A Game of Thrones: Genesis is the video game adaption of the fantasy saga by George RR Martin, a saga that’s taken the world by storm thanks to the HBO TV series, A Game of Thrones. Taking place long before the events of the show, Genesis lets you play through different stages in the history of the Westoros as various factions. It takes the form of a real-time strategy game, but makes some interesting design decisions that make Genesis somewhat unique in the genre.
Genesis is an RTS, make no mistake, but here the focus is on diplomacy and subterfuge more than combat and warfare.You and your opponents start each mission with a Feudal House which is the only structure that your faction can ever really call its own. Neutral towns, castles, mines and so on populate the land between you, and gameplay normally revolves around the control of these nodes. You can send an envoy to form an alliance with a town which helps you gain resources. These alliances must be protected however, as an enemy envoy can come along and break that alliance. You can protect them by marrying a Noble Lady to the structure creating a blood alliance, or by posting guards in it for example.
Underhanded options aplenty however. You can use spies to set up so called secret agreements whereby it appears to you opponent that he owns the structure, but in reality they have sworn fealty to you. You can use Rogues to incite rebellions in towns, forcing your opponent to send agents to quell the uprising or use the opportunity to take the settlement for yourself. Rogues can also bribe enemy units turning them into turncoats. A turncoat envoy for example will still be controlled by his original owner, but will in fact be setting up fake alliances that appear real to the owner but provide no actual income. Assassins can be used to murder key individuals but can also be bribed into providing you with false kills. Spies can be used to sniff out these turncoats, false alliances and secret agreements.
It is in the above mechanics that Genesis really differentiates itself from other RTS’s. As you go about creating your alliances, undermining your opponent’s and building your forces, you’re never really sure of the strength of your own position. How much has your opponent undermined your efforts? If you find out one of your envoys was a traitor, suddenly every settlement he helped you acquire is suspect. Can you really trust all those allied towns along your borders? Who knows what hidden agreements they may have with your neighbouring rival. If things come to war, how many allies will you really have?
The game is a constant balance of peace which is tracked by a meter. The more aggressive actions a player takes, such as killing peasants, sieging towns and so on, the closer it leans towards war. Other more subtle actions like arrests, subterfuge and releasing prisoners can help to maintain peace. You win by accumulating Prestige through set goals such as being the wealthiest player, being the player with most alliances or being the player with the highest kill count for example. Prestige can be lost by declaring war or, if your lord is unmarried, having your bastard children exposed to name a few. There’s a steep learning curve but after an hour or so of playing the tutorials and the first few campaign missions you should be flying.
For all the interesting and intuitive mechanics involved, Genesis is let down badly in some areas. The biggest is it’s combat system. There isn’t a huge amount of units available, and there’s a rigid rock-paper-scissors system in place. Victory will come more from spamming units than any kind of strategic placement or micro-management. Once you get past the diplomatic/espionage stages of a game, this kind of combat just makes for a boring finale.
Another minor complaint I have is the lack of information provided by the UI. It just isn’t very good at making you aware of events as they occur. While the camera controls are good, picking out your units on the screen can be quite difficult when they’re just one man standing in a crowded village or town.
The graphics are nice, and should look good on older machines. There isn’t a huge amount of detail but everything has a nice quality and design to it with plenty of colour. Plus it looks very nice in motion. Other than the mentioned problems with picking out units it scores well here.
Sound design could use one hell of an improvement mind you. Repetitive dialogue and music will drive you insane fairly quickly and I usually found myself muting the game after an hour of play.
You can play Genesis in various modes. Campaign mode is set over the history of the setting and to be perfectly honest is only good for getting you used to the mechanics. I found the story to be a tad boring and irrelevant, although maybe fans of the lore will find more to love here. House vs House serves as a skirmish mode which I had infinitely more fun in. Multiplayer is the same thing but against real people and to me stands as Genesis’s strongest mode. Matching wits against an AI is one thing, but there really is no thrill like facing down another person in a game of political espionage like this one. Maps can range from small two player affairs with only a couple of neutral nodes to capture, to huge, eight player epics encompassing all of Westeros with lots and lots of neutral nodes.
All in all, A Game of Thrones Genesis is a decent game. It has some genuinely new and interesting mechanics that make it play very differently from it’s competitors in a good way, but at the same time falls flat in other categories. You probably won’t experience another game like it so if you want something a little less war focused, and more about political intrigue and subterfuge then Genesis is definitely worth a look.