When I first booted up GreedFall, I was nervous and excited. It almost felt like I really was taking a fantastic voyage to a new and exciting land. Admittedly, this was exactly the kind of mindset I was trying to avoid. I didn’t want to overhype the game for myself any more than it already had been by so many video game journalists. They talked about GreedFall being “as great as The Witcher 3” and developer Spiders being “the next BioWare”. That is a lot of pressure to put on a small studio with only about two dozen video game designers. While by no means an outstanding AAA RPG, GreedFall has managed to create an experience unique enough to earn praise and distinction from long-time RPG genre frontrunners.
Jack of All Trades, but Master of None
You begin the game with the main character, De Sardet, getting their portrait painted. This moment acts as the player character creation. Character customization is limited to roughly a half-dozen presets, with just as many options in hair, facial hair (for male De Sardet), and eyebrows. The most variety is seen in nearly twice as many choices in eye color, and three times as many choices in hair color. After that, the player chooses a class, though this is really to pick three skills from the branching skill tree to get first. The player can then get a skill point each in an Attribute and a Talent. Attributes boost equipment in combat, while Talents are most often utilized for non-combat skill checks. For example, “Strength” boosts your melee combat with heavy weapons, and “Charisma” offers a persuasive dialogue option that could potentially turn the tide of a conversation.
Almost immediately after character customization, De Sardet is given their combat tutorial. It is during this opening scene that I immediately notice the issue with facial animations: the lips of a character rarely match what they are saying. It’s possible that the lip-syncing was matched to French V-O, and doesn’t translate as well with English dubbing (similar to the reactions gamers had about facial animations in Life is Strange). Whatever the reason, it’s noticeable enough to detract from the dialogue.
I recommend doing the full tutorial, which provides numerous details about GreedFall’s combat system. For example, in addition to HP, some enemies have armour that must be whittled down in order to lower their HP. Fortunately, since I chose “Magic” as my starting “class”, I had access to offensive spells…which allowed me to ignore armour when attacking. Unfortunately, magic-users are very vulnerable to melee combat, which made combat difficult for me initially, as I attempted to learn the best ways to keep my foes at a distance and dodge or parry their attacks. Armour icons can also be difficult to see at the top of the health bar, so if you’re a melee or firearms fighter, the best advice I can give is to keep hitting until you start to see their health go down.
After the combat tutorial, we set off to explore the city and find our cousin. Constantin d’Orsay has been appointed by his father (the ruling Prince d’Orsay) to be the new royal governor of New Serene: the colony for the Congregation of Merchants on the newly-discovered island of Teer Fradee. Many on the “Old Continent” of Gacane hope that Teer Fradee will have a cure for the malichor: a Black Death-like blood plague that has been ravaging the continent and its nations for years.
We begin the prologue in the colony’s namesake: Serene, the largest city and main port for the Congregation of Merchants. I quickly learned that Serene is definitely not the safe “beginner’s level” that I assumed it to be. The dangers became apparent when I strolled down an alleyway and the three passersby I attempted to greet turned out to be Bandits looking for easy prey. And as a mage in close-quarters melee combat, I was…several times. Needless to say, I advise magic-users to invest at least some skill points into melee combat. A few whacks from my hammer later, and I began strolling around Serene with my first companion: Kurt, from the combat tutorial.
Kurt is master-of-arms for both the De Sardet family and the Orsay family. He is also a mercenary with one of the game’s six factions: the Coin Guard, which acts as the Congregation’s de facto military and police. Kurt comes in particularly handy for ranged De Sardets: let Kurt draw in most of the enemies, while you pick them off at a distance. In my playthrough, I recruited five of the six available companions (Constantin being a temporary companion in Serene, and Aphra only being available after further exploring Teer Fradee).
I spent a great deal of time doing side quests on my way to find Constantin and set sail. The game offers multiple opportunities in these side quests to learn that there are multiple ways to resolve a quest. Perhaps you can break out that prisoner by blowing a hole in the wall with an explosive phial? Or maybe you can pick the lock on his cell door? Or maybe you can convince the guard to let him go with a high amount of Charisma or gold? Or…maybe you can just kill all the guards and take the key off their bodies? Ultimately, the choice is yours how to proceed.
As the appointed ambassador (or “Legate”) for New Serene, De Sardet has a surprising amount of influence and privilege for a Level 1 character. Nothing is quite as fun as dressing down a greedy merchant with a successful Charisma check. Some areas you explore belong to a specific faction, and that faction may be hostile if you refuse to turn back…unless you happen to be wearing an outfit affiliated with that faction. I managed to avoid such a confrontation at a Naut-controlled warehouse, and even successfully convinced the guards that I was their relief for their watch. And thus, I happily investigated and looted the warehouse while the Naut guards were off drinking.
Keep Your Friends and Enemies Close
As I explored Serene, I got a better idea about the state of GreedFall’s world and the factions that operate in it. Not including the Natives of Teer Fradee, there are three nations (the Congregation of Merchants, the Bridge Alliance, and Thélème) and two guilds (the Coin Guard and the Nauts). These factions and their stories are the beating heart at the center of GreedFall. De Sardet (at least, initially) and Constantin are both citizens of the Congregation: a neutral plutocracy ruled by a council of merchant-princes. The Congregation prefers to gather power through increasing their wealth, rather than war. This has proved advantageous, as war has been raging for years between the Bridge Alliance and Thélème.
