Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows Review
To say that Game of Thrones is a phenomenon would be an understatement: from best-selling books to prime-time television and everywhere else—including, of course, games. Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows is the latest entry in the multimedia franchise, the first game since the show’s disheartening ending and an interesting medium to interact with GRRM’s fantasy universe.
Published by Devolver Digital (developers: That Silly Studio) and released on Apple Arcade earlier this month, Tale of Crows is an adventure slash idle game that puts you in the shoes of the Lord Commanders of the Night’s Watch and its 8,000 year-long history. Garrisoned on the fringes of the world, it’s your duty to manage the constant threats the north throws at you: aggressive wildlings, rampaging giants, growing dragons, and, of course, the white walkers.
How you do this is entirely in line with the rest of the game: minimally. Your actions as Lord Commander boil down to responding to events and visitors and sending out ranging parties to complete assorted expeditions. Rangers also have specific character traits that allow them different interactions for certain expeditions, although this isn’t always clear and it doesn’t happen too frequently. During these expeditions, you can make choices concerning what the party does: will you track down and slay a loose giant, or will you let it be? Will you trust a wildling crone, or kill her for her supplies? These decisions would carry more weight if the game assigned any consequence to them, but for the most part it felt like I was picking between two paths that lead to the same destination.
Once you decide upon something, you must wait: this is an idle game, after all, and although the lack of a microtransaction system means the developers don’t have to coerce you into spending money by forcing you to wait hours otherwise, there still is quite a bit of waiting.
While some of the stories are interesting to see through, and conveyed in a short, concise manner that’s great for short bursts of playtime, most are very derivative. Each era seems to have a few of their own quests, which offer something different in terms of narrative and choices, but for the most part you’ll be cycling through a dozen or so recurring expeditions that you’ll be fully acquainted with before the end of the second era.
The storytelling dissonance of encountering basically the same situations and people (down to how they’re dressed and talk to you) thousands of years apart felt palpable to me. It doesn’t help that the game’s systems are almost entirely opaque: expeditions make mention of supplies, food and morale, but there’s no way to gauge how much of these you have or their effect, and it often felt that they were just fluff text that impacted my characters in nothing. The choice of an idle game was clever here: not having to invest too much time or effort into progressing was what made the repetition bearable.
The presentation, on the other hand, is superb: the low poly, cel-shaded graphics are brought to life in detailed and extensive animations, from Castle Black’s winch elevator and your trekking rangers to the local fauna and clouds. It’s all presented very cohesively, too, with a subdued UI that allows the visuals and text to take center-stage. The sounds are equally minimal: sparse chord plucks and piano notes, as well as the sound of the wind blowing, make for most of what you hear, very fitting for the game’s theme and setting.
I’m not sure how to conclude this review—in many ways, Tale of Crows benefits from being exclusively on a subscription service. As part of a greater package, it offers a neat, good-looking way to get back into the Game of Thrones universe, something many fans have wanted to do since the series’ finale, but misses the mark when it comes to the actual gameplay. It’s hard to feel too invested when your decisions seem to carry little weight, and when you have to repeat the same tasks time and again, something that doesn’t mesh well with a text-based game. If you’re already paying for the service, however, it has enough good parts to warrant checking it out.
Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows is available exclusively on Apple Arcade.