If there is any studio I wish I was more familiar with, it is Spiders. Having made varied titles like Faery, Mars: War Logs and Technomancer, the developers clearly have passion for their projects, even if they stumble harshly with them as well. As of this review, I have only played through Bound by Flame and Gray Matter, but definitely see their wish to break new grounds and create something everyone can enjoy. I was originally not going to play Greedfall, but after a friend of mine said that this was “the peak for the studio”, I had to find out what this game was like.
After creating your custom character, you take on the role of De Sardet, a noble of the Merchant Congregation. You are about to embark on a journey towards a newly settled island known as Teer Fradee where your cousin, Prince Constantin d’Orsay, will take on the role as the governor of New Serene, the congregation’s capital on this island. However, you are not travelling there just to act as your cousin’s legate. There is also a hope in that this new land can provide a cure for the plague called Malichor. Time is of the essence though, as it is spreading across the continent so fast, that even your own family has not been spared from this terrible fate.
Throughout the story, you will come across people in distress outside of just the issue with the plague. Natives are troubled by the foreigners, with both religious pilgrims and scientists utilising the island to gain more knowledge, or for their own benefits. This is where you come in as a diplomat, trying to solve their problems however you see fit. In other words, you are directly involved in everything, and I am fascinated by how much Greedfall makes the player care about every single quest. While there is a main plot that takes you on the journey to find a cure and to make peace between the different factions, there are plenty of people affected by different events that occur, both small and big, where your actions have clear consequences for better or worse.
Be it combining skills in order to save a man from a dire situation, creating a new contract between a group of natives and some settlers or finding out why some cargo has gone lost, all quests feel important due to that they all have something at stake. In fact, they can feel as valuable as the main goal, since your relations to those you helped out and their aftermaths, will be reflected in the later parts of the game and even in current events. This is not to say that the main story becomes lost in all of this, but the game builds its world through your actions, making all tasks worth your time. There are also clever twists and turns that show the dedication the developers had to not just include great setups, but also clear arcs to the different quests that make them engaging storywise.
It is all made even stronger by how the quests are presented and told. One reason for this, is that none of the choices you partake in are really about good versus evil, but rather what you deem as the right actions. Will you take a man conducting terrible experiments to court and hope justice will judge him fairly or will you take the decision of his fate yourself? Should you exploit the Nauts’ secret inventions to show that they do not delve in dark arts or keep it a secret to not freely give away their devices? I love how the scenarios force you to make choices you mean are the correct ones, instead of clear cut what is the good choice or the lesser of two evils. There are even some quests that goes far with clever setups to try to appease everyone as well as possible, providing tons of strong events that feel intriguing.
With different cultures reflected by attires, beliefs, and ways to speak, it is easy to become lost in all of this through how fantastic everything is made in Greedfall. Creating believable conversations is hard to do, especially when trying to replicate those that could take place in the 17th century. Impressively, Spiders has done a fantastic job here with plenty of great dialogues that reflect people’s formal status and heritage, making every single character interesting and immersive. A good example is you as De Sardet, since you are a person of diplomatic power and utilises this for the greater good, which is easy to see with his/her strong vocabulary. In fact, while Greedfall never touches upon what a good morale is, it always show how important it is to create a dialogue whenever possible, making it into a lovely theming throughout this adventure.
This is all magnificent and creates a world that feels alive, diverse, and in peril, with you clearly having the ability to form it with your actions. However, there are some strange issues that need to be addressed and they all have to do with our protagonist. You see, De Sardet is a clear character with his own emotions, and thus not actually a customisable one. Despite that the game presents choices in how you wish to act or even visualise our main character, De Sardet is always presented as a good willed character who cares about those he is close to and has a longer backstory than what his ill mother got. This makes me question why the developers even made him/her into a customisable character when he/she has so much personality and story from the start. At this point, this setup feels like an odd compromise of two ideas that was not needed.
Your companions fare better, but rather due to their own quests and stories. I loved to help each and every one of them, be it fulfilling Kurt’s desire to make a military group to be proud of, honouring Siora’s mother or supporting Aphra in gaining knowledge from the natives. This is because of how each story came with an arc, and how your companions would comment both inside and outside of specific conversations. In fact, their inclusion could even drastically change how things would turn out in some of the general quests. However, De Sardet’s relationships to the companions felt unnatural, as you could either ask them for their backstories or flirt with them. It never came to the point where you would have a normal conversation with them like strong acquaintances. Through this, romancing anyone in your team felt even more awkward.
