The Song of Fire and Ice series came up on a lot of people’s radar earlier this year when the HBO series of A Game of Thrones ran. Trying to hop on the back of that fantastic series, A Game of Thrones: Genesis tries to tell the stories of the people who made Westeros what it is. But can Genesis live up to the quality that the show and books have? Unfortunately, not exactly. A Game of Thrones: Genesis is a fun strategy title, that can drag on a bit, and doesn’t have nearly the same quality of storytelling that the series does.
The premise of Genesis is to tell the stories of the people and the Houses that made the land of Westeros what it is. While some of these events and tie-ins will provide fans of the series with interesting story bits, anyone who isn’t a fan will find themselves being almost wholly uninterested. As someone who has only watched the show and not read the books, I found myself generally bored by the story; the many typos and spotty voice acting didn’t help push things along either.
Luckily, the gameplay of Genesis does turn out to be a fresh take on the real time strategy genre, but it’s not without its faults either. Genesis has an interesting take on the RTS genre. Whereas most games make you build up huge armies to decimate your opponents, Game of Thrones encourages subterfuge and deceit in order to win. Just as these themes play a significant role in Martin’s books, so do they play a large part in the gameplay of Genesis. There is a wealth of different units to use in the game, the most basic of which is. Instead of a soldier or knight, your basic unit is an envoy. These units convert enemy or neutral towns over to your side so they become your allies. An envoy can convert any area that doesn’t have another envoy in it; of course envoys are also the weakest units in the game.
From this point the real trickery of the gameplay system sets in. Spies are used to see through the fog of war, and they can also use them to form secret agreements or infiltrate an enemy unit. The catch with this though, is that your enemy can’t see the secret agreement or unit unless they check it with their own spy. Unfortunately, the same thing can also happen to you. You also have other units like the assassins that you use to, you guessed it, assassinate targets that you want dead. Rouges will instigate uprising in towns making them easier to conquer, noble ladies wed with villages to form blood pacts that strengthen relationships with your allies, and guards will haul away any traitors you find.
These underhanded systems are easily the most interesting part of Genesis and when they are all working correctly in unison, the game can be a ton of fun. Unfortunately, though, the basic combat in the game isn’t nearly as compelling. You use the bulk of your units when you’re in times of peace, but if too many attacks on characters happen in a match, the game will switch to a time of war. This is where you get a chance to use the combat oriented units in the game. You have a few different units to use like swordsman, archers, and mounted knights. Each of these units takes the form of a small group, but the combat just feels sluggish and broken. You spend most of your time waiting for your units to complete their assigned actions than you do actively playing the game. In addition, the giant battles that are supposed to take place in the campaign are completely uninteresting to watch and you don’t get an idea of the scale that they really should be.
It is also important to note there are two resources in the game. Gold is what allows you to build units and do research. You gain this at a constant rate through your main town, but you also open new trade routes as you gain more allies which gives you more gold. The other resource is food that you need to feed your troops. This is gained by building farmers and having them farm certain fields on the map.
The best part of Genesis is clearly not the campaign, but rather the stand-alone skirmishes you can do against other players and computer opponents. In this mode, up to 8 players can take part in a match on one map. These skirmishes use the full capabilities that you have, and you even end up having to purchase certain skills or moves for your units. The spy’s secret agreement is one such example. In these matches, you are required to accrue a certain amount of prestige points for your house in order to win. Prestige points are given to players for things like having the highest amount of allies, or killing the most units.
Skirmish matches give you a glimpse of the great strategy experience that A Game of Thrones Genesis could have been, but as they go on longer and longer it becomes even harder to play. For some reason, there is no automation to what your units do and as you build unit after unit, it really becomes hard to keep track of everything. In a way, Genesis has too many systems for you to keep track of. Forging new alliances, while checking for secret agreements and fighting off enemy units can get incredibly overwhelming especially on the larger maps with more players. Genesis has some great systems and interesting gameplay, but it gets bogged down by the immense amount of stuff that you have to keep track of.
It is also tremendously hard to come by any multiplayer matches online, which could have been the real saving grace here. This leaves you with nothing but the campaign and AI skirmishes, where the AI doesn’t always perform incredibly well.
The graphics and sound are both a mixed bag with the game. Graphics are generally pretty decent all around, but characters do look a bit ugly and things can look a bit rough in general at times. Music when you hear it, is pretty forgettable and the voice acting ranges from mediocre to just god awful. This doesn’t help with the already boring story when the voice actors seem completely uninterested in what they’re doing. Also baffling is how grammatically poor some of the dialogue is. The dialogue could use a healthy dose of editing, and it’s surprising that a game based on a literary work could turn out to have such poorly written dialogue.
A Game of Thrones: Genesis is an interesting new take on real-time strategy. The deceit focused gameplay can be a ton of fun, but minor annoyances and a maelstrom of things to keep track of really slow the game down. The poor voice acting and boring campaign certainly don’t help to speed things along either. Fans of the series may find something of worth here, as well as serious real time strategy players. There are some interesting new gameplay mechanics in place, but this may be one adventure that’s best left unexplored for a lot of people.
*Focus Home provided Slimgamer.com with a promo code for a review copy.