A Game of Thrones is a beloved fantasy book series by George R.R. Martin and has become a highly praised TV show on HBO. A Game of Thrones: Genesis blatantly attempts to cash in on this praise with a game that, while containing some interesting concepts, falls flat in nearly every possible way. With a story that feels as though it were pulled straight from a wiki, graphics that are beyond atrocious, interesting but soon predictable mechanics, and other technical problems A Game of Thrones: Genesis is a severe let down to any fan of the books or the show.
Genesis takes place decades before any of the books, in a time where the Targaryen dynasty was still being formed. To those who are unfamiliar with the rich history of the series the characters will seem unimportant and trivial until the very end. After a brief and somewhat effective tutorial players can jump into a campaign, House vs House, or multiplayer. The campaign mode takes you through the history of Westeros, the land in which the series takes place, and how through different dynasties the lands were formed and broken.
The campaign is set up in eight chapters that take you from when the first rulers landed all the way up to where relevant and well known characters make their marks in the story's history. Each chapter is split up into a few missions that showcases different lead characters and how they used their respective abilities to gain power. The various houses you play as throughout the game have some differentiating units but for the most part the house is simply a color to designate your similar army with. The tutorials and campaign give a decent introduction to the different types of units in the game and when and how to use them. Genesis is a real-time strategy game through and through. Resources are required to create units, units are used in various ways to gain power, and gaining enough power leads to the destruction of the enemy. This, of course, is a highly distilled explanation of the gameplay. In fact, some of the gameplay elements are the only elements in the entire game that feel somewhat fresh and intriguing.
Genesis focuses more on the ability to politically destroy your enemies rather than just building up a huge army and crushing them, which is still a viable option. Units such as envoys and spies are used to create alliance and secret alliances respectively with towns that neighbor your stronghold. These towns allow you to gain more resources and further your control of the game map. However, enemies can use their own spies and envoys to undermine alliances or create secret alliances behind your back with the towns you "control".
Each unit has its own check when it comes to power, and the game takes on a rock, paper, scissors feel because of this. For example, towns with a married noblewoman can't have secret alliances unless an assassin kills the noblewoman. However, if the noblewoman has guards to protect her the assassin will be arrested unless properly upgraded. This arrest can lead to countless possibilities including disguises and peace treaties.
The political game that goes on in each game of Genesis can be a bit overwhelming at first, and playing through all the tutorials is highly recommended. Of course war can be declared when certain situations arise and this brings on a new layer of gameplay. Declaring war breaks alliances and empowers other agreements while also leading to the production of armies who may sack and pillage towns freely.
The gameplay is deep, there is no denying that the amount of counters and back-stabs present in a single game can be astounding. The problems arise when the mechanics begin to repeat due to the AI. After a few games it becomes too easy to figure out what to do next, putting certain units in the right spots at the right time is almost guaranteeing a win. The multiplayer option may provide some differentiation for players but good luck finding a game to play. Ranked games can take up to 30 minutes to get connected, due to low player activity, and open games are few and far between.
Another strange factor of the single player is the House vs. House mode. This allows players to choose from set situations that pit two or more royal houses against one another. There is no free selection to have one specific house face another, instead the game has set battles and the player can decide which pre-selected house to play as. This mode also requires players to buy every unit to unlock it before being able to spawn the unit, this is the same for the units' special abilities. Coming from the campaign that gives you characters with abilities already functional it feels like a major setback to have to unlock each individual, and often inexpensive, ability. The mechanics are interesting for a while but after a few hours Genesis loses its muster.
There is no excuse for the look of A Game of Thrones Genesis. When small teams of five or six people can put out graphically intriguing games having a game look as though it is five years old in this era is embarrassing. The opening cut scene is nothing too special and the in game graphics are just atrocious. From a completely zoomed out prespective all you can see is houses, castles, and flags to represent units. Perhaps that's all that should be seen because zooming in makes the player suffer through awkward animations, ugly unit design, strange frame rate issues with units, and just an overall bad looking game. Sound design is just as rough as characters are voiced with acting that either sounds way overdone or as though the actor was just reading with a bad English accent.
Strategy games can be some of the most intense and exciting games, whether they revolve around building armies or building alliances. Genesis tries to allow room for both and the end result just isn't very fun. After the first couple of missions the units become typical and the same strategy can be used for almost every battle with minor adjustments. Having a game focused on the political schemes going on behind the scenes of a land that is on the brink of war is great. That is exactly what the books and show create in the world, it's too bad that the game fails to capitalize on the intrigue the series has already laid down.
There are too many strategy games out right now to warrant giving A Game of Thrones: Genesis a try. With games out there like Starcraft 2, Civilization V, and Total War: Shogun 2 it just isn't viable to play Genesis when it feels stale and unfinished. Even for fans of the books or show it just isn't a good enough game, even in the fan service perspective, to go out and spend $40 on. Do yourself a favor and read the books, then go play a better strategy game.