Greedfall Review – Lost in the Detail
Releasing a new third-person RPG in 2019 is a tricky prospect. On the one hand, you need to honour and respect the classics. Thos games that have reinvigorated the genre in recent times such as The Witcher 3, Dragon Age, Skyrim and even Red Dead Redemption. At the same time, you need to set yourself aside from these games, so as not to be seen as yet another wannabe.
Greedfall is quite successful in both of these endeavours, but it is far from perfect.
Greedfall, developed by Spiders, who is perhaps best remembered for The Technomancer, is a game set in an environment rarely explored by modern RPGs. It has a very Baroque setting, one of extravagance and opulence set among a time of great exploration by sea.
But don’t let that fool you, the sea plays a very minor role in this tale.
Players take control of a young noble raised in the large city of Serene. Here, a plague has ravaged the land. A disease not unlike the Black Plague that struck Europe in the 1600s, killing millions. The player character is tasked with escorting their cousin to the island of Teer Fradee.
Here, their cousin is to be Governor and the player is to be the Legate in a new colony. This new colony has recently been set up by your alliance; the Merchant Congregation.
However, there are opposing forces at play here. Two opposing factions, the militaristic Bridge Alliance and the overly religious Theleme, have also built cities on the island. Most (if not all) of these factions are somewhat at odds with the local natives.
Your role is to act as a diplomat, of sorts, doing deeds for each of the factions. Your choices along the way will end up helping or hindering whomever you choose. Of course, this is an RPG, so there are plenty of thieves and beasts to battle along the way. There’s also a robust crafting system to put into use.
Of course, your role in Teer Fradee involves several angles.
On the one hand, you want to try to settle the conflict between the natives and the colonising forces. On the other, you also want to explore the ancient ruins to determine the larger story at play and also to find a cure for the Malichor; the plague that is decimating your homeland.
All of this plays out at a rather nice pace, at least initially. There are plenty of locations to visit, and each is gob-smackingly gorgeous. It can not be said that the developers did not pour love into the environments.
The attention and diversity show through in every little detail. I occasionally found myself overlooking the vista as I entered a new area, bewildered by its beauty.
There are also some very clear influences that the developers have very proudly worn on their sleeves for all to see. Both The Witcher 3 and the Dragon Age series get a look in here, with elements of both strongly represented within the gameplay. For example, your character can craft potions and traps, if you so choose, or can simply fight using magic, ranged, or melee weapons.
Plus, you can build a team that includes yourself and two AI-controlled characters, each with their own stories and capabilities and each of whom can be kitted out however the player may choose.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Choose Your Own Adventure
To be honest, it all works quite well in Greedfall as well. While you can choose a character class at the beginning of the game (replete, of course, with a fairly detailed character creation tool), how you choose to use your character is entirely flexible. You may start with a mage and end up a sword wielder, should you so choose.
You can use traps and potions or completely ignore them. In the same way, you can use pistols and other firearms, or focus on magic, or melee, or a combination of these.
However, there are only a limited number of character points that can be acquired through the game. Not only that, but there are three small character development trees that these are assigned to. Skills, of course, is a basic skill tree, allowing players to build towards certain capabilities.
This is the only way to unlock the ability to use firearms, for example.
Build ‘Em Up
Attributes, on the other hand, are more somewhat standard traits; Endurance and Strength, for example. Lastly, there are Talents, in which players can input points to define capabilities such as lockpicking, crafting, and charisma.
The problem here is that certain desirable Talents, Skills and Attributes can be locked away based on the initial character class choice that is made at the start of the game. Because certain points — especially Talent and Attribute points) — are rarely awarded, players need to plan towards a certain build right from the beginning of the game.
This is never made clear.
I did find myself regretting certain early game choices, particularly when it restricted the Armour or Weapons that I could use later in the game. I certainly felt silly carrying so many unique items but only being able to use common ones.
