GreedFall Review - A Sublime 17th Century Experience

Spiders' latest RPG is their best work to date, featuring a cast of amazingly-written characters and solid combat mechanics.
8.5
  • Playstation 4
  • Windows
  • Xbox One
  • Action
  • Action-Adventure
  • RPG
2019-09-10
GF Title
A solid narrative-driven RPG with some very mild flaws. Focus Home Interactive

It’s been a while since I got to play a thoroughly engaging role-playing game this year, and for that matter GreedFall is also probably one of the most surprising. French developer Spiders’ latest foray into the genre is not in any way groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it succeeded in giving Western RPG fans something new to look forward to. Not only that, it has also managed to excel at something that most other Western RPGs have now thrown out the window in favor of combat, exploration and other gameplay aspects, which is its dialog and narrative. Mix all of that with its solid gameplay and gripping immersion makes GreedFall a flawed yet inherently amazing masterpiece that’s a must-play for every fan of the Western RPG genre.

Story, dialog, worldbuilding and themes

GF Mother
GreedFall's main plot centers on De Sardet trying to find a cure for the Malichor, a plague upon Serene. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

GreedFall excels the most when it comes to its overarching story and dialog. It really delivers on realistic, yet subversive writing steeped in an intricate weave of history and fantasy. Set in a faux alternate 17th century fantasy world, GreedFall’s story centers on the mysterious island of Teer Fradee, which is caught in a growing conflict between different factions. In a sense, it takes direct inspiration from the European colonization of the Americas, but with fantasy elements like magic and monsters mixing in with the growing technological marvels of gunpowder and other industrial elements.

The setting is well-realized, with a thorough backstory to boot. Your character, De Sardet, is an ambassador of sorts for the Congregation of Merchants’ first settlement on Teer Fradee called New Serene. The Congregation is a powerful neutral nation that leads the civilized world in terms of commerce and exploration, and during the events of the game is caught up between two major issues: one is of a brewing war between the Bridge Alliance and the Thélème, two opposing factions with very different ideologies. The other is a mysterious illness called Malichor, which is plaguing the city of Serene, the heart of the Congregation of Merchants.

GF Vasco
Factions feel realistic in their motivations and ambitions. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The Congregation’s main reason for Teer Fradee’s colonization comes from a need to find a possible cure for Malichor, which is De Sardet’s main motivator throughout the game. Of course, as a genuinely deep and engrossing RPG, you get thrust into a world of intrigue and machinations, with each of the game’s five other factions vying for control in this new world. All of them have believable motives and well-written overarching narratives which really helps flesh out this world.

GreedFall also makes use of a companion system, and these companions will help you on your journey throughout the island of Teer Fradee. Each companion comes from the various conflicting factions on the island, which makes their interactions very interesting and engaging. The system is pretty in-depth as well, allowing for levels of relationships which grant bonuses depending on how well you get along with the companions. Each of them has a quest arc to finish, which advances in tandem with the game’s main arc. They’re all surprisingly well-written, shining a strong light on the motivations of these characters beyond the factions they serve.

GF Companions
GreedFall lets you pick up to two companions to join you on quests. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

In some regards, GreedFall feels very much like Spiders’ most advanced attempt at something like Mass Effect, and in terms of character building, the studio has succeeded at making remarkably human characters in a fantastic historical realm. Balancing these characters and working them into the game’s larger plot feels incredibly satisfying, and it’s easily the most polished aspect of GreedFall.

Good writing doesn’t just permeate through your companions either, as the many other characters of GreedFall all serve as these intricate pieces of a 17th century puzzle that’s also an illuminating look at the human condition. The character of Constantin, your cousin and New Serene’s governor, is probably one of the best examples of this, as well as a good example of subversive writing. While on the surface he acts like a hedonistic and pompous brat, he hides a mean and rather ambitious streak that’s filled with intelligent plotting and disingenuous schemes. Of course, while some characters like Constantin are written excellently, there are some who will feel lackluster in comparison; I always felt this way while dealing with the natives, especially those associated with Siora, your companion from that faction.

GF Narratives
Dialog feels grounded and realistic. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

All of that said, what really helped GreedFall transcend into its own in terms of its narrative besides its brilliant structuring and plot is its dialog, which feels appropriate to its 17th century setting, It’s one of the few games this year that I didn’t find myself skipping the dialog over, and it’s due to the fact that the interactions between the characters are really decent. The only true fault I found was with De Sardet, who sometimes feels awkward and out of place, in addition to the endless foreshadowing about the true nature of his birth. 

