Game Reviews

Game of Thrones: Ascent

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Game of Thrones: Ascent

Since almost everyone nowadays plays mobile games and almost everyone nowadays read or watches Game of Thrones and the intersection between the two groups is probably near 100 percent, it's perhaps surprising we haven't seen more mobile titles based on the franchise.

But here's a new one. Game of Thrones: Ascent is a Facebook game that's made the tiny leap over to iPad in free-to-play form.

Given that appalling pedigree, fans of the series could be forgiven for thinking the worst. So, let's get one thing out of the way for the enthusiasts right now.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the business model, and the ups and downs of the strategy framework, this is a stunning recreation of the intricacies of Westeros.


Game of Thrones: Ascent casts players as the minor lords in the story, the often faceless Bannermen who make up the retinues of the great houses.

Although it puts you a little bit in the background, it's a smart choice, leaving the writers free to thread a narrative in, out, and around the canonical tale.

And those same smart writers have a keen eye for the little details that make Game of Thrones what it is.

For a static, button-and-menu-driven strategy title in which characters are given no more space to express themselves than a few snippets of text, it does an extraordinary job of nailing the personalities involved. You can almost hear the actors from the TV series mouthing their lines as you read them off the screen.

Militia: Ugly enough to put you off buying them since 1066

This tangible sense of place extends to the strategy element of the game. You collect resources like iron, wood, and silver currency, and use them to gradually build up a stronghold and connected civic buildings, and to recruit and equip a retinue of followers called Sworn Swords.

This is, of course, very old hat stuff. But it's amazing how much tiny touches like calling your human resource "smallfolk" instead of "peasants", or referring to your religious buildings as the "sept" or "godswood" rather than "temple" can help bring Westeros to life in the palms of your hands.

The balancing of the various factors, in terms of requiring resources to make buildings in order to make new resources and upgrades available, is handled skilfully but without imagination.

There's some strategy here if you care to look for it, sure, but it takes time to understand how things interrelate and the strategic side of things isn't terribly challenging.

You knew The Hand was going to die before you started, right?

The purpose behind building up your holdings and retinue is to improve your chances of success in single-player quests and occasional multiplayer forays.

Adventures are constructed so that while they give the appearance of choice, the results eventually circle around to keep you on the same plot track. Again, though, being able to pick between the old gods and the new gods add bags of flavour to the experience. Makes all the difference.

Sadly, the adventure system is where the free-to-play aspects really start to take effect. That immersive feeling the game has worked so hard to build up is disrupted all of a sudden. Quests require you to send a Sworn Sword, you see, but almost everything in Game of Thrones: Ascent is blocked by a timer you can pay to speed up.

Is this a timer I see before me?

It's kind of understandable when it takes a few hours for your smithy to produce something. But when you suddenly need to stop the King's horses being stolen, find you can't because all your Swords are locked behind other timers, and discover the thieves will obligingly wait around for you, apprehending them kind of ruins the mood.

Game of Thrones: Ascent reminds me a lot of the sort of mass participation browser-based strategy games that were popular in the early days of the internet. Only back then, you waited because there had to be a mechanic in place to stop people prepared to spend all day at the computer gaining a competitive advantage. Now, though, you wait because the developers and publishers want more money.

It's a shame. But if you want the best recreation of Westeros we've seen in video gaming so far, it's the price you're going to have to pay.

Game of Thrones: Ascent

A rich evocation of the wonders of Westeros, marred slightly by an overly light strategy model and significantly by egregious free-to-play elements