It’s no secret that GreedFall‘s developer, Spiders, has seen mixed reception for their past efforts. They’ve repeatedly attempted to make large, BioWare-inspired action-RPGs on shoestring budgets, only to be met with fairly divided responses. So, did they finally pull it off this time, or is this game another case of them flying too close to the sun?
Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in some ways. GreedFall succeeds at a lot of what it sets out to do. However, many aspects of it are limited to the point where they damage the overall experience, even if the components themselves are fine. That said, this is still a good game. It’s just one that will be hard to enjoy for its duration if you’re not playing for the story and role-playing elements.
GreedFall has a pretty unique setting, all things considered. While most fantasy RPGs stick to Tolkien-esque stories, this instead tells a tale of colonialism, carrying with it all the grey morality that you’d expect. The game starts with your character preparing to set off on a voyage. You are known only by your last name, De Sardet. You are the niece/nephew of one of the princes governing the Congregation of Merchants. The prince’s son, Constantin, is being dispatched to the island of Teer Fradee to govern the Congregation’s city there. You are to accompany him and serve as his legate, or diplomat.
This is a fantastic setup for a story. You quite literally focus on diplomatic endeavors and try to stay on good terms with GreedFall‘s other main factions. There are six factions overall, including the Congregation of Merchants. The main factions you’ll be contending with are the theocracy known as Theleme; The Bridge Alliance, a nation which prides itself as a land of science; and the natives of the island, who are one with the land and have a magical connection with it. Doing things that please these factions will increase your rating with them. Do the opposite, and they’ll like you less. The Bridge Alliance is also at war with Theleme and the Natives, so there will be some choices to make.
Now, a strong premise is great and all, but it doesn’t mean much without strong writing. But GreedFall delivers on that front in a big way. The game is loaded with dozens upon dozens of well-written, interesting questlines and stories that kept my attention. Everything is fully-voiced, and the majority of it is quite compelling. The story isn’t razor-focused, though, and is more about Teer Fradee and the terminal illness known as the Malichor. But I liked this, as the world-building is excellent and I enjoyed being immersed in it.
As this is a BioWare-inspired story-based RPG, you’re going to spend the majority of your time in GreedFall going to different places to meet with and assist people. You’ll travel back and forth between the three major cities on the island, plus the many native villages, where you’ll meet with their chiefs. You’ll naturally do a lot of negotiating, too. This is buoyed by your companions. There are five companions in total, each from one of the game’s other factions. It can be very beneficial to bring them along.
For instance, Siora is native to the island and will often speak up and assist you when you’re dealing with other islanders, or she’ll speak up on their behalf when dealing with their opposition. Then there’s Aphra, a scientist working for the Bridge Alliance, who will assist you when anything having to do with her field comes into play. If you come across dead bodies but don’t have enough points in your science skill to properly analyze the corpse, Aphra will oftentimes chime in and put you on the right track. And it goes other ways. Due to the aforementioned wars, some members might not be welcome in certain places.
Gotta use those points
Speaking of skills, GreedFall has three different skill trees. This seems like it can be a bit much to handle, but it’s easy enough to grasp. Every time you level up, you get a single skill point that governs one tree. The other trees’ points are staggered, so you get them every several levels instead of each one. The tree that gets a point with each level strictly governs what weapons and abilities you have access to. You’ll need to put points into one-handed swords to use those, for instance. You’ll want to have points in any magic or science-based abilities as well, such as a healing spell or the ability to place traps in the field.
The next skill tree controls what you can equip when using those weapons and abilities. So, if you’ve put points into one-handed swords, you’ll still need to put points in the second tree for agility – otherwise, you won’t be able to equip the more powerful weapons. This skill tree is also used for wearing heavy armor and increasing your damage and magic capabilities. The last skill tree, then, governs your non-combat abilities. This includes things like charisma, which you’ll use to talk your way out of things, or craftsmanship, which allows you to upgrade your equipment or repair items in the field.
The combat in GreedFall is honestly pretty good. It’s action-based, although you can pause it at any time and give commands to your character on the fly. But it’s better when played as an action game. Each weapon has three principle attacks that vary based on the type. As an example, swords have a regular combo slash, a kick that can knock your enemies off-balance, and a fury attack that consumes part of a gauge that builds as you land hits. You can also have abilities and items set to quick access buttons. These are where you’ll put your gun, healing items/spells, traps, and whatnot.
Your character can also dodge and parry attacks, which can be used to cancel out of your own attacks as well. The combat is very responsive because of this, and it’s easy to get yourself out of harm’s way and fight back, even when greatly outnumbered. If you kick an enemy or parry their attack, you can knock them off balance or even onto the ground, which will let you get free hits in. The weapons are fairly fun to use to boot.
However, there are really only five weapon types, and it’s easy to get locked into just a couple of them for most of the game due to point availability. If you want to be able to use the best weapons, you won’t get to use more than a couple due to equipment restrictions. There’s also not much variety in the weapons themselves, and you’ll stick with the same one for long periods without finding anything better.
