- Art style is excellent.
- The lore is interesting.
- Crafting and skill trees have a good amount of choices.
- A good foundation to build on for the future.
- Doesn't really push any boundaries.
- Animations are quite clunky.
- Not enough depth to choice and consequence.
- Companions don't offer much to the experience.
Formed ten years ago, French developer Spiders may not yet have the pedigree of other bigger developers but they are quickly making a name for themselves with a new IP they hope will take the place of a hole left by veteran - and currently in flux - Canadian developers Bioware. After a mixed reception towards previous titles Bound By Flame (2014) and The Technomancer (2016), can Greedfall be the game that really propels them into the spotlight?
Taking place on the newly-colonized island of Teer Fradee, you are De Sardet, the Legate of the Merchant Congregation, tasked with accompanying your cousin Prince Constantin d’Orsay to the Congregation’s capital of New Serene. Constantin has recently been appointed governor of New Serene and your job is to be his emissary to the other nations on the island, as well as learn from and build diplomatic ties with the natives. This is no easy task as each faction has their own interests and customs, bringing them into constant conflict with each other.
Overshadowing your diplomatic mission is the desperate task of finding a cure for your people on the continent. They have been struck down by a mysterious disease known only as the Malichor but you have been led to believe that a possible cure may be found on Teer Fradee. How you will find one amidst the backdrop of warring factions with very particular claims to the island is where your journey begins.
There are six major factions: The Congregation of Merchants (your faction), The Bridge Alliance (a nation of scientists), Thélème (a highly religious nation of magic-wielders), the Coin Guard (a mercenary guild), the Nauts (a guild of sailors) and the Natives themselves. Each faction has its own values and aspirations as well as conflicts. The game does a good job of explaining the conflicts that arise almost as soon as you reach Teer Fradee. Even during the prologue you get a small sense of the motivations behind the factions and how they prefer to deal with problems. One of the first main missions in the game has you visit the cities and faction leaders where you slowly learn more about previous conflicts and present worries. Unfortunately, this never becomes more than a minor issue during the game and I couldn’t help but feel like the game played it too safe or made it too easy to talk your way out of conflicts if you sided with a faction against the wishes of another.
You have different relations with each Faction that can be improved by completing tasks.
You have a distinct reputation with each faction and in order to improve relations, you must help them complete various tasks and missions. The status of your reputation changes from Suspicious all the way up to Friendly and you gain rewards for successfully improving relations at certain tiers which is a nice touch and the rewards are extremely useful. The faction system is implemented well though it is a bit simplistic and your reputation does actually have bearing on story and side mission outcomes as well as how your companions may react. New dialogue options open up, giving you access to other ways of achieving certain goals. While not quite as complex and full of intrigue as a Dragon Age or Mass Effect, there is enough there to feel like it is worth your while to improve relations and unlike many Bioware titles, you can remain fairly neutral and still benefit from good relations across the board. Whether that is a positive is subjective depending on how you prefer to play.
This brings me to my next point in terms of your own character’s personality: De Sardet is not defined as a particular archetype in terms of good/evil. Indeed, it actually pays to be neutral more often than not as befits your role as a diplomat. I did enjoy not being so harshly funnelled down a good/evil path though with that came a trade-off - De Sardet’s personality wasn’t as strongly shaped over the course of the game. If you successfully navigate diplomatic waters, then the outcomes are almost too positive. Unlike the many gut-wrenching choices you find yourself having to make as a Grey Warden or Commander Shepard, you can happily sit on the fence in Greedfall but, because of this, I felt a little emotionally disconnected from the events of the game. What made the likes of Mass Effect. The Witcher 3, Life is Strange etc so compelling was the fact that you were confronted with your conscience at regular intervals but Greedfall plays it a little too safe here. This makes for mundane encounters where you don’t feel trepidation about your actions because you know the consequences will be mitigated somehow either by lying or by a lukewarm response to your decisions.
It's a good idea to invest heavily in Charisma and other skills to open up dialogue options.
