The first RPG I ever played was Skyrim on my Dad’s PC. It was so intoxicating and immersive and unlike anything I had played before that, in my mind, it doomed all other RPGs to mediocrity in comparison. I sunk 200 hours into that son of a bitch and still had to resort to modding the crap out of it, just to keep getting those hits of sweet, juicy RPG goodness.
And then, once I’d squeezed every last drop of content from the game, I immediately began my search for a new addiction – the next RPG that was going to totally take over my life.
And you know what? I’m still searching, even a decade later. But I think I came very close with Greedfall.
Greedfall is a fantasy RPG inspired by 17th century colonial France. It was developed by a French developer Spiders (which may explain the French connection) with Greedfall being by far their most ambitious project to date.
It is a fascinating and unique RPG that bares a striking resemblance to the Witcher III, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and other heavily choice-orientated RPGs for all the right reasons, but the more I played, the more baffling it became to me that nobody was really talking about this game. You throw a stick in the air around here and it will land on somebody preaching the gospel about how great those games are (particularly the Witcher III, which it is almost illegal to criticise.) Well, no more! This is a space for Greedfall appreciation.
Choices, choices, choices
A compelling story is the foundation upon which any great RPG is built, and in this case, Greedfalls foundation is rock solid and engrossed me for the entirety of my play through. You play as a nobleman from the continental city of Serene who has come to the mysterious island of Teer Fradee. Your mission is two-fold: you must act as a diplomatic emissary and represent Serene in the courts of her allies who have already settled on Teer Fradee, whilst also finding a cure for the deadly blood plague that is ravaging your homeland. Seems simple enough, right?
Greedfalls quests usually involve either mystery and political intrigue. Many of the quests involve an investigation – examine a crime scene, question a suspicious individual, use your big-brain deduction skills find out the truth – similarly to the Witcher IIIs approach to its quests. It worked great then, and it works just as well now; each side quest is its own delicately crafted mystery, and usually simple requests turn out to be far more nuanced than the quest-giver will let on.
Other quests involve using your people skills to resolve conflict between the various factions inhabiting Teer Fradee – you came to the island as a diplomat, so taking care of problems and making people happy is kind of what you do – but whose problems you take care of and whose happiness you choose to prioritise will have far reaching consequences. Greedfall is a game about choices, and you can’t be all things to all men.
Most RPGs with a focus on story-telling tend to be far too long and outstay their welcome. Thankfully, Greedfall bucks this trend and can be completed in under 35 hours.
Most RPGs are set in the medieval era and start you off as a low-life nobody who has to claw their way to money and power. In Greedfall, you are already a nobleman, rubbing shoulders with the most important people on the island and that presents its own unique challenges. This is part of what makes Greedfall so refreshing to play. It’s an absolute crime that the the 17th century is rarely represented in the world of videogames despite being such a fascinating period of history.
Unskippable dialogue, unforgettable story
Greedfall’s dialogue is unskippable – not because you can’t skip it but because nobody in their right mind would. The writing is absolutely top-notch and captures all the pomp and courtesy of colonial era aristocratic waffle whilst also clipping along at a respectable pace.
Believable dialogue makes for believable characters and believable interactions – this is incredibly important in a game with so many people to interact with, feelings to consider and hard choices to make. The relationship between the main character and their cousin Constantin is the high-point of the whole game – love and admiration for a person can drive them to do the most heinous things.
The quality of the dialogue combined with its strong storytelling allowed Greedfall to succeeded in doing something very few other games have managed to do – I actually gave a damn about the characters. In truth, I didn’t even realise just how much of a damn I gave until the ending slapped me right across the face and made me question whether the choices I’d made thusfar were worth it. I’m still thinking about that ending weeks later.
To put it in perspective, I cared far, far more about what happened to de Sardet, Constantin and the fate of the Teer Fradee islanders than I ever cared about what happened to Ciri in the Witcher III, or what happened to Commander Shephard in Mass Effect. I refuse to be apologetic about that.