I also will admit that it took me out of the immersion whenever “him” and “her” in the dialogue options were used for clearly the wrong sex. Luckily, these are only minor issues, as Greedfall pulled me inn with every line of dialogue. The quests were always exciting, the world had inviting lore to dive into, the focus on diplomatic conversations were fantastic, and every action were important. Your friends were always good comrades, and while a better relationship progression and a clear protagonist to root for would have been welcomed, I truly cared about this world and wanted to save it. When the credits rolled and I saw the effects all of my actions had, I really felt like I had been on a journey that truly mattered.
Story Score: 8/10
A true attempt at an RPG
Any fan of tabletop role-playing knows that skills are meant for more than just combat. They should also be for the general exploration or for interacting with people, be it in order to craft unique potions, uncover more knowledge about an object of importance or make the player more versatile for uncovering new areas. Greedfall wants to do this and have a great combat to boot, but only gets the core mechanics done well.
Before we get to this, I want to elaborate on the core setup of this title. Greedfall is an open world RPG with sections to explore, and has an active combat system that does not revolve around dice rolls. Very similar to The Witcher 3 or Dark Souls, if you will. As the protagonist, you can dodge, parry, and switch between two weapons on the fly that all comes with a normal- and a special attack. There is also a strong attack you can activate after building up its charge from attacking opponents, and besides this, you can cast magical spells and utilise varied tools, such as different firearms, potions for unique effects, and set out traps.
You are quite the versatile fighter from the start and Greedfall does its best to make you comfortable with the basics, while learning minor details as you progress to improve your fighting skills. Some examples are how your defensive moves will always triumph your attacks to give the player some leniency, and that some magical attacks cannot be cast while moving. With how many tools you have at disposal as well, there are tons of elements to experiment with in order to find what compliments your playstyle. This part comes mainly from the RPG aspects of this title.
Skills you can upgrade are basically broken up into three different classes that can be extended to one another. You have the warrior revolving around swords and blunt weapons, the mage with magical rings for attacks and different spells, and the tactician’s upgrades deal with firearms, traps and buffs. All three work great for making the character you want to become, and nothing stops you from mixing it up. Perhaps you would like to shoot from afar and focus on supportive spells, or coat your two-handed axe in elemental assets like poison or electricity. Greedfall gives the player varied and intriguing opportunities for making their character into a strong and diverse fighter.
Unfortunately, it all falls hard due to the enemies you are up against. With how many options there are to experiment with, the opponents are rather forgettable and will quickly become pushovers throughout the game. Only the first boss gave me a hard time and it is a poor showcase for what challenge you will be up against. Most fights will be against similar beasts with few attacks, making them simply dull and uninteresting. As long as you focus on one fighting style to upgrade, no enemy will be able to kill you. This is a shame, as Greedfall contains entertaining boss fights that are aggressive and ginormous, and fighting a bunch of soldiers is fun due to their use of different arsenals and abilities to take on simultaneously. Sadly, the game does not focus on these aspects, and the combat turns into a decent distraction that is only half of them entertaining.
However, Greedfall does not just focus on combat as mentioned. While you will get skill points by each level up, the same is not applied to the talent points or the attribute points. They are provided irregularly, with the talents being upgradable up to level three each, and the attributes being up to level six each. Talents cover skills that can be applied outside of combat, such as science which will give you the option to craft potions and explode certain walls, and intuition that gives you more dialogue options and increases the detection range you have. This is a lovely way of making your character more than just about their combat skills, and it is helpful due to how hard money is to come by and shops demanding high prices for their items. This encourages finding other ways to get stronger, such as using lockpicking for hidden chests or smith to upgrade your current equipment.
The problem comes again with how this concept is not well integrated due to the world you are travelling through. These abilities make certain quests easier, but are all sparingly used. When they actually come into play, 90% of these quests contain an optional way that is just as beneficial. It is unfortunate that it is like this, as while it would be disheartening to make a scenario inaccessible to a player due to their build, making all options equal makes these talents feel useless within the quests. It is not too bad for preparations for combat or the general exploration, but these talents can become context-sensitive moments because of how unimportant they are otherwise.
Attributes are rather traditional, as they are upgrades for stats like strength and agility. They are functional and work in their simplest way, such as being used for meeting weapon requirements. This is not unique, but helpful for making the character you want to be. Unfortunately, this is really the problem Greedfall faces with its design: there are fantastic and varied options for creating the character you want to be, but the world is designed to make everyone a winner with minimal depth to it. You are not going to have fun, unless you go off the main path and take on challenges that are a couple of levels above you. To give an example of how forgiving this title is, I have not even mentioned that everyone has a health bar and an armour bar to deflect lethal blows, as it was never important to take into consideration. It felt like a life mechanic that could have been removed.