Why Two Mods Are the Best Game of Thrones Video Games Ever

If you're looking for a great Game of Thrones video game, look no further than these excellent mods!

After a wait that felt longer than winter itself, Game of Thrones season six has finally arrived. All the mysteries that have haunted fans since the last season ended will be…well, let’s be honest, they’ll be replaced by even more mysteries in all likelihood.

The one thing about the current Game of Thrones season that won’t be a mystery is how much you’ll suffer during the wait between episodes. Given how easy it is to become spoiled on the instant release model made popular by streaming services like Netflix, that old-fashioned weekly wait between Game of Thrones episodes can feel worse than the pain we endure between seasons.

In this state of painful anticipation, you might feel the need to turn to video games in order to ease the longing. Specifically, you may turn to Telltale Games’ official Game of Thrones adaptation, and that’s a fine choice. In typical Telltale style, this romp through the world of Westeros is a worthy adventure that showcases not only the powerful consequences of choices within the Game of Thrones universe, but the presence of the cast that helps make the show as good as it is.

The Telltale game is a fine choice, but not the best one. As incredible as Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones is, even it cannot match the brilliance of two games that offer the kind of complete take on George R.R. Martin’s world fans of this franchise could once only dream about. Their ability to not just present this universe but completely immerse the player in it is nothing short of miraculous.

Ad – content continues below

But do you want to know the really funny part? These games didn’t even start off as Game of Thrones titles.

Crusader Kings II: A Game of Thrones

A great lord pours over his map while his advisor snores gently beneath a flickering torch. With enemies besetting him on all sides, his thoughts turn to bloodlust and a grand final conflict. However, the consequences of such actions force him to take a different approach. One far more unseemly than even the bloodiest battle could ever be.

He shall have to marry his daughter off to a rival for their army. He shall have to do so for his kingdom.

What separates Game of Thrones from a hundred other great fantasy works is its emphasis on politics and relationships. The various lords and ladies of Westeros’ seven kingdoms are constantly trying to attain a little more than the other one has and, while they would prefer to obtain their fortunes through back channels, occasionally their dirty deeds run out and leave war as the only option.

What’s funny about that synopsis is that it’s the exact same description one could apply to Crusader Kings II. Paradox Development Studio have long been the masters of grand strategy games that emphasize the politics of warfare as much as they do the combat, but this game is truly their masterpiece. The goal of Crusader Kings II – if you would even argue the game contains such a thing – is to ensure the survival and prominence of your chosen kingdom through any means necessary. Now, while the term “any means necessary” typically translates to violence, that’s not the case here. Indeed the more difficult – and far more gruesome – path to victory in Crusader Kings II is through politics and sabotage. An envoy sent to parley with the king of France may accomplish more than an army ever could, while the saboteur behind him whispering sweet nothings into the ear of the King’s successor may very well ensure victory.

But for every path to victory Crusader Kings II presents to you comes a dozen or more consequences. Failure can come at any time in Crusader Kings II, and most of the time you don’t even know when it presents itself. That false king you helped to put on the throne in France may turn out to be a bloodthirsty tyrant. Your victory in Italy may leave you with lands you are fiscally unable to support. Even the most noble of actions can turn wicked in an instant.

read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 Predictions and Theories

Ad – content continues below

By now, you’re probably starting to see why Crusader Kings II is such a perfect venue for the backstabbing and plot twists of Game of Thrones. Fortunately, a group of modders thought the same and began to work on a Game of Thrones mod shortly after the game’s release in 2012.

While it’s tempting to call their efforts “Everything great about Crusader Kings II set in the world of Game of Thrones,” even that lofty description doesn’t do these modders efforts justice. This mod actually delves deeply into the history of Westeros by making the game’s many lords and stories an accurate retelling of this world’s actual mythology and history. You can even play out scenarios that recreate every major moment in this world’s mythology.

This incredible understanding of what makes this world tick applies itself to this mod in other ways. Among the many small changes this mod makes to the original game to better resemble its namesake are: the addition of a dueling option between lords, the ability to pass down Valaryian swords, and restricting certain marriage options based on celibacy rules. It also creates the option for a “megawar scenario” that sees everyone scramble for the Iron Throne and essentially reset everything that has transpired.

This Game of Thrones mod recognizes not just the resemblance between Crusader Kings II and the series, but every tiny detail that was preventing the original game from being a perfect adaptation as well. In the process, this mod also reveals the great hidden quality in Crusader Kings II: its ability to generate incredible stories across centuries of history. Only this time, those stories are ones set in a universe we have all taken a turn at ruling with our imaginations.

A perennial contender for mod of the year awards, this brilliant adaptation asks you to “Win or die” within the chaotic world of Game of Thrones, then proceeds to see if you are truly capable of the task. Now up to version 1.6, this mod continues to improve and find thousands of new fans all the time. Even HBO has acknowledged this mod, albeit through a confrontation with Paradox regarding whether or not they were receiving revenue from it. For their part, Paradox has admitted this mod piqued their interest in building a standalone Game of Thrones title, though they worry the licensing process may hinder the creative freedom this mod enjoys.

