You have to wonder sometimes. I mean, I wonder if sometimes a development studio will beaver away on a game while the marketing bods tout for business, and then if a nice piece of intellectual property comes their way, they fit their game around it? This would explain a couple of random and wacky (but ultimately successful) games like Puzzle Fighter and Lego Star Wars.
Unfortunately, it also feels a bit like this is what's happened with “A Game of Thrones: Genesis”. Ostensibly based around the dernier cri fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire”, and of course spurred on by the successful recent TV adaptation “Game of Thrones”, this is an RTS that revolves around the central idea that envoys, spies and assassins are as important to your success as knights, mercenaries and other blokes with pointy bits of metal.
Now, here’s the thing: It’s an RTS. That means the usual frenetic pointing-and-clicking, sending your minions hither and yon as fast as you can while concentrating on recruiting more back home at the same time. It’s fast-paced (like any other RTS) yet it requires deep thought, careful planning, and a chess-like mentality where you read your opponents’ intentions and counteract them with the same underhanded tactics. Sounds great, right?
Well… I suppose it could have been. Maybe. The first big stumbling block is this mixture of paces, however. RTS works to capture maybe a little of the urgency felt by battlefield commanders, planning rapid deployments on the fly, countering enemy pushes with little to no warning and staying cool under mounting pressure. What it doesn’t really lend itself to is the long game; the conniving, backstabbing world of courtly intrigue and deception.
In most cases, you’ll begin a map by sending out your envoys to nearby towns, playing a sort of ‘control-point capture’ game: leave an envoy in a town for a bit and that town will come over to your side, allowing your merchants to make regular runs between them and your home base, bringing in much-needed cash. Spies can be sent out to establish secret deals with towns that currently support your enemies, and assassins can kill enemy envoys and the like. So far, so good. Now, you will need plenty of spies to keep an eye on all of your own towns, because the enemy will be subverting them constantly. Meanwhile, both you and the enemy can play other trumps such as bribing envoys and spies, who will continue to work for their own side but not actually provide the results they claim to be providing, so you don’t know if that town really supports you or not… Now, don’t forget, we’re playing an RTS, so all of this is happening at the usual breakneck speed, with no time for real strategic planning. It’s all you can do to stay up to date on what’s happening, and the whole diplomatic game tends to feel reactive and rushed.
Towns, mines, and castles have no real individual personality – they’re merely control points to split up the map. The unique-yet-familiar fantasy world that the fans have grown to love tends to feel a bit like it’s had the love and care sucked out of it, leaving nothing that really sets it apart from any other fantasy RTS. The game is set long before the events of the popular series, so don’t expect to see Tyrion Lannister sarcasming everyone to death here. The whispered blackmails and secret passages of King’s Landing, so ripe for a videogame, have been overlooked in favour of a lukewarm RTS that has really failed to deliver its admittedly interesting idea of a war through words and influence.
Frankly, I don’t think an RTS is a good fit for the Game of Thrones universe. Obviously, an RPG would be perfect, and the developers of this game are working on just such a title – here’s hoping for much more from that. Even a turn-based strategy could have worked well, perhaps even with something like the RTS battle scenes from the Total War games. As it is, when armed conflict finally does break out in A Game of Thrones: Genesis, all of the envoys just clear off and it changes from one lacklustre RTS to another.
I really wanted to love this game, not just because I’m a fan of the books but because this is the first game I’ve reviewed using the new Chillblast Fusion Vector (which we here at Game Debate HQ have christened “THE CHILLAXE”). Of course, system requirement-wise, the Chillaxe eats games like this for breakfast, but Genesis should run OK on anything with about a 3 or 4 star graphics card and a dual-core processor. I’d find it hard to really recommend it even to a fan of the books or TV series at this point, however. One benefit of playing it on our awesome new machine is that we’re certain that what we are seeing is the best possible graphics setting, and things still look pretty mediocre.
It bears repeating that what Cyanide Studios attempted here was a laudable, interesting take on a well-worn genre. Unfortunately, when putting the game together, they forgot to add the fun. I’m hoping that this means they’ve got twice as much left over to add to the Game of Thrones RPG next year.