The voice acting is generally good, but the voices of the main character, Constantin and the faction leaders in particular were super impressive. The only thing that somewhat lets the game down is the sub-par facial animations. The lip syncing is all over the place and their faces are so stiff it can be quite distracting, which is strange considering that the rest of the animation is of a good quality. However, luckily there’s so much flavour in the actual dialogue that characters still come to life even in spite of their flat, robotic faces, which is really the highest compliment I can pay.
Unfortunately, it’s clear that the more action-orientated facets of the gameplay were starved of the love and attention afforded to its slower paced RPG elements.
Once again, the combat is very reminiscent of the Witcher III with light attacks, heavy attacks and an emphasis on timed dodges, but it also sports a strange “tactical pause” feature. To access your potions, spells and abilities, you activate a tactical pause menu which pauses combat and allows you to cast a spell or use a potions ad hoc. You can assign your most important items/abilities that you use frequently to the up, down, left and right buttons (on controllers). This functions perfectly fine but the menu system itself is not very intuitive and it’s easy to forget which spells and abilities you have when they’re hidden away outside of the tactical pause.
It also frustrated me that using a ranged weapon like a gun required me to use one of the my four hotkeys – presuming I want to save space for a health potion and a magic potion, that leaves me only one other hotkey for spells. As a magic user, I would’ve like to have saved that extra hotkey slot for another spell.
The enemy variety is also lacking. You will be fighting the same 5-6 breeds of animal for the majority of the game. If you choose to play diplomatically, you’ll hardly ever need to fight humans at all. There’s quite a bit of recycling of minibosses, all of which have far too predictable movesets to be considered challenging. Just dodge when you need to dodge and make sure you have at least one ranged weapon. It’s no Dark Souls, I’ll say that much.
But looking on the bright side, as long as you don’t mind lengthy sections of dialogue, you can simply choose a speechcraft or stealth build and none of this has to be a problem for you.
Lack of space to explore sometimes makes you feel like you’re playing on rails
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – not every game has to be open-world. There have been many games made in the past 5-6 years that had absolutely no business being open-world. Unfortunately, Greedfall has the opposite problem and could have done with giving players more opportunities to explore.
Players looking for a Witcher III-esque experience will be disappointed here. Greedfall does not reward the player for going off the beaten path and trying to explore, which, I admit, seems strange for a game of this nature.
Greedfall is area-based meaning that you fast travel between areas and there are physical barriers to prevent you from leaving. There are plenty of areas to explore, but they’re covered in invisible walls or skill checks. Some areas of the map are completely closed off until a specific quest has been completed as a prerequisite.
You have very little mobility as a player – you can’t jump up apart from in certain places, and you can’t drop down from any height apart from in certain places – which, coupled with the lack of any sort of mount to speak of, means getting around can be a chore. This can be especially problematic considering that you’ll be required to travel on foot a LOT. There are campsites which act as fast travel sites but there are usually only a handful spread across an area. Most of the time, you’ll need to walk – and by walk, I mean walk in a very specific direction otherwise you’ll get stuck on an invisible barrier
How the hell did this game get ‘mixed’ reviews? Life’s just not fair.
Greedfall isn’t perfect – technically, it leaves much to be desired – but it does capture the true essence of what a great RPG should be. It makes you think, and more importantly, it makes you feel. Excellent dialogue, a rich story with plenty of opportunity to role-play and all wrapped up in a unique fantasy world set in an unappreciated era of history.
And yet, Greedfall got mixed reviews upon its release. It was nominated for a whole host of awards for story-telling and art, but failed to win any of them. Clearly other players didn’t see what I see.
This shouldn’t matter to me – after all, who cares what other people think about games I like? – but it absolutely does matter because I NEED more Greedfall in my life and I would hate to think that the middling reviews quashed any chance of a Greedfall 2 being released.
For know, I’ll have to be content playing through the DLC.
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