Some things sound like they just make sense on paper. Bread and butter. A Lord of the Rings extended cut marathon and a free weekend. Game of Thrones and the monarch simulator Reigns. While the former two work out in reality, the latter sadly does not, at least not in the way that allows for much in the way of wish fulfilment or anything approaching consistent fun.
Reigns: Game of Thrones is a crossover between Devolver and Nerial’s Reigns series and the HBO adaptation of GRR Martin’s series of never-to-be-completed novels. It sounds like a perfect marriage at first, the Tinder-like simplicity of Reigns matched with the throne-hopping of the biggest show in the world. Unfortunately, when you play Reigns: Game of Thrones, you die or you die.
The basic premise is that you control a wide cast of characters from the TV show, ranging from the beloved (Jon, Daenerys) to the hated (Cersei) and also Gendry. You must make decisions by swiping left or right (a simple hold of a mouse click on PC, the only input you will need) and then watching on to see it how impacts your army, wealth, religion, and citizen statuses. Reach too low or too high and you can more or less say goodbye to your time on the throne.
While this is balanced well in the main game, the same cannot be said for its Game of Thrones spin-off. Each action feels far weightier than it needs to be, doing something as simple as talking to someone sometimes sending your status bars in the wrong direction. It can be utterly innocuous and baffling: a decision to treat my wound tipping the religious sects over the edge and spelling my doom at one point.
This would be fine if it was easy to avoid making the same mistake, but your failures in Reigns: Game of Thrones often feel pre-determined, the early stretches sometimes setting off a nuclear reaction of hatred that returns you to the character select screen. The game doesn’t want you to play as you think the show’s characters would rule as it punishes you for being mostly virtuous like Jon or moderate like Daenerys. Instead, you have to soldier on and hope that the roll of the dice is kind to you this time, which it rarely is.
The ultimate end goal is surviving winter and the threat of the White Walkers, but the random rolls make it a rarity, even more so when your effectiveness at survival is determined by how well you’ve stockpiled, parleyed, and balanced your approval ratings beforehand. You may not even be given the opportunity to properly prepare whatsoever, such is the seemingly scatter-shot approach to its plot threads and how your ruler’s rule plays out. Learning how your choices impact your different approval ratings and remembering them for the next time is the way to make progress in Reigns: Game of Thrones, but it’s tiresome attrition like a choose-your-own-adventure book set entirely during the Red Wedding.
Having played a huge amount of the original game, Reigns: Game of Thrones also lacks a lot of its slapstick and generally silly humour. It fits the grim world well and will no doubt appeal to the show-loving sadists, but the caricature creations of Reigns and the weird Simlish-esque language they speak feel wasted as a result — why can’t I play as Tyrion and have a button I can use to slap someone at any given moment?
To Reigns: Game of Thrones’ credit, it does keep things relatively fresh beyond being a simple swiping simulator. You can assume control of your armies in battle, giving orders to your different battalions to make the most of them at critical points in battle, as well as allowing you to travel to and from Winterfell. There’s also a sequence in which you run through plenty of doors in a dungeon, though I was unable to figure out the end goal after countless attempts.
It also does a great job of providing variety and small details for different rulers. Jaime, for instance, can at one point take a lover but is constantly thinking of Cersei during. Later, when he captures his sister, she may or may not react depending on whether or not he decided to erect a statue in honour of their deceased children. A nice touch.
None of its brightest spots can distract from the fact that Reigns: Game of Thrones seems to focus too heavily on the nihilism of the show and creates something that feels restricted and oppressive, rather than every fan’s fantasy of the happy endings they would like to see for their favourite characters. Those happy endings do come, but when you’re going through the same conversations over and over again in the hopes of living just a couple more moons, it doesn’t seem worth it — you may as well just write fanfic.
Reigns: Game of Thrones may be the most faithful adaptation of the HBO show yet in that being a ruler truly sucks.