While De Sardet’s personality doesn’t always shine strongly, some of your companions make up for it. There are five companions you acquire during your adventure, two almost immediately and then the other three a bit further into the story. Kurt is your typical old-fashioned soldier with a strong moral compass, Vasco is a sea captain with a storied past but a gentle heart, Petrus is a wise councillor and father-figure of the group, adept in the politics of the island, Siora is a strong-willed native with a vast knowledge of the island and people and Aphra is a scientist interested in the flora and fauna of the island to expand the research abilities of her people.
There are no optional companions and the way some of them join your adventure is rather abrupt. I found myself waiting for a compelling explanation and chat about their continued motivation to keep following you or even for one of the other companions to object or question them. Your team simply follow orders with no squabbling amongst themselves making companion management and keeping them happy an easy task. They do have their own quests to complete which increases your reputation with them in a similar fashion to factions. This in turn opens up different dialogue options and story developments and as their opinion of you gets better, you unlock stat bonuses when they are in your party. These are minor and even on Extreme don’t make that much difference. They can all be romanced, though again, this is fairly basic and easy to achieve. I felt like I didn’t have to work very hard to win their hearts and once won, it was easy to maintain their loyalty. The stories left me feeling like they were cheaply earned and didn’t capture my attention as I felt they could have. This became the theme during my time with Greedfall - an “almost there” feeling to every element. So much potential and many good ideas but not quite executed in a way that stays with you.
Companions have their own attributes and when the Friendly status is reached, you get special bonuses.
There are thankfully little in the way of fetch quests and most quests have you conducting investigations in a similar manner to The Witcher series. Each side quest has a proper story, though outside of conversations and politics, a lot of it is fast travelling to the next NPC. For those who are interested in story over gameplay, this won’t be an issue, but if you want things to do in between, you may find yourself getting bored with the repeated back and forth.
With so much invested in the story, you may wonder if Greedfall manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls many story-driven games make when it comes to overall combat and gameplay. Unfortunately, this is where the game struggles the most. Character creation consists of choosing from a very bland range of face customization with character models themselves looking quite ugly especially as there is a permanent (story) aesthetic grafted to your character’s face. Hairstyles are rudimentary though the range of moustaches on offer is a nice touch and fitting with the time period the game is influenced by. The 17th century influences in the game are everywhere, from the clothing styles to the architecture of the main cities. The aesthetic of the game is excellent and the first time you put on your cape and strut around the stately manors, you get a real sense of a swashbuckling adventure. However, the novelty does wear off after the first few hours.
The character creation options are unfortunately, rather limited.
You begin the game by choosing a class from the Warrior, Mage or Rogue archetypes which you can then customize further by investing in skills such as Intuition, Charisma, Vigor etc. You are not restricted in which skills to invest in and you can create class hybrids if you so choose such as a Warrior Mage or a sneaking rogue who dual wields greatswords. While having choice is nice and on lower difficulties doesn’t impact how successful you are, the harder difficulties require a good knowledge of complimentary skills. Indeed, I played a Mage on Extreme difficulty and the difficulty curve was steep compared to the Warrior. The Mage is very weak in the beginning until you unlock the better skills much later on.
There is a crafting system in place which is a requirement for making life easier as you level. As the game is severely lacking in armor options beyond the basics, crafting allows you to customise said armor by collecting (or purchasing) metals and other items you find on your travels. It works a lot like the Dragon Age: Inquisition system - for instance you can add shoulder guards to a basic doublet to increase armor rating or metal plating to gloves or boots for better balance and protection. This is a nice system and does feel worthwhile in investing time and resources to.
Game difficulty is mixed from laughably easy to incredibly harsh depending on what difficulty you select and the fact that there isn’t much information you can glean from enemies to tell whether you can fight them or not. The only times it is obvious an enemy is far above your level is the occasional red skull indicator above an enemy’s head.
The stuttering combat animations and how the game punishes you for any button mashing during live combat are also factors to consider. Trying to dodge enemy attacks consists of making sure you haven’t pressed too many buttons and are therefore locked in place while your character executes the attacks. This is reminiscent of games like Dark Souls where you can get locked in place for swinging your sword one too many times but unlike Dark Souls, the animations are not smooth enough to make this combat feel intuitive. Couple that with a delay when trying to change from attack to dodge or sprint, you can find yourself dying a lot while grappling with the combat system.