Yet, this mod may not even be the best Game of Thrones adaptation of them all.

Mount and Blade: Warband – A Clash of Kings

Let’s reimagine that same scenario with the lord and the map. Only this time, you are a common soldier. Right now, you’re thinking that escaping and spending life as a rich thief sounds a lot better than this damned conflict.

Ad – content continues below

Mount and Blade: Warband is a game that lets you play as the thief, the soldier, the lord, and anyone else in between. 

You start off in the game as just some guy or girl. Barely even a peasant, you are more of a blank slate that is about to shape their place in this world. Though this incredibly deep and complex game doesn’t make it easy to do so, it is indeed possible to become anything you want to be. While this game doesn’t do grand warfare quite as well as the Crusader Kings mod does, it does excel at examining life as a common man in a world of fantasy.

For example: let’s say you choose to become a soldier. You build up your fighting prowess, pledge yourself to a lesser lord, and eventually wind up in a war. You’ve fought the full-scale battles of this war on the ground level, but alas your lord has lost. In fear, you run away and decide to join the king. You rise high enough to find out this is a particularly malevolent king, and must now decide whether to rebel or serve.

This emphasis on creating total freedom for the player becomes even more interesting once the game’s infamous Clash of Kings mod comes into play. This mod converts the generic medieval world of Mount and Blade into a stunning recreation of Westeros that can be explored in-depth. While the full list of the mods alterations to the original title is a few words shy of an epic poem, most of the changes have to do with simply updating the vanilla game in order to incorporate the characters, items, and specific scenarios of this time period into the Game of Thrones universe.

But what this mod truly adds to the original experience is the feeling of being placed directly into the midst of the most chaotic period in Game of Thrones history. Whereas Crusader Kings II lets you view the chaos from above and make broad gestures to influence the course of the game, Clash of Kings forces you to consider the consequences of your actions as a person living his/her day-to-day life in this world.

read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Everything We Know

Ad – content continues below

This shift in perspective leads to some interesting scenarios. You may start the game wanting to join the noble rebellion of Rob Stark, but when your character has to endure low rations and losing battles during the midst of winter, how long will your supposed allegiance hold? When the opportunity presents itself to further your own pursuits at the expense of an ally, can you really pass it up? Greed, ambition, and violence are the most obvious paths to surviving another day in this world, but each of them invite more ways to die when you wake up the next day. Meanwhile, nobility and independence are the more difficult paths, but at least allow you to know where you stand.

In this respect, Clash of Kings is the most complete Game of Thrones adaptation available. It doesn’t give you this universe as you know it or how you would like it to be, but rather the way it truly is. This isn’t the Game of Thrones simulator you have always wished for—it’s the one that you’ve secretly dreaded. While all the goals you have ever hoped to accomplish in this world are available to you, the path towards them is never clear and always perilous.

However, all this ambition comes at a cost. While this mod’s numerous tiny glitches and inherent complexity have earned it some detractors, the mod’s biggest enemy may be its own creator, Cozur. Across the reviews of this mod on its home of Mod DB are peppered comments regarding the creator’s alleged manipulation and hostile responses. The belief is that Cozur’s controlling hold over the mod’s direction has led to many of its issues.

The biggest of these issues is the mod’s lack of greater diplomacy options. As Clash of Kings is meant to showcase a world at war, there isn’t really an option to end the conflicts through diplomacy like there is in the normal game. The argument here is that this is authentic to the temperament of Westeros during this period, but what’s interesting about that is that the game also takes major deviations from the Game of Thrones lore by changing certain characters and motivations. For instance, Stannis Baratheon seems to have an unusual fondness for waging war in the East.

Cozur maintains that this is intended to be a realistic take on a slightly alternate history of Westeros, which some fans have taken as a way of his saying, “I will do what I wish with this mod.” Through this controversy, though, A Clash of Kings remains the definitive Game of Thrones mod for Mount and Blade, despite the arrival of contenders like A World of Ice and Fire. It’s sheer depth and ability to convey the more complicated elements of the Game of Thrones world remains unmatched.

But is it the best?

Ad – content continues below

A Clash of Mods

If my feet were to the fire – which I appreciate is a phrase not to be used lightly in the Game of Thrones universe – I would name Crusader Kings II’s Game of Thrones mod to be the best out there. What it lacks in sheer depth it makes up for by containing fewer flaws and gaps in content.

Ultimately, however, both of these mods manage to succeed over games that carry the official Game of Thrones license by providing players with more than just a token nod to the series they love. Instead, these mods look beyond the familiar characters and locations of Game of Thrones to find the core elements that make the show so beloved. Loyalty, betrayal, family, politics, sex, violence, uncertainty, and war on a grand scale.

The modders behind these projects recognized the potential of Crusader Kings II and Mount and Blade to provide these crucial elements and tweaked them just enough to shape the kind of story you want to play within the Game of Thrones world.

That’s what these mods ultimately are. They’re tools that allow us to build and play with our most elaborate fantasies. They’re not trying to tell us a story, they want us to build our own so that long after the season, show, or series ends, we are able to return to this world and enjoy an infinite amount of adventure.

Matthew Byrd is a freelance contributor.