Developers: Telltale Games
Publishers: Telltale Games
Plot: While Gared forms a plan to help Ironrath from the Wall, Rodrik has to allow Gryff Whitehill into his home, trying to keep his pride under control.
If Iron from Ice did crippling devastation and The Lost Lords did a glimmer of hope, The Sword in the Darkness acts a repeated kicking in the ribs, in terms of tone. The ‘game of thrones’ is best played by the patient and as the Forresters start to work on their beginnings of a plan, it is up to you, the player, in whichever character you are playing at the time, to keep that patience ticking over. You spend this episode biding your time and trying not to allow the several antagonists to get under your skin and provoke you into making rash decisions. Of course, being a Telltale Games story, this is harder than it sounds.
Rodrik is still in the same situation as before, only the Whitehills are upping the ante, throwing salt in Rodrik’s wounds. Like Sheriff Bigby in Telltale’s last outing, we are forced to play the stereotypical bad-ass, but trapped in a physical state that stops them from being the hero they are. This means that Rodrik is robbed of the abilities that can save the day. He has a limp, his sword arm is healing and his army have abandoned him. Suddenly, his wits have to get him out of his problem, something that becomes even more apparent when Gryff Whitehill takes over his throne room and there is murmurs of a traitor on your counsel. Mira is even more fun to play, as the helpless handmaiden surrounded by the most dangerous characters in the game. While the last two episodes saw her begin to learn how to play the political game that Game of Thrones does so well, this episode sees her reach a level where her enemies begin to view her as a threat. If the misery of your situation is getting too much for you, the lighter side of things come from Gared and Asher. Asher’s story is still a little isolated, even if it does a boast a scene where you take on an army of soldiers and a dragon (yes, a dragon!), but Gared is the right mix of gritty problems and fun. The Wall was a little static in the Lost Lords, but with the addition of a new Ranger, Gared becomes the highlight of the episode, and the character to watch, when you realise what he is planning on doing over the course of the next few episodes.
Let’s start with Mira. When it comes to plot twists and developments, she has the best story. Your choices come into play here and it is fun seeing if the people you have put faith in (were you relying on Margaery, trying to appease Cersei or holding out hope for Tyrion?), were the right ones to ally with. Seeing as we have come to love these characters on the show, the writers handle them well, doing interesting things with them, yet never conflicting with their personalities or character arcs already developed by the TV show. Whenever they do something unexpected, we are less shocked and more questioning ourselves on how did we not see that coming? As each shock development rears its head, we are amazed at the clever writing of Telltale. It’s not quite as grim as the first episode: we are given just enough hope to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but we never lose the sense that we are walking on a tightrope. Rodrik is probably the weak link here, his story more narrative-based. As I said, his arc is more based on patience and you are forced to endure the nightmare of what you are living through, while trying to keep the strong image of the Forresters. Small throwaway decisions could come back to bite you – whether they were made by Rodrik or not – and the show takes pleasure in kicking Rodrik while he is down. The game asks you to let Gryff and his soldiers walk all over you, which sounds easy enough, but as the character does more and more vile things, you will find yourself wanting to stand up to the cold-hearted bastard. You can either provoke him or just sit back, bite your tongue and pray that there is a Game of Thrones-esque death waiting for him a few episodes time.
So yes, once again, we are given a filler episode, but Telltale Games are aware of this. They throw in a few great set-pieces, so the flaws of episodic gaming don’t hurt too much. There is one particular fight at the end of this episode that really hits home. I won’t tell you who fights who, as that spoils half the fun, but it is better than any of Asher’s previous punch-ups, as it has a more personal stake in it. It is structured stronger and has the bitter thought in the back of your mind questioning whether this is the right thing to do. It gives the Sword in the Darkness the kick it needs to make it more memorable than ‘just another level’.
Final Verdict: Yes, this is a slow-burner, but we signed up for this when we bought the Season pass. Telltale give us enough action to care about and we let them weave their impressive story.