The impact of ‘Game of Thrones’ on the world of popular culture is, at this point, undeniable. Thanks to the success of the HBO program, what began as a series of brutal fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin has transformed into a multimedia juggernaut, with the latest entry being the iOS title, Game of Thrones: Ascent. If you've played a social game before, you probably have a good idea of what's in store for you here, although there are a few noteworthy differences to keep your interest piqued.
When you're just beginning to play Game of Thrones: Ascent, try not to look around the various menus too much until they've been introduced to you naturally via the numerous tutorials. There is a lot to do here, and it's easy to become overwhelmed. Once you've chosen your name and an avatar of whatever gender, ethnicity and sexiness level you like best, you're pulled into a world of deceit, machinations and power-hungry royalty. For those of you who are diehard fans of the HBO series, rest assured— this is an officially licensed title, complete with all the characters, places and music you love. Those who aren't as familiar, however, will likely find themselves confused by the many different names being bandied about. If you don't know who the Starks, or the Lannisters, or the flippin' Tullys are, good luck figuring it out. Also, even though the books and television series are famous for their dark brutality, Ascent never gets darker than a darkish grey— don't come in expecting to play a game full of baby murdering and sexual assault.
Like other social games, Game of Thrones: Ascent's moment-to-moment gameplay mostly asks you to make decisions about where to allocate your resources and then wait as these decisions play out. The difference here, however, is that these decisions are actually important and can affect what happens to you. Most quests have multiple dialogue options, each of which can grant different resources and, more interestingly, different alignments. Much like the Light Side/Dark Side alignment system of similar Star Wars games, you'll be asked to make choices that push you towards being loyal to your family or loyal to your realm, new world (ie progressive) or old world (ie an archaically-minded caveman idiot), truthful or cunning. Decisions like these don't always impact the gameplay directly, (though they often do), but the more important factor here is how but they allow you to craft a choose-your-own-adventure-esque narrative for your character, deepening the role-playing experience.
Outside of the branching dialogue choices of quests, there are dozens of other activities to spend your time on, like maintaining and upgrading a fortress, training and equipping your companions and choosing a family banner you think is the purtiest. Since this is a free-to-play title, however, there is a catch to all this: time. After you make it through the first few introductory chapters you'll find that most activities require progressively longer and longer amounts of time to complete— a decision made by the developers to push you towards the in-game store to make a few almighty in-app purchases. These purchases are generally pretty overpriced, with fees that go as high as $100, which is a ridiculous amount to ask someone to pay to play something like this. Also, it should be noted that Ascent is kind of buggy. It crashes, it glitches and it could use a little more polish.
If you're patient of hand, strong of wit and wish that you, too, could play the game of thrones, Game of Thrones: Ascent may scratch that itch. Sure, it's free-to-play, and it does plenty of the underhanded moves that free-to-play games like to do, like pushing you towards making overpriced in-app purchases to give you a temporary boost. If you can get past that you'll find an approachable, yet complex, role-playing game that offers a lot do, but never manages to quite break away from the shallowness of the freemium genre.
This review is based on a downloaded copy of Game of Thrones: Ascent for iOS.