The Bridge Alliance is a scientifically-motivated confederacy, while Thélème is a theocratic magocracy. Thélème despises the Alliance professors as godless heathens, and the Alliance similarly scorns Thélème as imperialist bigots. Both nations have colonies on Teer Fradee as well, though the war has yet to spread to the island’s shores. It helps that the Alliance colony of Hikmet and the Thélème colony of San Matheus are literally on opposite sides of the island.
War between the two on Teer Fradee is also stalled by the Bridge Alliance’s conflict with the Natives. The Bridge Alliance seeks to scientifically study the island, without regards to the ecological damage they cause. Thélème is more-than-happy to take advantage of the conflict to further their efforts to convert the Natives to worship of the “Enlightened”…even as the Thélème Inquisition tortures Native pagans and burns them at the stake. The Natives prayed to their gods (nature spirits) for help against these invaders, and the island itself answered by creating “guardians”: giant tree-monsters that fight the colonists with merciless wrath.
You fight one such creature before departing Serene for Teer Fradee: a specimen brought back to the Old Continent by the Nauts and the Bridge Alliance. Combat in this boss battle was difficult, especially as a mage. The beast could quickly close the distance and then body-slam on top to deal massive damage. Locking-on to the creature proved complicating, as lateral movement left or right actually drew you *closer* to it…which is not convenient when the whole point is to get out of the way. This was also the fight when I quickly learned that mana takes time to regenerate in combat.
Mana can be fully replenished by consuming a potion…but potions take a bit of time to drink and take effect. Time that say, a giant tree-monster can collapse on top of you…again…and again…and again. Needless to say, I reduced the combat difficulty from “Normal” to “Easy” at this point, and finally put the monster out of its misery. It may have been easier to switch to my melee weapon as my mana recharged, but I didn’t want to be near enough for its close-range swipes either.
After the boss battle, we set sail! Finally…Teer Fradee! All my side-questing had gotten me up to Level 5 by the time I arrived in New Serene. Almost immediately, my cousin Constantin set me to work as his Legate by journeying to the other nation’s colonies of Hikmet and San Matheus. It is also at this point that we are introduced to Síora: one of the Natives and daughter (or “princess”, as De Sardet mistakenly identifies her) of a Native chieftain.
Síora has come seeking an alliance against the Bridge Alliance, which is right now attacking a Native village. On our way to these settlements, I notice that Teer Fradee’s “open world” areas are a little too…open. There are enemies and objects to interact with, but not nearly as many as some completionists or explorers would expect. Many areas closely resemble each other, with not nearly enough variety in enemies and design to set them apart. Even the governors’ mansions have the exact same architecture, despite having been built by different nations.
The Sights and Sounds of a New World
But in spite of this uniformity, there is a beauty to Teer Fradee. The Spiders team took their inspiration from Baroque art and music, and it oozes in every gorgeous facet. The soundtrack (composed by the National Orchestra of France) showcases not only the harpsichords, organs, and brass instruments of the Baroque period, but also the flutes, bagpipes, and vocals of traditional Celtic music (the Celts being the primary inspiration for the Natives of Teer Fradee). It’s an intriguing listen to hear the stringed instruments start to take over and drums intensify as you leave a colonial settlement, with the map and the music literally giving way to the sights and sounds of Native Teer Fradee.
GreedFall is very good about hitting the right emotional beats when it needs to. This is especially so in cutscenes. I need to give credit to GreedFall’s voice actors for really knocking it out-of-the-park. Both Jamie Blackley and Cassie Layton are superb as the male and female De Sardet, respectively. Ben Lloyd-Hughes does a wonderful performance as the spoiled and thrill-seeking cousin Constantin. I especially need to applaud Kezia Burrows as the passionate and vengeful Síora. How many voice actresses could deliver a line so that it is both heartbreakingly sad *and* terrifyingly threatening? I don’t want to spoil the moment, so you can hear that raw emotion for yourself. Honestly: there could be tears. The poor facial animations can obscure these performances, but not truly diminish them.
In spite of its technical shortcomings, I really do applaud the work that Spiders has accomplished with GreedFall. They managed to produce a fun action RPG with all the elements of great RPGs that have preceded them, but at a fraction of the development team and budget. Some reviewers are quick to criticize GreedFall for failing to live up to its hype, but in a way, it succeeded in doing so.
GreedFall is a genuinely fun game with a varied cast of characters and factions to interact with. To quote Les Brown: “Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land in the stars.” Well, by that logic and the studio’s budget, not only did Spiders successfully launch the rocket, but they built that rocket with nothing but a toaster and some 200 feet of fiber optic cable. Yes, they could’ve landed on the Moon, and it could’ve been great, but now they’re up there with the real stars. And I can’t wait to hear at the next E3, when everyone is gossiping about the latest news about Dragon Age: The Dread Wolf Rises or Cyberpunk 2077: “Hey, did you hear what Spiders is working on now?”
Maybe I’m overplaying Spiders and their success, but one thing is for sure: GreedFall is sure to find a following amidst gamers who are looking to return to familiar mechanics, but seeking new stories to devour in the wait for more big-name franchises. And trust me: if you find yourself charmed on GreedFall’s story, nothing that I’ve said about mechanics and gameplay will matter. You will be far too busy defending the Natives alongside Síora, brokering peace between the Coin Guard and the Nauts, or crafting potions with Aphra and the Bridge Alliance. Otherwise, it is a decent, fun entry in a beloved video game genre. And honestly, shouldn’t “fun” be the whole point in a video game?
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