Greedfall puts you into the shoes of De Sardet, a diplomat working for the Merchant’s Congregation – one of the main factions in this sprawling RPG from developer Spiders. Right off the bat I was intrigued by the idea of playing as an ambassador whose main approach to solving problems was through peaceful means, only resorting to combat when there was no other option left. I love this kind of freedom in my RPGs and GreedFall certainly gets that right for the most part. The game takes heavy inspiration from Bioware’s past work. much like the developers’ previous games which showed promise but ultimately faltered in some critical areas – making them hard to recommend. Greedfall however shows a lot more confidence and growth from the studio and is a lot more accessible than their previous titles, but is this the game that finally puts Spiders on the RPG big boy map? Read on!
Greedfall takes place in a fictional low-fantasy setting that closely mirrors the 17th century era of colonization. The story revolves around different factions vying for control of the newly colonized island of Teer Fradee, the inevitable conflict with the island’s native population as well as De Sardet’s own identity. The subject matter has always been difficult to handle in fiction but Greedfall’s writing tries hard not to be controversial and takes a more ambivalent approach. De Sardet (who can be male or female) usually comes off as the voice of reason and someone who simply wants everyone to coexist. The factions however are single-minded in their pursuits, one for example uses religion as a weapon while another is more scientifically-inclined. As you’d expect, these nations are at war with each other which puts your own faction in an interesting position as an ally to both as well as to the natives. There’s some nice political intrigue as you try to navigate through complex situations. I personally enjoyed this aspect of the game quite a bit, especially since many quests can be completed by talking, as long as you have the right stats or the right companions during a tense situation.
Speaking of stats, RPG fans will be happy to know that the character building system is deliciously deep and yet simple to understand. There’s plenty of skills, attributes and talents spread across multiple trees and the game allows you to freely mix and match. It’s also possible to fill in missing gaps through equipment or companions. The game overall is a bit on the easier side, at least on the normal difficulty. It’s actually rather easy to outlevel the content by doing side quests and gaining levels. Forming relationships with your companions is a core aspect of the gameplay. While the characters aren’t as fleshed out as a typical Bioware game of the past, they do have interesting backgrounds and unique personalities. I wasn’t too fond of the stiff interactions at first but over the course of the game, I started warming up to the characters and the writing genuinely subverted my expectations a few times.
Many quests can be completed by talking, as long as you have the right stats or the right companions during a tense situation.
I’ve always believed that the strength of an RPG lies in its quest design, but Greedfall is somewhat of a mixed bag in this area. The quests themselves are good and have some unpredictable outcomes, but the actual act of solving a quest can and does get tedious the longer you play. Almost every quest has multiple steps and they often involve a lot of running back and forth. I also felt that the game sign-posted solutions and alternative approaches a little too much. While I appreciated the multiple ways to finish the quests, I wish the game let the player figure them out for themselves. A lot of times it feels like you’re going through the motions, following quest markers, talking to someone, searching a place, fighting something or some variation of that. The game could have also benefited from cutting down some of the fat and focusing on lesser but more meaningful content. It makes a solid initial impression, but gets a little long in the tooth towards the end. If you aren’t hooked by the lore and the setting by then, there won’t be much motivation left as the core loop doesn’t change.
While you aren’t negotiating with political leaders you’ll be out exploring Teer Fradee’s wilderness which is where most of the game’s fighting takes place. Combat is hugely improved from Spiders’ previous games. It’s fast, responsive and also has a strategic element to it thanks to the ability to pause and issue orders when things get a little too hectic. That said, it’s rather unfortunate that there aren’t many interesting things to fight against. A few bosses and encounters aside, the bulk of the combat happens against wild beasts that roam the island. By the end of the game De Sardet and his friends were probably responsible for endangering most of the indegineous species of Teer Fradee. However the worst offender when it comes to combat is the incessant and repetitive battle dialog. I was sick of hearing my companions telling me to drink a potion to restore my mana in the first few hours itself. It was so aggravating that I consciously chugged a potion after casting a couple of spells just to avoid hearing it for the millionth time.
Greedfall’s world is broken into several regions, cities and villages so it isn’t exactly an “open world”. The regions however are fairly large and exploration is encouraged. I also liked the fact that the developers resisted the urge to cram every zone with unnecessary points of interest and add busywork to an already long game. While the world seems interesting at first and the cities are nicely detailed and dense, you’ll quickly begin to notice reused assets everywhere. Now it’s important to note that GreedFall isn’t a big budget title but seeing the same interiors being used for key buildings does break the illusion at times. The outdoor areas look beautiful but there’s very little that separates one map from the next. You’ll mostly be traversing similar looking forests and canyons with little variation. On the other hand, the game has a great visual aesthetic. The 17th century-inspired look is fairly original and rarely seen in contemporary RPGs, it definitely gives the game it’s own identity.
While Greedfall is surely a major step up for the studio and a huge improvement over their past work it’s still a bit rough around the edges. Those expecting the polish of AAA title may be disappointed with the many little issues and quirks of the game. For starters, the lip-sync and facial animations leave a lot to be desired but it’s often mitigated by the surprisingly good voice acting. I noticed several typos in the subtitles, sometimes the spoken dialog doesn’t match the onscreen text and a few item names seem like placeholders. The camera controls also take a while getting used to especially in indoor areas. Yet there’s a certain charm to the whole experience. Much like other imperfect-yet-amazing RPGs like Gothic, Risen or the first Witcher game, you can see the developers have poured their heart and soul into creating these characters and this world. In other words, it doesn’t feel like a game that’s spat out by a design committee, but by a genuinely passionate team.
Greedfall is a huge step in the right direction for developer Spiders.
Greedfall is a huge step in the right direction for developer Spiders, though it’s not quite their magnum opus yet. It is still a bit rough around the edges and peaks way too early. However, an interesting setting, a cool visual aesthetic, decent mechanics and most importantly, a certain charm that you won’t find in most big budget games make it a game worth checking out.