It's been a while since I've stuck my nose into anything related to Game of Thrones. I think I just lost interest, which is what happens when you spend years invested in a bunch of books and then more years invested in a TV show, and then you get an abrupt and disappointing end to it all.
But just because something ends badly doesn't mean you can't—eventually, after a long enough grace period—dive back in and enjoy all the stuff you liked before it came grinding to an unsatisfying halt. And so when I saw a full conversion mod for Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord called Realm of Thrones, which turns the world of Calradia into Westeros and Essos and populates it with characters and locations from Game of Thrones, I decided to give it a try and see if I could still enjoy the characters and fiction I spent so much time with years ago.
Winter is coming
The mod has been in the works for a while, and like Bannerlord itself, it's now in an Early Access state: not finished, but plenty to play with. Along with the map of Westeros and a considerable part of Essos, there are hundreds of NPCs from Game of Thrones, the major cities and families from the books and show, dozens of towns and villages, and yes, even packs of white walkers patrolling north of the Wall. That's where I start playing, at Castle Black with a new character named Skip Happyfish (the last name comes from his banner, which is a smiling fish, and his first name comes from what I do to dialogue in sprawling RPGs). And then I quickly get to work, doing what I always do in the various Game of Thrones mods I've played over the years: I look for famous people and try to marry them.
That's sort of the problem with a world full of fantasy celebrities like Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Ned Stark, Jon Snow, and plenty more besides. I put the medieval warfare and quests of Bannerlord on hold and turn the game into my own version of Pokémon. I can't catch most of the famous characters of Game of Thrones, but I do want to meet them all and invite as many as I can to join Clan Happyfish. I have no time for anyone else: no B-list characters, like the Karstarks or Freys, and definitely no randomly generated characters that aren't from the books or the show at all. I immediately begin scouring the mod for the most famous people I can find.
It doesn't take long. Right there in Castle Black I run into Sandor Clegane. He's not as huge as I expected, but I invite him to join my small clan, which is currently so small it consists only of me. I don't find anyone else of note in the castle, apart from a guy named Charles Foulbreath (unsurprisingly, he was not in the books) and Commander Jeor Mormont, who is far too important to go running around in the snow with me. But I at least take the time to introduce myself. Speaking of snow, I don't see the eternally sulking Jon Snow anywhere so I take the Hound and leave.
We are immediately attacked by looters, the weakest and yet most common enemies in Bannerlord. There's only about a dozen of them, and I figure Clegane can take on at least ten at once while I kill the other two. Wrong on both counts! Sandor goes down almost immediately despite the looters basically just having rocks as weapons. I join him a moment later face-down in the snow, and we're dragged around in chains for a while before I manage to escape.
I head down to Winterfell where I meet Theon Greyjoy, who is probably just hanging out there innocently and not planning to betray anyone. I hire a few lowly mercenaries to ride with me and run into a woman named Scabby Sansa, who I assume is not the Sansa we know from the fiction. More looters accost us after we leave, but this time I'm victorious, and so begins the familiar practice of winning fights, taking prisoners, and selling them and their gear to make a bit of bank. Over at the Dreadfort I meet Ramsay Snow, who hasn't been made a Bolton yet, apparently, but already seems on his way to becoming an evil scumbag.
Growing impatient in the cold north, I ride for the place everyone in Westeros really wants to go: King's Landing. It looks great in the mod, too, and in the tavern I find my first real Game of Thrones A-lister: Tyrion Lannister. I add him to my slowly growing clan. He seems like the kind of guy you could put in charge of just about anything, but for now it's nice to just have him hanging out with me. We take a few small jobs here and there, and while guarding a caravan we run into some raiders, but once again my growing little band comes out on top. Then, just because I'm on a roll, I raid a village in the north, killing and capturing a bunch of villagers and making a whole lot of people, including the Starks and the Boltons, extremely angry at me. Luckily, I'm able to outride Robb's warparty and decide it's getting a bit too hot to stick around, though I make a quick detour back to Castle Black to pick up Sandor again, who managed to escape from the looters who captured us earlier.
I flee to Essos, the less-popular continent, and there I find my memory a bit fuzzy when it comes to places like Pentos. Did stuff happen there? Important stuff? Or am I thinking of Bravos? I really can't recall—it's been years since I read the books and after the final season of the show I think I blocked out a lot of it. Joanna Swyft, Boros Blount... these names seem familiar to me but when I meet them I draw a blank on who they are and what they did.
Whatever. I know why I'm really in Essos, and it's to track down Daenerys, who is way the hell over in Mereen. The scale of the Realm of Throne map really comes into focus as we ride and ride, and ride some more, for days, just to even get close to Meereen. Finally, I stroll into the throne room and meet the Mother of Dragons, though she does not seem to have her famous pets yet. I try to marry her but all my gold, animals and weapons don't add up to enough in the trade window to even make a dent in her opinion of me. I can't even join her because I'm at war with the North over that village I raided, so I settle for helping her out with a quest to deliver some horses, and put Sandor and Tyrion in charge of a caravan to make some money.
With not much else to do in Essos other than pine for Daenerys, I head back to Westeros. I sell almost everything I've collected from raids and looters and prisoner sales to give a heck of a lot of gold to the North so I can make our little war go away, then figure it's time to really get into trouble. I ride north of the Wall with my 30 or so followers, and into wildling and wight territory. The wildlings aren't particularly friendly—I can't get into Craster's camp, and everyone else will only speak to me from atop their castle walls rather than letting me in.
And then we run into some actual wights patrolling the snowy woods. There are... a lot of them. They're pretty well-spoken for the undead, but rather than trying to negotiate I decide to challenge them to combat. While my clan puts up a good fight and we kill about half the wights, what's left are more than enough to wipe us out. All my progress, gone, Clan Happyfish destroyed. It's back to square one, as I'm once again dragged around the country in chains, this time by undead ghouls.
On the plus side, I did get to see a lot of both Westeros and Essos, and met just about everyone I wanted to. The mod, even in Early Access, is absolutely playable as it is now, and the map is massive. Any Game of Thrones fans should find a lot here to enjoy. Just stay south of the Wall, at least until your warband is bigger than Clan Happyfish.