Review

A Game of Thrones - Genesis Review (PC)

It’s always tough condensing a whole landscape full of backstabbing politics into a real-time strategy, especially if all that two-faced conniving happens to be from a series of world renowned novels. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a rich world of medieval fantasy with noble houses forever cementing and breaking alliances.

Before the series of books shot to even higher levels of fame thanks to the new HBO series A Game of Thrones, developer Cyanide landed the rights to produce a real-time strategy game, Genesis, which explores the fictional history of Westeros over a thousand years. Much like the source material, Genesis employs diplomacy and dodgy dealings as much as military might. This is split between a story campaign exploring when the Rhoynar arrived in Westeros led by the warrior-queen Nymeria, and a more traditional versus or skirmish mode.

The no frills UI hobbles your management

I haven’t had the pleasure of reading George R. R. Martin’s fictional series, nor have I watched the HBO series on TV soon to enter its second season. I’m entering A Game of Thrones – Genesis purely as a strategy gamer and not as a fan of the fictional world. First up of course is the tutorial where Cyanide explains each of the four main roles of the game before we jump into exploring Westeros; diplomacy, military, the economy and underhanded tactics. It goes without saying that a tutorial alone can make or break a game’s impression. Unfortunately then the first moments of Genesis aren’t exactly an enticing one. Typos and inconsistent narrative aside, I felt the game’s mechanics were thrown a little too quickly at me with the ‘higher level’ tactics equally rushed.

Sure, a tutorial needn’t detail everything as a core part of many strategy games is figuring how they tick on your own, which can be the most fun; learning curves are double edged as they demand investment but can really pay off if you find something to stick with. Essentially Genesis is a ‘capture the node’ strategy where we employ alliances to keep control of strategic points as long as we can to either satisfy the current campaign objective or to amass 100 prestige points to win the match. Of course there are a number of ways to take control of these nodes, which are towns, mines, castles and even religious sites.

The primary route is straight up diplomacy which isn’t hard as you send out envoys to form alliances with settlements. Each location has a gauge underneath its emblem to signify its status: it’s neutral, it’s hostile, or it’s an ally. The gauge fills up when an envoy first arrives and becomes green as your house cements an alliance which earns you a trickle of resources. Gold is the primary resource with food following just after to feed your marshalled armies. You or the enemy can take over each other’s towns and the like simply by sending an envoy to undermine their standing relationship and eventually have them switch sides. This can be stopped though by keeping an envoy at your controlled properties, which dismisses a rival envoy back to their Lord’s feudal home.

Initially this is the main tactic to grab as much of the land as you can, deploy an envoy or two. Soon enough you’ll need to advance to new strategies as A Game of Thrones – Genesis uses a rock-paper-scissors style to deal with special units, which all relate to the underhanded side of things. For instance you can bribe an envoy to work for you, meaning they’ll be a spy in your rival’s house and as a result will create false alliances with settlements they send them to. This is where things get interesting but also complicated as you will eventually start uncovering false and secret agreements beside the more honest alliances. Spies are invaluable for keeping tabs on enemy movements but also to watch your own agents out in the field. If a turncoat is discovered they can be imprisoned for ransom or even released later to promote peace. Assassins play a significant role too in taking out nuisance units quietly without having to resort to mercenary bands.

Visuals aren't championing anything this century

The economy is the lifeblood of any strategy title and here it’s the merchants travelling between towns, mines and castles that are vital. You could target them to starve a house of their income if you so choose. Admittedly you maybe too busy to consider that option much because as each game unfolds the nodes of the map suffer an endless stream of attacks by your rivals and it can descend into a plate-spinning nightmare. In fact it occurred to me that Genesis has a pinch of ‘tower defence’ to it because of the constant threats. If secret or false agreements weren’t trouble enough you can also use Rogues to ferment unrest in towns, which can then spread to others.

Inevitably you’ll need to employ armed forces, either mercenaries or an army, to keep certain tactics of your opponents either foiled completely or at least at bay for a while longer. War is a tricky matter in Genesis as it can drastically affect a house’s prestige points heavily penalising someone if they don’t actually plan politically. A peace bars sits atop the screen which slowly degrades as aggressive or underhanded actions are taken. Once it’s empty then all out war is declared and it's time for the armies to march. To be honest though military forces aren’t exactly a major concern as by the time war is about to break out someone’s already gotten their 100 prestige points and won; they’re not difficult to accumulate.

For a game set in such a rich world of lore, Genesis is notably barren and shallow – marrying noble ladies is just a ‘node upgrade’. No towns, mines, castles or even feudal homes carry any namesakes from Westeros. The visual appeal of the game world is low as well, looking a decade out of date with units taking a frustrating amount of time to travel across the map. In a game that gets hectic fast with all the rock-paper-scissor action going on and the relentless defence of settlements, the user interface is lacklustre and frankly not fit for purpose. Deploying agents and armed forces are the crux of the game yet the menus to recruit them are bland and difficult to distinguish between, which is unforgiveable when the heat turns up and you need another contingent of envoys, assassins and mercenary riders as fast as you can click.

A diamond in the rough was the voice over work for the campaign which is easy to listen too, although overall I cared little for the characters involved. They’re simply a girl or guy in charge barking orders. The music accompanying the game wasn’t too bad either, and while not inspiring much epic fantasy it was a least pleasant to enjoy in the background.

Bastard! Strategy appears deep but feels hollow

Having not followed the books or the TV show I can’t definitely state what A Game of Thrones - Genesis is missing point for point, but as a strategy gamer I do know it's missing heart. Cyanide seem to have neglected any romanticism of the time period or narrative lore in favour of creating what they felt was an intense and unyielding conflict of politics, intrigue and war. I couldn’t help but feel they overextended and even lost themselves a little amidst all the rock-paper-scissor dynamics going on, which if done well can be a real thought provoker, whereas here it just becomes too much.

If you’ve just come from a literary binge of A Song of Ice and Fire, or just had a marathon of HBO’s high production TV show you might be tempted by the lure of Cyanide’s A Game of Thrones - Genesis. However if you’re that invested in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy universe you’re likely to be left pretty angry, whereas newcomers like me leave feeling just dazed and confused. Considering the source material and the premium asking price (£29.99 in the UK), A Game of Thrones – Genesis undoubtedly disappoints even the most adventurous strategy aficionado.

Top Game Moment: Sadly I didn't experience much of anything I'd consider a 'top moment'. It could have been so much more.

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Comments

By Kres (SI Elite) on Oct 04, 2011
Kres
I nearly bought the game as there's not much on the strategy side going on on the market...

But a huge patch for Shogun 2 was released a few days ago! I just saw it... I hope they resolved those CTDs that I was experiencing... so gonna be medling with that for the moment...
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Oct 10, 2011
FoolWolf
Had a feeling this would be the outcome and waited for a review. Seems you helped me save money and time to spend on other games.