Also available on: N/A
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
One would be forgiven for mistaking Game of Thrones: Genesis as a tie-in to the popular HBO television series that managed to achieve a higher level of fame than its source material. It is in fact a real-time strategy that serves as a prequel to George R R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice novels.
Anyone not well versed in the relevant literature will be left out in the cold. If the names Targaryen and Lannister mean nothing to you, then this will come across as a disjoined series of campaigns. At best, it's a bog stand example of its genre, though strategy fanatics may find some ephemeral kicks in multiplayer mode.
Players hoping to jump into open warfare from the off will be disappointed. Campaigns are marathons rather than sprints as you turn to bribery and sabotage to weaken the infrastructure of rival families before wielding your military might.
Victory can be achieved through diplomacy, treachery or military dominance, but Genesis feels restrictive and linear, dictating which path you take by locking out certain classes of units until it deems them necessary.
The game opens at a snail's pace, preventing you from amassing a sizeable army by withholding many of the unit types and offering scarce resources. Watching armies clash is dull and uninvolving. Battles lack impact and poor AI peppers them with frustration.
As units will stand idly by while their comrades are being slaughtered several feet away unless you intervene, you'll feel more like a babysitter than the commander of an army. The developers have at least attempted to incorporate some strategy. You can order your forces to wait in ambush, but since enemy AI won't react to units unless they are under their noses, this feature is practically redundant.
Given the lacklustre skirmishes, the emphasis tends to fall on diplomacy and underhand tactics. Gameplay revolves around holding map nodes for as long as your current objective specifies, and it's entirely possible to maintain these strategic points without spilling the blood of your enemies.
Nodes are usually neutral towns or strongholds that can be claimed by sending your envoys in. However, it isn't always so simple. An enemy spy could well have arrived there first and earned the town's favour, or your envoy could even be assassinated on the spot if the node's allegiances lie elsewhere.
With its strong focus on deception and espionage over unabashed brawn, Genesis could have offered a worthwhile alternative to mainstream RTS titles were it not let down by poor execution and drab presentation. The map layouts are dull and military units too small to discern any of their finer details.
For a game that calls most of the shots, Genesis could be a lot more helpful to the player. There are dozens of features missing that any strategy game worth its salt should include. The option to place your troops on patrol would have been most useful, as would advance notice on when alliances expire. A 'save anywhere' function, rather than checkpoints would also have been most welcome.
As a literary tie-in, you might be expecting something in the way of compelling narratives or character development. Perish the thought. As we mentioned earlier, the campaigns don't feel like they form an overarching plot, usually ending on a disappointing note. Great Lords have about as much character as crash test dummies, their avatars doing little beyond standing around and relaying generic mission instructions.
Fortunately, it's not all bad. Multiplayer modes aren't restricted in the same way that the solo campaign is, so players are allowed free reign on strategy. You'll still have the opportunity to side with or double cross computer-controlled families, but at least you can amass an army at will for when war is declared.
Tie-in games don't exactly have a glowing track record, but surely the Game of Thrones licence could have been put to more effective use than this. Genesis is certain to shift a good few copies because of the name on the box, but fans of the novels and TV show will likely feel let down by its poor execution.
Strategy veterans will be equally disappointed, not least because the makings of a good game are in there somewhere. Unfortunately, enjoyable multiplayer modes and what feels like a fresh approach are negated by restrictive gameplay, dull presentation and poor combat.
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