All of that said, players can reset their skills (completely) using Memory Crystals, but this starts you right out at the beginning. You’ll need to reassign everything. It’s a great way to fix mistakes you may have made, though.
There’s also the wonderful crafting system, which helps to balance out some of the skills and attributes you may be lacking. While weapons and armour can be found or purchased at varying degrees of rarity, many of them would also have crafting slots. These would allow players to make changes to the weapon based on their crafting skill level and the resources they find on their adventures.
Each of these also can be crafted with their own degrees of rarity and will improve the base stats of the weapon in various ways. Including increasing attributes while worn. Not only that, but they also improve the very look of the weapon or armour. I occasionally found myself surprised by the quite apparent change that my crafting had caused.
The battle mechanics are fine. They’re neither unsatisfying nor overly complex but neither are they overly enjoyable or simplistic. They’re just, fine.
In fact, I usually found myself spamming the same attack, although it was just as easy or effective to switch from weapon to weapon to magic. That said, when I discovered my heavy attack would not only do more damage but also break armour, it seemed stupid to use anything else.
And to be honest, that theme speaks volumes for the game at large.
A Few Issues
While there are plenty of options, many of them work equally well, but none are exceptional in their own right. And while there are certain aspects of Greedfall that are wonderful, there are plenty that are just ok.
Take the accents of the natives, for example. When I first encountered them, I found their accent grating. It seems like a bad impression of an Irish accent. However, I came to learn that all of the voice actors employed this same vocal trait, demonstrating that this annoyance was indeed intended as a quaint idiosyncrasy of the native accent.
Then there’s the story itself, which I must admit is quite interesting. It takes twists and turns and your choices can lead you to make friends of certain factions and enemies of others. I still get a feeling that no matter how hard you try, certain aspects of the narrative are going to happen, regardless.
At times I felt in control and at other times I felt helpless.
I should also mention the battles with the island’s “monsters.” Any other mention of what they are would ruin a useful plot device. These look intimidating and have a massive health bar, but it almost feels as if that’s what they are, a health bar.
They have their mechanics and are quite challenging if you choose a harder difficulty level, but they are too few and far between to be much more than aspects of the plot. In some ways, I wish there were more of these to encounter within the game, but on the other hand, that may also reduce their charm.
The difficulty level is an interesting point to note. On easy, the game essentially plays itself and while normal provides a challenge, most players will not encounter too much trouble. However, at higher difficulty levels, players will need to carefully prepare their armour and use specific attacks against specific enemies.
I’d even go as far as suggesting that the game is best played at a higher difficulty level.
Getting around, though, can be annoying at times. While there is fast travel, there is no real way to move quickly across large tracts of land. Thankfully there is no stamina mechanic. I still found myself wishing for a mount though, especially when the game forces you to investigate to a certain secluded area and then forces you to retrace your steps just to get back to a camp where you can fast travel.
And while most of the areas are lush and well designed, it was very striking that the main castles in the game use EXACTLY the same structure and design. They may use different textures, but it is striking that the assets are exactly the same, right down to the placement of crates.
Overall, Greedfall encourages players to take their time and explore. The many question marks across the map can often lead to skill altar, which grants a skill point. This is an RPG after all and it’s best played slow, exploring as many side quests as possible. And the highest difficulty you can manage.
I’m absolutely certain that you will enjoy the game more if you keep this in mind.
In some ways, Greedfall has the makings of a classic. It has all of the pieces of the puzzle, but there’s just not enough of them or perhaps the puzzle just isn’t complex enough.
At first glance, Greedfall will have your jaw on the floor. For my first few hours I was convinced we were looking at the next Witcher, but soon after, the veneer began to fade. What you’re left with is a highly competent game, with a bunch of really great features, that, for one reason or another, just don’t seem to gel into a cohesive whole that will leave a lasting impression.
Greedfall was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game title: Greedfall
Gorgeous and inventive - 9.4/10
Plenty of options for various playstyles - 9.2/10
Sadly, the sum of its parts feels incomplete - 5/10