Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall is an upcoming mobile strategy game that clearly contains a Game of Thrones skin, and it recently entered into a beta testing phase in Australia and New Zealand. Luckily, this beta also appears to be accessible to the US, so I've installed the game so that I can go hands-on with the title to report on exactly what it has to offer.
Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall takes place 48 years before the events of the Game of Thrones TV show, and yet all the art for the game displays images of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. Heck, you even get to play as Jon Snow at the beginning of the game, though this particular scene takes place in a Legendary event, which features Heroes from "other timelines," a convenient trick to stuff the game with familiar characters. It seems to me that the better option would have been for the game to take place during the events of the TV show, you know, so the game's connection to its collectible characters would actually make sense.
The primary adventure of this title revolves around the disappearance of the Bloodraven (Lord Commander Brynden Rivers), and so it will be your job to take command of the Night Watch by recruiting heroes to defend the Wall. Sadly there is no voicework to be found to flesh out the game's story segments, and often reading through the dialog feels slow and poorly optimized thanks to frequent pauses after a character's mouth stops moving. This left me disconnected from the story as I was too busy noticing these odd pauses. It also doesn't help that the writing in many of the cutscenes reads as if a teenager wrote it.
Powerful writing indeed
Overall I can get over such a simple storyline, even when it's poorly written, but the fact that you'll conveniently use the ancient magic of The Weirwoods and Greensight to call upon heroes from the future doesn't feel very cohesive. I mean, why even set the game 48 years before the TV show when the point of this game is to collect familiar characters? This makes the game feel disjointed and ultimately looks to be poorly planned, and as you read further through this hands-on, you'll see that this is a common theme with the game.
The graphics really aren't that bad, offering a cartoony look, though the animations are awful. The game is basically broken up into two primary segments. The majority of the story is displayed through animated cutscenes, and the art in these scenes looks fantastic, though the stiff animations of the characters leave a lot to be desired. Then there is the gameplay, which takes place on a grid-based battlefield, so it is rather zoomed out and so offers few defining details. The animations in this area aren't great either, with attacks starting and stopping quickly, which ultimately breaks immersion. During these fights, the game will also zoom in on characters when they perform a special move, and these animations often look stiff too, and the effects during these scenes aren't all that great either.
Cutscenes look pretty good
It's also worth pointing out that there are no options to change the title's graphics in the settings, so you'll have to run the game at whatever unlisted default it chooses when you install it. From what I can tell, I can play the game at full res on my OP 7 Pro, and I never dropped any frames, so at least performance is okay on a high-end device despite the lack of options to tweak the graphics.
The rest of the game's screens aren't as polished as the cutscenes
The controls are intuitive enough, and since this is a strategic RPG, the genre works well on touch screens. Of course, controller support is out of the question since the entire game was designed around touch input, which means there's no Android TV support. Still, the touch controls work well enough, though I have run into a few instances were my taps aren't registered, almost as if the game locks up from time to time.
Once you drop into a match, you can move your units easily. Just tap on the unit you would like to move, and then tap on the square you would like to move them to. Attacks are performed by double-tapping on the enemy you would like to assault, which cuts down on mistake attacks since you have to commit to a double tap.
Really, the controls work well enough, though there is little weight behind them, so I can't say any of my attacks ever felt visceral. I was never once lost in the fantasy of the game during its battles, though at least the controls never got in the way.
30-minutes of uninterrupted gameplay
Above I've uploaded a half-hour's worth of gameplay from Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall, and honestly, I was bored the entire time I was recording, thanks to the lengthy tutorial. The title is set up similarly to the majority of gacha games on the Play Store. Sure, this is a strategy game, but much like Fire Emblem Heroes, everything hinges on what sort of characters you can collect, and guess what, the best characters are locked behind loot boxes.
For the most part, you'll spend your time working through the story, which is broken up into chapters, which are then broken up into missions. These missions take place on a grid, and it will be up to you to move your team and attack your foes while taking advantage of your team's unique skills. Much like Fire Emblem Heroes, you'll work through each mission to complete each chapter, and of course, grinding is very much a part of your advancement, so if you don't enjoy repeating content ad nauseum, this is not the game for you.
The multitude of ways you can upgrade
Each mission will see you choose your team, and then you'll have to complete a win condition, such as defeating all of the enemies in that stage. Some missions will lead with a story segment, and some will offer a quick fight, which is a familiar setup that lacks any originality. As you are completing the story, you will have to micromanage your team, which means you'll have to constantly upgrade your heroes, a chore in a long line of chores. There are also daily quests available, but really it's just a laundry list of more chores to complete to ensure the hardcore players come back to the game every day, much like an MMO.
Quests and achievements
I'd also like to mention that auto mechanics are included in each match once you make it out of the tutorial, along with a fast-forward button, which just goes to show that even the devs don't think their content is worth playing. Luckily, the AI is so useless that you're never going to be able to advance quickly if you auto-battle the more relevant matches, like the boss at the end of a chapter. So while I can't say there is much strategy to speak of in this strategy game, at the very least, you'll have to play at certain points manually. But really, all it will ever come down to is whether or not your team has high enough stats, which means grinding or spending money is the real path to success, not player skill.
First boss fight in action
Honestly, on the outset, the game looks like it could offer the fun of a competent strategy RPG, but in actuality Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall employs every free-to-play mechanic you can think of. If only the devs paid as much attention to the story, animations, and gameplay, we could have actually had something that was worth playing, but instead, this is yet another branded cash-in designed to suck as much money from the player base as possible, which directly leads me into the next category, monetization.
Ugh, what does this game not monetize? Loot boxes are indeed included, along with a stamina system, as well as in-app purchases that conveniently range up to $99.99 per item. But that's not all, there are three separate types of in-game currency (yes, three), daily, weekly, and monthly cash shop "deals," not to mention a convoluted menu system that's never explained to the player despite the lengthy tutorial. It's almost as if the game was designed like a casino, creating a maze out of its menus, stores, and systems to keep players confused.
Just look at the ways you can spend your money
In its current state, Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall isn't a very good game. It's more an endless treadmill filled with collectible Game of Thrones characters, and it's monetized to the hilt despite the fact that it's still unfinished. To me, this says a lot about the developer, since they clearly prioritized monetization over fun and polish. While I can't say I ever expected much from this game, I'm still disappointed that nothing worthwhile was done with the property, and instead, we are provided with a shallow cash-grab wearing a Game of Thrones skin. While I'm sure it's not cheap to create branded games like this, especially one connected to such a high-profile brand, I can't help but feel that there is zero passion behind this project.
In my opinion, Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall is an upcoming mobile strategy game worth skipping since it brings nothing new to the table while being monetized so aggressively. So even though it's currently a beta release, I sincerely doubt much will change before the official launch, especially when you consider that the cash shop is already in use. The design of Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall is clear. It's a low-effort money grab. Hardly a surprise, but there it is.