The Tactical Pause menu is a bit too limited and doesn't offer enough detail to truly plan out your approach.
There is a tactical pause menu which I think the developers wanted you to use to carefully plan your attacks but I can honestly say I used it only a handful of times even on Extreme. The Tactical Pause menu offers very little information on your enemies and you can only issue very basic commands to your teammates. This is a massive oversight and not being able to switch to other teammates yourself makes them feel largely redundant and eradicates any real need to use the Tactical Pause menu. I used teammates as distractions and cannon fodder while I made sure my own character was overpowered to solo fight enemies. The AI is very basic and there are no options to even set any basic AI attack patterns for your companions. They regularly charge in with abandon and execute the same set pattern of attacks regardless of the enemy type they are fighting. With that said, you can equip your companions with weapons, armor and accessories which allows for some small customisation options. The variety in weapons and armor leaves something to be desired with only a handful of options for each.
The same can be said for enemy variety: there is a tiny selection of enemy types, many of which do not behave in ways that are that different to another enemy. Their attacks mostly consist of either charging you and smacking you in the face or spitting poison at you from a distance. You mostly fight twisted versions of bears, wolves and bats as well as human soldiers and bandits. The most interesting enemies by far are the island guardians - hulking monstrosities that tower over your party and come with a health pool and strength to match. There are five types of guardians and thankfully, they are distinct from each other not only aesthetically but in attack patterns. These fights are the real highlight of the game and I couldn’t help but wish there were more encounters because, for all the awkwardness of combat, every encounter with a Guardian really allowed me to show off my character skills and see their progression first-hand. Sadly, these encounters are far too sparse and left me with a sense of wanting more to be sufficiently satisfied.
The map is broken up into regions and little areas rather than one seamless map. This has the benefit of you not having to traverse endless empty regions which can be an issue with true open world games but the areas are still sparse themselves. Aside from a few camps, most areas are a rinse and repeat of each other with some gathering spots for herbs or ore for crafting, a few groups of enemies and the occasional chest of loot. You may also find the odd deer or fox roaming around but that is pretty much the extent of any wildlife you see. The ecology and geology of each area is limited to some swampy regions, a few grasslands and farms and some forests. This is a real shame as what’s there is often quite beautiful and the lighting effects can make for some wonderful moments, especially at sunset.
The three major cities are where the most diversity happens. Each one is distinct architecturally and culturally though they also have similar layouts. They all have one tavern, a harbor and a manor where you spend most of your time. I did appreciate the interior decorations of the manors with the many portraits on the wall, lavish decor and the grand halls where business is conducted. Cities have plenty of NPCs wandering about and they do chat and act busy to give some life to the areas. After dark is likely to bring you up against bandits and those of unscrupulous persuasions. The attention to detail in the cities is obvious and they definitely captured the look and feel of colonial times.
The game has some wonderful lighting and vistas.
Overall sound design and music are decent if uninspiring. There are a few standout musical moments, namely during your time in the cities. The voice acting is mostly very good with notable performances from both De Sardet actors (male and female) and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Constantin. There is a nice range of accents depicting faction and area differences though some of them were a little jarring and there were times when an unexpected accent would come out of the mouth of an NPC. This is a minor issue however.
Technically, I encountered little in the way of major bugs and only had one crash during my 100+ hours with the game. With that said however, I did have some screen tearing and framerate stutters when playing with the settings on Maximum despite having a PC more than capable of handling the game. There were camera issues where characters’ faces would be covered up by the camera zooming in too closely during dialogue as well as occasional models popping in and out of frame.
All in all, Greedfall is a frustrating experience: it has the makings of a great IP with interesting concepts and lore that if fully realised, could make for a compelling series. But this is constantly offset by a sense of what’s there isn’t quite enough and the game is artificially fleshed out by a lot of rinse-and-repeat mechanics. With a bit more in the way of choice and consequences for your actions and more diversity in enemies and their AI, Greedfall could be the next great action RPG series. As it stands however, there isn’t enough here to keep you returning to the game over and over.
Greedfall is a frustrating experience: there are some firm foundations to build from and it has all the makings of the next great action-RPG series. But the game lacks depth to really take it to lofty heights where it could knock the very best off their perch.