There are very few games I’ve played this year that can match the sheer ambition of Greedfall.
The new RPG from French game studio Spiders is a game that’s constantly punching above its weight, whether that’s through its unique setting, vast assembly of interesting RPG mechanics or intriguing, morally complex themes. Coming from a developer that’s not exactly the biggest fish in the proverbial RPG pond, you have to admire Greedfall’s courage in attempting to break free from the confines of its limited development power.
However, it’s clear after you clock a few hours into Greedfall that its lofty ambitions are a double-edged sword. It’s a game that tries to do so much that it never really does anything exceptionally; tries to create an experience so vast that it becomes clumsy and sluggish. There is a lot to like about Greedfall, but its drive to become an expansive and all-encompassing triple-A RPG leaves it a graceless adventure that lacks polish and refinement.
But before we get into that, it’s worth understanding the basic crux of Greedfall. You play as De Sardet (who can be either male or female), a legate for a fictional 17th-century colony of merchants that journeys to a mysterious island in search of a cure to a deadly disease ravaging his or her people. Upon arriving on the island, it becomes clear that finding said cure won’t be a simple task. The island’s natives are angry to see De Sardet’s colony, as well as multiple other factions, attempt to stake a claim to their land, while in-fighting between the colonisers themselves soon becomes a major issue. Before long, De Sardet (and by extension, the player) must look to broker peace on the island, all the while searching for a cure to save their people.
Framed afore the backdrop of a strange fantasy meets Colonial-era setting, Greedfall’s unique and outstanding world is easily its strongest asset. Fantasy games aren’t exactly few and far between, but combining the genre’s story-rich worlds with the style and unique range of issues that accompany the 17th-century setting makes for a fresh RPG landscape to explore. Its story deals with some pressing issues surrounding colonialism, the struggles between the native islanders and the brutish colonisers looking to push them off their land creating many strong moments that test your morals as a player. Admittedly, Greedfall’s writing is about as subtle as a thief wearing bells and a hi-vis vest, but there are still some interesting and complex points on show during its lengthy campaign.
Greedfall’s attention to story and setting always maintain a reason to remain in this world, no matter how rough proceedings get. Yet, it’s worth understanding just how rough Greedfall can sometimes be. From the character designs and dialogue to questlines and textures, everything in this colonial adventure is riddled with bugs or general clumsiness. Characters will disappear mid-cutscene, quests will break, and occasionally your NPC allies will just teleport off the map mid-fight (which frustratingly happened to me during the final encounter). But it’s not just the bugs that make the game look rough. Facial animations make characters look like lifeless dolls and bad voice acting consistently breaks your immersion.
This clumsiness extends even to the quest design and pacing of the game, which might be, by far, its worst quality. Everything feels somewhat plodding in Greedfall, whether that be the extensive overuse of fetch quests (some missions will task you with running places and talking to people for an hour), meaningless yet lengthy conversations, or the lack of fast travel unless you’re at a camp or city. It feels like the vast majority of my time with Greedfall was spent running around looking for my next objective, and while some might say it adds to the feeling of charting an untouched island, I’d argue hiking across the same areas for 30 hours feels more like excessive padding.
There’s also the game’s combat, which is somewhat sluggish. It mainly consists of mashing the attack and parry buttons until an enemy falls, with certain special magic or “fury” attacks employable from a tactical pause screen that you can pull up to freeze the action and decide your next move. It’s far from the worst combat I’ve ever seen in an RPG, with a wide selection of abilities, weapons and techniques to employ against foes. But the lack of enemy variety and amount of spongey, time-consuming opponents thrust upon you as you’re travelling to a quest location becomes tiresome fast. You’ll spend most of your time in Greedfall fighting the same selection of bears, lizards and bats throughout the entire campaign, occasionally getting to battle a few human NPC’s if you’re lucky. Even the boss encounters – which begin as mammoth battles of endurance – eventually become tedious, the game rotating through the same handful of titans for you to grind away at and eventually slay.
The game’s bad presentation and pacing are tough to swallow, especially because when Greedfall’s playing to its strengths, it’s a really fun game. The quests themselves are often interestingly designed and intriguing to invest in, some evoking relationship changes with your limited pool of companions, while smaller features like the intricate armour crafting mechanic and areas only accessible through certain skills put value on character builds.
The moral choices are also strong; one of the decisions in the game’s final few hours made me stop and ponder my choice for a solid ten minutes. They hardly ever wind up feeling as world-shattering as I was hoping, but a few of them make you consider whether your allegiances or your personal gain are more valuable, and that’s definitely a strong moral conundrum to have to make.
Overall, Greedfall is a game that I desperately want to love. It has a rich and unique setting as well as an intriguing story with an array of complex themes, but its poor presentation, sluggish pacing and buggy nature always restrict it from true brilliance. At the end of the day, Greedfall is a game that feels just a bit too big for its boots, and while its shorter-than-average runtime leaves it relatively inoffensive, it can’t help but feel destined to coat the bottom of bargain bins.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: September 10, 2019
Greedfall is an ambitious and, at times, enjoyable RPG that makes use of its unique setting to deliver a story full of intrigue and compelling themes. However, its clumsy presentation, slow gameplay and bug-prone nature leave it a game that always feels a few steps away from greatness. Greedfall definitely has its moments, but unfortunately, you’ll have to break through its severely rough exterior to find them.
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