Story makes up the vast majority of this adventure. This is a good thing because the elements surrounding the plot can't reach the lofty heights of the story. Combat thrusts so many ideas at you early on that it's initially overwhelming. Attributes and percentages flood the screen, and though a tutorial spells out what everything means, there are so many things to keep track of that you fear you're missing something important. Which sword should you use against heavy armor? What does it mean when an enemy starts bleeding? These answers become second nature in time, and it's when everything clicks that it becomes apparent just how simple the combat system really is.
Action takes place in real time. To select an attack, you bring up a radial menu that slows everything down to a crawl but doesn't pause the action. This is a smart system because it keeps you moving and attacking while still giving you just enough time to plan out your line of attack. Your repertoire is loaded with all manner of different moves. Buffs, defensive feints, offensive strikes, potions, and an assortment of other abilities populate your move menu, and figuring out the best time for each of these requires some thought. But the most important of your tools is the interrupt attack. This freezes your enemies in place, making them vulnerable to any offensive volley. Once you unlock a couple of attacks that interrupt, you can hack away at your foes with little chance of failure. Although this doesn't always work in large groups, it's so effective in the majority of battles that you can cheese your way to victory without worrying about the complex system that lies underneath.
Despite its exploitable nature, combat still manages to be fun. This is in part because it's entertaining to pick on enemies who are weaker than you. Choose the archer class, and you can pepper your enemies with arrows from one foot away while they struggle to stand up. Silly? You bet. A little levity can go a long way, even in Westeros. From a more practical standpoint, each character has a special ability that is empowering to use. Alester is a red priest who has an unhealthy obsession with fire. Set your foes alight, and watch them run around like burning chickens, ensuring that all of their buddies enter the same hellish torment. Mors has an even better trick. He's a warg, so he can inhabit the body of his lovable dog. Scare attackers with your mighty bark, or lunge at their throats with your chopping teeth. You can control your dog outside of combat as well, to track the scent of a fleeing coward or squeeze through a hole in the wall, and this adds some diversity to the exploration.
Even with this dog trick, exploring Westeros isn't that exciting. A half dozen or so locations dot the map, and you fast travel wherever the story tells you to. Once you're in these locales, there's plenty of room to stretch your legs, but the mighty continent feels smaller when you're not walking the land. At least once you arrive at your destination there are interesting side quests to take part in. The fetch quests that make up many role-playing games are absent here, replaced by tasks that require you to make use of your intuition instead. For instance, you might have to preside over a group of suspected felons. Once you listen to their side of the story, you decide whether to set them free or send them to jail, and there's nothing to tell you if your decision was just. Having such power in your hands is a great feeling, so these side missions are a welcome change of pace.
Sadly, even though there are many good aspects in Game of Thrones, you never quite feel as if you're in Westeros. Aged technology with bland artistic design fails to match the majestic vision of this world the books create. Muddy textures and quirky animations abound, and though they aren't egregious enough to pull you out of the story, they fail to draw you further in. Most troubling is how lifeless the cities are. Flea Bottom should be nearly bursting with squalid peasants desperate to survive, but only a smattering of people mill about these parts. Westeros doesn't feel lived in, so even though the visuals do an adequate job, they don't do the great story justice.
Game of Thrones serves as a worthy companion to the novels because it introduces a storyline and characters that fit right in with George R. R. Martin's world. But the story is the only element that's worthy of this great heritage. The other aspects are competently done, but all have enough flaws to serve as a distraction at times. Thankfully, the focus is clearly placed on the story, and those other parts are pleasant enough to get through that the flaws won't derail your fun. Game of Thrones weaves together an enticing string of events that makes it difficult to pull away from.