The Reins of Castamere.
Reviewed on PC – Steam Key provided by publisher.
The vast lore of Game of Thrones makes the series a prime subject for video games. Game of Thrones: Conquest is a strategic real-time strategy game designed for mobile platforms, and Telltale has even produced a Game of Thrones series which parallels the television storyline and builds upon the world fans know and love. Now, Devolver Digital has brought Reigns: Game of Thrones to the table, which turns the world of Westeros into a hypothetical “choose your own adventure” game, utilizing a deck of cards and a minimalist art style. This Game of Thrones video game may have the most potential of any before it – it’s certainly piqued my interest and will undoubtedly be on any fan’s radar.
Reigns begins with a potential endgame scenario in which Daenerys Targaryen has taken the Iron Throne. As queen of Westeros, you are tasked with managing your resources to keep your empire – and yourself – alive as long as possible. As this is a game of resource management, there are four meters at the top of your screen to keep in check at all times. The sword is controlled by military action; the seven-pointed star concerns your religious affairs; the tiny person obviously represents your cooperation with your citizens, and the coin represents your ever-unstable funds. One particularly thrilling aspect is how season changes can affect certain resources. For example, once winter comes, decisions involving the people can leave a much more negative impact, should you choose the wrong path, making it extremely stressful to multitask.
Decision-making is much harder than the simple Tinder style gameplay would have you believe. Players navigate a never-ending deck of cards with dialogue written on them, and they can either swipe right or left to pick positive or negative responses, respectively. Having only two options to choose from makes the consequences of one’s actions much heavier. This is both a blessing and a curse, as the action moves much quicker this way, but not thinking things through can result in an extremely quick death. Death isn’t something to fool around with, either, as it is a permanent punishment. “Choose your own adventure” is the best way to describe Reigns, for if you make a wrong turn, you’re back to square one, just like the children’s books of yesteryear.
Fortunately, making decisions and leading a nation is fairly entertaining. There are so many options to choose from and 60 characters to meet along the way, including fan favorites like Samwell Tarly, Varys, and the Sand Snakes. These characters come to you, as their ruler, and ask for guidance, advice, and assistance in their daily lives. Every so often a council meeting is held, which allows you to make decisions regarding new projects, military negotiations, and public opinion. The effects of these meetings can result in massive amounts of resources being lost, characters being removed from their post, or close allies being wiped out completely (poor Varys). Being able to completely alter the Game of Thrones canon in such a way never gets old.
Being able to completely alter the Game of Thrones canon in such a way never gets old.
Being able to alter the timeline is just the beginning of Reigns‘s craziness. Not only does Daenerys take her place on the Iron Throne in this game, but the player gets to control one of 9 different heirs to live out their fantasy as ruler of Westeros. In the first hour alone, I played as Daenerys, Tyrion, and Jon Snow, and each character lived a vastly different lifestyle than the last. The coolest thing is that unlike a Telltale game where one must live with their choices for the whole season, once the player dies in Reigns, they can change their entire approach and try again. My first playthrough, I made my Daenerys sympathetic, but when I died because I blew my cover saying hello to a stranger in a tavern, I changed my tune and shit on everyone the second time around. Long story short, I haven’t died yet.
At its core, Reigns is a survival game.
At its core, Reigns is a survival game. The aim is to survive as many moons (or day cycles) as possible. This is kept track of at the bottom left of the screen, and it adds a level of tensity to the action at hand. The player is really competing with themselves to see how long they can last, and with every death their score is shown on a leaderboard, compared to previous playthroughs. Hopefully Devolver will add in a function to compete with your friends online via leaderboard. I’d love to see how my resource management skills stack up against some of my buddies.
Reigns definitely has some enticing replayability, in the form of missions and objectives within the game. Each Westerosi leader is given three tasks to accomplish in their playthrough, before they can move on to the next character’s storyline. These can range from meeting with a specific character in the story, to visiting a certain location. These objectives can only be achieved by choosing the right decisions, so they are not always guaranteed, nor are they easy to discover. Death lurks around every corner, what with damning decisions to be made that can reap you of vital resources, to tactical battles that can cause players to die if the right choices are not made under pressure. I found myself victim to the White Walker’s cold hand many a time by simply turning left when I should’ve gone right.
Quite possibly my most favorite part of Reigns is the art style. The game is quite colorful, though it lacks in overall animation. Most characters are represented by hand-drawn stills from the torso up. The only thing that really changes is the occasional death, in which a character will have X’s over their eyes. Background locales are vibrant, however, and colors change with the season (e.g. snow falls during winter). Dialogue is not fully-voiced, opting instead for strange gurgles and mumbles that sound more masculine or feminine, depending on the character that is speaking. This can get annoying, but luckily the voices can be disabled. Most importantly, the entire game is graciously peppered with Ramin Djawadi’s original score, complete with that beautiful, heart-pumping anthem of a theme song. I felt right at home the entire time.
Reigns‘s lifespan relies on Nerial’s commitment to adding fresh new objectives frequently, along with new characters to take the throne, and possibly new story paths that can expand on George R.R. Martin’s beloved lore. As we all know, the television show is ending next year, the books are on an indefinite hiatus, and Telltale’s closing has made any hope of a second Game of Thrones season impossible. Nobody could’ve ever predicted that blending such a popular intellectual property with The Oregon Trail and… Tinder would make for the franchise’s next big thing, but it worked out very well indeed. Reigns: Game of Thrones will definitely keep you occupied on a bus trip, or your lunch break, or those frigid snowy days when you’re stuck indoors. Winter is coming, after all.