A few hours into the action-RPG GreedFall will remind gamers of early Bioware games such as the Dragon Age series, where choices of violence or diplomacy are options. But instead of being developed by the titans that Bioware, the game comes from the french based indie developer Spiders. How does this open-world fantasy title fare in terms of combat and story?
The game heavily focuses on an in-depth story about Lord or Lady de Sardet, seeking a cure in unknown lands, but adds magic and fantasy into a tale where narrative choices will be the driving force of outcomes. It’s a large scale fantasy RPG that can be compared to the likes of Dragon Age: Inquisition, while borrowing bits of The Witcher, Dark Souls, and Dragon’s Dogma along the way.
Based on my 20+ hours with GreedFall, the game’s setting alone makes it worth checking out. And there’s also an entertaining combat system, lots of character customization and a unique cast of party members to recruit. It’s not nearly as deep as the games I’ve mentioned above, but if you like getting to know your companions and exploring huge, somewhat open-world levels, it’s a pretty easy recommendation.
Throughout my early hours in the game, I could feel its reduced scope but didn’t mind it, as I traveled to new locations and found quests that took curious story twists and turns, all set against a novel backdrop. Its characters have a heart despite some weird animations and unnerving lip-syncing, and while I liked some companions more than others, I understood their allegiances and motivations.
The story tells of a young aristocrat (male or female depending on your choice) with a mysterious heritage who must travel from their home in the city of Serene to the legendary island of Teer Fradee. The purpose is to install de Sardet’s cousin, Constantin d’Orsay, as governor and find a cure for the Malichor, an unnatural disease that has claimed countless lives.
Along your journey you’ll meet a number of different factions including the Nauts who spend their time sailing the seas and the Natives who also possess magical influence.
Through-out your journey you’ll face beasts, harmful foes while mastering a number of skills and weapons of choice. Whether it be magic, two-handed weapons or even pistols that take your favour. But it won’t be just combat you will need to master as there often different ways to deal with situations, you can talk your way out of things or even use science to blow up and unblock a new path. The narrative plays out as you would expect, you encounter a native land where not everyone is happy to see these settlers and relations are tense. How you react to certain factions requests can negatively or positively affect your standing with them. Even siding with your companions is not always straightforward as it could also affect how they see you too. This feeling of having something to lose makes GreedFall more interactive with the story telling.
Like most western RPGs (ala Dragon Age, Mass Effect), GreedFall has three main aspects of gameplay: exploration, combat and conversation. In keeping with the game’s 17th-century inspirations, simply mapping out each new area is a big part of GreedFall’s gameplay, and it’s one of the best parts of the game.
When you arrive on Teer Fradee, you get three big, open-ended main quests: to meet with the other two foreign powers on the island as well as the closest group of natives. To do so, you’ll have to walk to the outskirts of town, then set off into the wilderness. Each wilderness area is a large, self-contained map that includes a number of question marks and a lot of blank space.
As you explore, you’ll fill in the map and discover what each question mark represents. It could be a useful campsite, or a small settlement, or an altar that confers a skill point, or the launching point for an involved side quest. The only way to find out is to go there.
Speaking of skill points, GreedFall has three different skill trees. This seems like it can be a bit much to handle, but it’s easy enough to grasp. Every time you level up, you get a single skill point that governs one tree. The other trees’ points are staggered, so you get them every several levels instead of each one. The tree that gets a point with each level strictly governs what weapons and abilities you have access to. You’ll need to put points into one-handed swords to use those, for instance. You’ll want to have points in any magic or science-based abilities as well, such as a healing spell or the ability to place traps in the field.
The next skill tree controls what you can equip when using those weapons and abilities. So, if you’ve put points into one-handed swords, you’ll still need to put points in the second tree for agility – otherwise, you won’t be able to equip the more powerful weapons. This skill tree is also used for wearing heavy armor and increasing your damage and magic capabilities. The last skill tree, then, governs your non-combat abilities. This includes things like charisma, which you’ll use to talk your way out of things, or craftsmanship, which allows you to upgrade your equipment or repair items in the field.
The combat in GreedFall is pretty good. It’s action-based, although there’s a tactical pause menu, too, to complement the frenzy of real-time fighting against beasts. But it’s better when played as an action game. Each weapon has three principle attacks that vary based on the type. As an example, swords have a regular combo slash, a kick that can knock your enemies off-balance, and a fury attack that consumes part of a gauge that builds as you land hits. You can also have abilities and items set to quick access buttons. These are where you’ll put your gun, healing items/spells, traps, and whatnot.
Your character can also dodge and parry attacks, which can be used to cancel out of your own attacks as well. The combat is very responsive because of this, and it’s easy to get yourself out of harm’s way and fight back, even when greatly outnumbered. If you kick an enemy or parry their attack, you can knock them off balance or even onto the ground, which will let you get free hits in. The weapons are fairly fun to use to boot.
GreedFall also has a rather interesting health system, where armor plays a large part. Basically, all characters and enemies have a health bar and an armor bar, as long as you have armor the health damage will be reduced. Finding ways to both cracks open an enemy’s armor and do enough damage to its health is key to taking down tougher beasts.
Greedfall does have some issues, but they’re issues born from perhaps too much ambition as opposed to a lack thereof. The graphics are fine, the voice acting is passable and the game is stable, although there are some visual bugs (hair clipping through hats was a common one) and a ton of typos in the dialogue. For every enemy whose AI resets because you moved to far away from a set area during a fight, there’s a new outfit to modify or spell to learn. For every janky cutscene or out of place regional accent, there’s a snippet of lore to be found that fleshes out the 17th-century-like seafaring world Spiders have created.
And the heart that has gone into making it by the developers Spiders balances out many of the minor annoyances and quirks that might have proved the downfall of a less passionate development team.
Greedfall is saved by its story, which may not be hugely original, but mixes maritime adventure with the fantasy and intrigue of something like the Witcher to produce a plot that can easily whisk you off.
While combat may be a little loose, it’s also a lot of fun, giving you a fair amount of options for every encounter – or indeed for avoiding every encounter if that’s how you want to play. And the characters are a boon, from the loyal Kurt and the difficult-to-trust Petrus.
Is GreedFall perfect? No but it does offer a unique experience with one of the better game stories I’ve come across. Based on these merits, GreedFall is a good game that’s not quite great. The Developer, Spiders have surpassed what they’ve delivered before and, despite its flaws, Greedfall is easily their biggest and best game yet. I look forward to see what they have to over next.
GreedFall is available now for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.