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A Game of Thrones: Genesis

Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Understatement of the year: I'm a fan of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga. His fantasy novels are easily among the best I've ever read, and that's primarily because of how unique they are. At first glance, it's low medieval fantasy at its best, a dark, violent, political story that often eschews black and white morality in favor of gray ambiguity. But the characters and conflicts... I could go on and on about this series (and everyone who knows me is aware that I often do), but I think that would be best saved for when the first season of HBO's television adaptation gets a home release. This is a review of A Game of Thrones: Genesis, a real-time strategy game that is almost as inventive as the books themselves. However, innovative doesn't always mean entertaining.

Brienne of Tarth is prettier than A Game of Thrones: Genesis. For those of who you haven't read A Clash of Kings, all you need to know is that the Warrior Maiden of Tarth is mockingly nicknamed "The Beauty" in reference to her lack of grace and general physical ugliness. There's no getting around it. It's got nothing to do with hardware; this simply wasn't designed as an attractive game, and it's a shame. While Westeros can hardly be described as opulent, it's a more interesting place than Genesis would have you believe. And though this game takes place long before the events of the novels, I still wish the artists could have done more to make the world stand out. If it isn't bland, it's an eyesore. That statement applies to nearly everything in A Game of Thrones: Genesis, most notably the user interface. And that's best saved for later.

A Game of Thrones: Genesis sounds better than it looks, but that almost goes without saying. Nothing about the audio presentation is identifiable with the franchise, and that unfortunately involves the fact that Ramin Djawadi's fantastic orchestral work on Game of Thrones is nowhere to be found. There really isn't much to listen to, though there are little touches here and there that serve as reminders that the developers are fans of the books. For example, all assassins appear to be part of the Sorrowful Men, a guild of bravos who offer their sincere apologies moments before taking out their quarry. This stuff doesn't save the game from its own shortcomings by any means, but it's definitely worthy of mention.


As the subtitle implies, A Game of Thrones: Genesis takes place long before the events of the novel, going back as far as Nymeria's landing on the coasts of Dorne. The game doesn't really go the distance in terms of storytelling; rather, it introduces you to famous characters of Westerosi history and has them act as the de facto Jim Raynors of their chapters. It's a neat touch, but a story as huge and as amazing as A Song of Ice and Fire deserves a video game that can complement and flesh out the source text. Unfortunately, Genesis does not fill that role successfully.

StarCraft. Company of Heroes. Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War. All real-time strategy games that have next to nothing in common with A Game of Thrones: Genesis. Yes, all of these feature an isometric map and all of these feature the accruing and spending of revenue (on units and the like). However, most real-time strategy games focus on base-building and the inevitable (and often intense) physical conflict. While there certainly is some of that here, A Game of Thrones: Genesis concerns itself largely with political intrigue and deception. Secret alliances, subterfuge, and bribery are paramount in this game, or as King Robert Baratheon would say, "backstabbing and scheming and arse-licking and money-grubbing."


A Game of Thrones: Genesis is so unlike other real-time strategy games that it's naturally hard as the seven hells. The difficulty curve is monstrous, and knowing that it comes with the territory makes it a bit easier to forgive. More difficult to forgive is the messy user interface.

Over the course of each chapter, you must keep close tabs on all of your units, as none of them are ever safe in any way (a proud Song of Ice and Fire tradition). Everyone is in danger of being killed off (even Noble Ladies) or corrupted. A healthy supply of Spy units can stave off the threat of having your forces bought off, but this leads to a ton of micromanagement. Of course, this is real-time strategy; micromanagement is part of the game. If you're an RTS fan who's more averse to this sort of thing, turn back now.

Game Mechanics:

If you're a well-traveled strategy gamer, consider A Game of Thrones: Genesis a 3X game. There are technically three different types of victory, and each falls in line with Martin's universe. You can practically transform your empire into the Iron Bank of Braavos (by satisfying criteria that rewards you prestige), you can unleash your inner Littlefinger by playing the politics and swaying the world to your side, or you can raise your armies and crush your enemies in a way that would make Tywin Lannister himself smile. Most of the single-player missions have you following a set path, but the multiplayer allows you to spread your wings a bit more.

What's really interesting about Genesis is how much emphasis is placed on non-fighting units. Of course, envoys and spies are most useful during maritime, but once open conflict breaks out, they're still handy to have around. At least, as long as you can still determine if they're playing for your side. The violent, wide-scale conflict the books and television series are famous for is certainly a part of Genesis, but straight-up warfare definitely takes a back seat to the game's fresher, riskier elements. There's a subtle difference between your average Zerg rush and marrying one of your noble ladies into another House. Sending spies around the countryside to make (and discover) secret alliances is fun, but it's not always exciting, even if you know your opponent is likely trying to cut an underhanded deal out of your sightline. While the ideas are great, this slower, admittedly less exciting approach will undoubtedly turn some gamers off.

The single-player campaign doesn't come close to reaching its full potential, but I found myself oddly enamored with the House vs. House mode. This mode lets you play the game at your own pace and (for the most part) by your own rules. Up to eight players can play, depending on your choice of scenario/map. Situations rise and resolve themselves naturally, and if they end up tilting the odds in your favor, you feel like a brilliant tactician. Maybe it's because I found a dependable friend to play against who was every bit as much in need of acclimatization and practice as I was. If you're interested in what this game brings to the table, I strongly urge you to do the same. There's a lot of minutiae to this one, and some gamers online are learning much faster than others.

I have to hand it to Cyanide Studio: they have some really good ideas at work in A Game of Thrones: Genesis, and more importantly, they completely understand how Westerosi politics work. The campaign feels like a missed opportunity, but the multiplayer shows that this concept has promise. However, the difficulty curve, sloppy user interface and slow pace will scare off more than its share of newcomers. In the end, when you play A Game of Thrones: Genesis, you win, you die, you scratch your head, or you fall asleep.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Minimum System Requirements:

AMD/Intel Dual-Core Processor 2.2 GHZ, 256 MB DirectX9/Shaders 3.0-compatible ATI Radeon X1600 XT/INTEL HD/NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT or higher, 10 GB HDD Space

Test System:

AMD Athlon 64X2 Dual-Core Processor 6400+, NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS, SoundMAX Integrated Digital HD Audio, Windows Vista, Sony DVD RW AW-G170A ATA Device, 2x 1GB DDR2 at 400MHz

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