Barely any enemies
Then there’s the fact that the enemy variety is extremely lacking. You’ll run into enemies either in the wilderness or in cities. Enemies in cities are almost exclusively one set of brigands that attack you. In the wilderness, you’ll typically only find four different enemy types. And this game can take dozens of hours. Thirty hours in, I was fighting the same enemies that I was running into at the six-hour mark. There’s just not nearly enough variety whatsoever.
There are stronger creatures, such as large boss-type enemies and similar special foes, but these are very rare. At one point, I was introduced to a new beast-type enemy and assumed they’d start showing up in the field with the other four types. But I seldom saw them. This was really disappointing, as GreedFall just begs for more enemies. It’s a shame too, as I enjoy the combat. I just don’t necessarily enjoy fighting the same four enemies with the same tiny assortment of weapons for dozens of hours.
The variety problem
This lack of variety is easily GreedFall‘s biggest weakness, as it extends to almost every facet of the game’s design. Assets are re-used constantly. The game isn’t open-world and instead uses zones à la older BioWare titles. These zones can be quite large, but they’re cobbled together from a small pool of assets. I hope you like forests in autumn, as that’s almost all of what you’ll be seeing. Thankfully, these zones are all distinct in terms of design and placement, so even if they’re very visually similar, you can still tell them apart. Plus, sometimes there are rivers or swamps, so these parts don’t get quite as redundant as the combat does.
But the most egregious examples of re-used assets are the buildings. The first time you go see your cousin Constantin in his governor’s palace, you walk up some steps and into a wide hall that ends in a staircase. You climb that staircase and open a set of doors to find his audience chambers. Then, when you go to the other two cities and visit the other two governors, you walk up two completely different sets of steps and enter their palaces – only to discover that the buildings themselves are identical. All three governors operate out of the same building, albeit with different item placements and colors. They’re basically palette swaps.
This extends to almost all of GreedFall‘s buildings as well. Want to visit the Coin Guard’s barracks in town? Well, all three towns have identical barracks, including identical arenas where your progress from other towns carries over! Want to rest at the accommodations given to you in each city? Every house in the game is identical! They decided to only make a single, small house! I simply don’t understand why this happened. You can go into a story quest that leads to a large area that has a different layout than everything else in the game, but they couldn’t make some more buildings? It isn’t a massive deal, I suppose, but it shatters the game’s sense of place for me. Nothing makes it more clear that I’m playing a game than seeing the same thing over and over again.
Face the music
And then there are the faces. There was a certain guard recruit named Wilhelm who was an extremely important character in one of GreedFall‘s very well-written quests. Later, I met with another character in a dark alley, only to realize that he and Wilhelm had the same face. The more I played, the more I noticed that faces had been recycled over and over again. I get that smaller teams don’t have time, but they could at least make sure not to do this with important, featured quest characters.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the faces animate strangely. The mouth movements are unnatural and weird. And this goes double for the main character, whose entire face tended to scare the crap out of me for the first dozen hours of the game. There’s also a fairly small pool of character animations, too. Sure, all of this is the price one pays when you make a 40+ hour game with a small studio, but it’s still very jarring. Pretty much all of the characters have strangely done-up eyelashes too. It’s so weird to see a grizzled, older man with long, dark eyelashes as if he had just applied mascara.
The sights of nature
Luckily for GreedFall, though, the game’s zones do look rather nice, in spite of how often everything is reused. The colors of the trees and sky are very pretty, as is the lighting. There’s also some solid texture work. Aside from the character models, I’d say this is a pretty good-looking game overall. I like walking around the world, too, even if I’m not fond of all the invisible walls.
GreedFall’s quest systems are also surprisingly polished. I never once ran into any progression or quest bugs. NPCs were always where they were supposed to be, and I didn’t come across any quests that weren’t finishable or that glitched out. That’s quite rare for games that have as much content as this one made by smaller studios, which I was pretty pleased with. Spiders may not have created enough assets, weapons, equipment, or faces, but they at least made sure everything worked well.
Is it worth it, though?
That’s the big question. GreedFall‘s big problem is that it’s a long game that wasn’t able to create enough stuff to properly fill out the experience. However, the game’s systems are all fun. The combat is good. The roleplaying didn’t have as many choices as I would have liked, but they’re there. And then there’s the real reason to play this game: the story. The writing is very high quality, and it’s loaded with so many good quests and buoyed by so much strong voice-acting that I think the game is a worthwhile experience overall.
Is it perfect? Hell no. Far from it. But it does offer a unique experience with one of the better game stories I’ve come across. If you’re looking for an action game or an RPG that will keep you occupied with its combat, loot, and skill trees, GreedFall isn’t what you’re after. But if you want an RPG with some really good storytelling where everything else is serviceable, then it’s easy to recommend it. It might have left me scratching my head at times due to the copy-pasting and how redundant it can be, but I enjoyed my time with the game and think anyone who appreciates interesting narratives will too.