The Sword in the Darkness marks the halfway point of Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones, along with the complete evaporation of fears that this season will be anything but spectacular.
It builds confidently on the last episode, ratcheting up the tension while cleverly working in happenings from the books, including the huge drama around Joffrey’s wedding to Margery.
The episode is uniformly exceptional, but the best passages are those that take place at The Wall. Gared Tuttle is now a ranger at Castle Black and getting in with Jon Snow, but his main focus for the Forrestors is finding the North Grove, so a huge betrayal is on the horizon. To complicate things further, an important person from his past has just arrived at the wall.
Across the Narrow Sea, last episode’s standouts Asher and Beshka have fled Yunkai with the Lost Legion swinging steel at their heels. Asher’s Uncle Malcolm has proved a great connection, but the trio aren’t yet out of the frying pan when they find themselves in the fire – dragon fire, to be precise. Finding an army of sellswords to lead back to liberate Ironrath takes a back seat to remaining alive.
Meanwhile, Mira’s deeds in episode two did not go unnoticed, and what appeared to be a great move at the time has come back to haunt her. Raising the cash to pay for the aforementioned mercenary army is her priority, but on the outs with Margery and now with few allies, she’s in a worse position to do so than ever.
Finally, Rodrik continues to heal in Ironrath, but the Whitehill occupation is bolstered by the arrival of fourth born son Lord Whitehill, Gryff. A decision must be made: throw out this new leader and risk the life of Whitehill captive Ryon, or grovel and hope for the best. The introduction of a possible ally does little to alleviate the tension here.
That’s about all that can be said of the plot without getting into spoiler territory, and that would be a shame as there are several crazy relevations here. The Sword in the Darkness isn’t all flash though: the writing is fantastic throughout. Several decisions are agony.
Telltale’s engine still struggles occasionally. Mouse lag makes last-second decision-making fraught – I twice clicked an answer I wasn’t aiming for, much to my chagrin – and there is some minor clipping of swords through character models. But the game is so captivating it doesn’t matter.
A dull first outing had me slightly worried, but now that it’s been followed by two enthralling episodes, I feel confident recommending the first season of Game of Thrones to anyone, familiar with the Telltale style or not. The tense intrigue of the source material is here, and the story instills that perpetual catch-22 feeling that Telltale has made its trademark. The story has expanded meaningfully but still has a miles of space to grow, and the stable of characters hold their own alongside most in Martin’s Game of Thrones world.
It almost makes you feel sorry for the Game of Thrones fans who don't play video games, until you realise that even those without a gaming vocabulary or huge attention span will be able to make their way through this series. Recommend it, play it together, then freak out over how crazy good it is.
Note: Unless there are noteworthy changes to the way the game plays, we won't be reviewing the next three episodes separately as spoilers will become a bigger issue the deeper into the story we get. Instead, we'll review the season as a whole once it's all out or write spoiler-filled reviews if there is enough interest.