question: how well do they fit together? Or to word it differently: why does The Wolf Among Us fit better than Game of Thrones?

Film Noir and Morality

The ambiance in The Wolf Among Us is fantastic. The color palette chosen for the game, a neon violet dark pink, gives a modern film noir atmosphere to the game. The choice of OC for the game was great. Donkey Skin, Bloody Mary, the Jersey Devil, and even the little Mermaid have original stories which are grimmer (no pun intended) than usual. It helps make the whole thing less comfortable for the audience. It’s not just any crime game, it’s a fully fleshed film noir with corruption, etc. The focus on the misery of some of Fabletown and the hypocrisy of the system is a very nice idea. It suits the subject very well. A perfect environment to develop Bigby’s dilemmas.

This opening though.

The fanservice is also left to a minimum. Snow White is here, Flycatcher, Jack and Colin too, also Beauty and the Beast. Even if I didn’t really like having B&B in, it didn’t tie very well with the rest of the comics. But fan favorites such as Blue Boy, Prince Charming, Frau Totenkinder, and Cinderella are missing. Or if they are mentioned, it’s more in the form of easter eggs.

Long story shorts The Wolf Among Us is allowed to exist on its own. Don’t know the slightest thing about Fables? You can still play the game and enjoy the characters and the narration.

Speaking of which, since the game is focused on the ambiance and on the moral dilemma the fact, that you can’t change the ending all that much doesn’t matter. It is how you get there that matters. Who did you save? Who did you comfort? Did you abandon anyone? Your final choice regarding the Crooked Man’s fate, without changing the face of the world, is the ultimate representation of what the game stands for. Who are you?

This is one hell of the great game for someone who likes the genre. It uses the gaming system marvelously to uphold what it is trying to say. The same, however, cannot be said for Game of Thrones.

Cliffhanger and Dramatic SatisfactionTM

Never in my life have I been so frustrated by a fixed end-game. I mean, it’s less fixed than The Wolf Among Us, but by god how awfully forced did the Game of Thrones’s one feel. Unfortunately for the game it decided to follow the show footsteps (and that’s why I choose to use the Book Snob Glossary for the show characters’s names). The ambiance is the exact same as in the show. Some of your characters will get killed mercilessly for shock value. Ethan for example, is killed by Ramsay Sue at the end of episode one. Sure, it made you more motivated to win the game and save your family. But since the game close on a cliffhanger you are robbed of your own motivation.

RIP Ethan Forrester, your death will have no meaning in the end.

Speaking of being robbed. Every time you try to manage something that is supposed to help the family get out of the shit river they are drowning in, it is going to be taken from you in the most gruesome way. For example, I had managed to secure Rodrick’s betrothal to Elaena Glenmore and gain men for a future battle. Boy was I proud. But no, Ramsay Sue teleported behind by castle and butchered my brother-in-law. I promised my loyalty to Margaery? Could have promised it to Cersei and it wouldn’t have changed a damn thing. It was to a point that when Mira was attacked in King’s Landing I ended-up thinking, “Whatever I do with this knife it’s coming back to bite me in the ass anyway, so I don’t care.”

How many characters die in this? I have 3 of my point of view characters who died (I think two at least must die). Lady Forrester dies. The entire Forrester Household dies. If you kill the character that your audience cares about just to prove that you are daring and that your world is terrible, you are not doing a good writing job. You can finish The Wolf Among Us with only 4 dead characters; all of them victims of the same ‘killer’.

On top of that, there is nearly no way to make the experience morally relevant as it is in The Wolf Among Us. The experience is ultimately little more than frustrating. And yet when it does bother to explore morality, it does so well. Rodrick face to face with Gryff Whitehill is great, Mira’s execution also. But they are tiny lights in something that wanted to look like the show too much to be fully fleshed out.

For a final anecdotal example, the game has the same penchant for sentences that sound badass, just like the show.

Cersei and Daenerys at their finest.


By telling a story without a clear interest other than the shock value, Telltale failed to propose a good quality gaming experience. In other Telltale games (The Walking Dead, Batman), they always get interesting when they focus on the character and their psyche. They did that marvelously well in The Wolf Among Us. They missed the point completely in Game of Thrones.

And that’s why if you ever want to try the Telltale experience, I would advise you to skip Game of Thrones and go directly to The Wolf Among Us. It’s a much better experience and won’t leave you frustrated.

Images Courtesy of Telltale

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