GreedFall’s world building is exceedingly good. The concept and overall setting are fresh and offer a nice little perspective into how magic and fantasy elements pay little heed to politics and intrigue. GreedFall is the saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” personified, as somehow the appearance of wondrous things does little to change human nature. 

For GreedFall’s overarching narrative the sum is greater than the parts, and despite a few tenuous moments here and there, I found its story and worldbuilding to be an incredibly satisfying journey into humans and the greater ambitions that keep us all divided. It’s not by all means a happy tale, or a sad one, but a rather enlightening story of how our choices and their many consequences come to always define us in the end.

Gameplay, combat and exploration

GF Combat
Combat feels weighty and satisfying. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

GreedFall is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to its overall gameplay aspects. That said, the combat is incredibly satisfying, and out of all the gameplay aspects in GreedFall, it’s easily the most defined and well-polished. Overall combat can be likened to something out of The Witcher 3.

Part of the initial character creation stage is a selector for your starting class, which can be Warrior, Technical or Magic. There’s no actual benefit with choosing one over the other, as GreedFall’s RPG system works intuitively, allowing for incredible freedom between skills, attributes, and talents. That said, a starting class allows you early access to that specialization’s skills, which determines how your early game will go. You can mix and match this as you go, which is part of the beauty in GreedFall’s overall gameplay mechanics.

While you can fine-tune your combat preferences through the expansive skills tree, a good part of what makes GreedFall’s RPG system so interesting is the charisma and talent options. After a handful of levels, you gain a point to spend in both of these trees, which helps determine the finer details in your character playstyle. Attributes like strength and agility help you wield better and stronger melee weapons, while putting points into endurance grants you more health and the ability to wear heavier armor. Talents are different in that these compliment other aspects of your character; for instance, taking points into charisma opens up more dialog options to talk your way out of sticky situations, while crafting allows you to improve your armor and weapons for better results in combat.

GF Talents
The implemented Skills, Attributes and Talent trees allow for some deep fine-tuning of your character depending on the play style. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The resulting RPG system is respectably fine-tuned and allows for incredibly personal playstyles, each coming with their own strengths and weaknesses. It does take some time getting used to, as there are so many things closed off until you start investing points into a particular attribute or talent. For instance, vigor not only allows you to regenerate your health passively, higher levels of the skill also allow you to traverse some areas that were previously inaccessible. Lockpicking works the same way, as there are doors that can be picked to provide a safer entry. You can also achieve interesting results with Science and crafting, as that allows you to craft specific bombs which can be used on weaker structures to create openings.

A good chunk of the combat is focused on different weapons, and there’s a ton of them in GreedFall. Investing in attributes like strength and agility is needed if you want to wield melee weapons, while mental power gives you the stats needed to wield magic weapons and  cast offensive spells. 

GF Tactical Pause
The Tactical Pause feature allows you to micromanage your moves in advance. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

Another aspect worth praising is the tactical pause system that gives combat another layer of depth to it. With a press of a button, you can pause the game while in combat in order to better assess situations, as well as plan your next attack. Here, you can also map a ton of different shortcuts when fighting, from different techniques, spells, and skills, to remapping potions or even your basic actions. More importantly, in the heat of battle, you can queue up different actions like a turn-based battle. The system is really great at introducing greater accessibility for combat and specific planning of different actions.

GreedFall also manages to approach non-combative situations in an extremely well-defined manner, as there are some attributes and talents dedicated to skipping the fight entirely. They’re not really anything new or groundbreaking, and some are formulaic, but I do appreciate how well they’re implemented. To add to that, some situations don’t exactly show all the ways to victory, rewarding those brave enough to do some really creative and out of the box thinking. A simple infiltration mission can have as many as four or five ways of dealing with it, all with different outcomes depending on which faction is favored by your actions.

Player choice is implemented very well, too. A lot of the game’s many missions put you at odds with one or two factions, and completing them in various ways will often have different results. Your standing with a particular faction determines several of the game’s later missions, and staying neutral to all of them is incredibly hard to do. It’s not impossible, but for a game to place a greater focus on challenging you with choices that really matter, GreedFall is just superb. Oftentimes, these choices even affect your standing with other companions, and don’t be surprised if by the end you’ll find some of them leaving you due to how different your goals have become.

GF Exploration
Exploration felt very restrictive. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

While there’s a lot of praise to be given in terms of GreedFall’s combat and other basic gameplay aspects, I found GreedFall’s exploration to be incredibly lackluster in comparison. GreedFall is a semi-open world game, where the island of Teer Fradee is broken up into several large hubs. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea to trim down some of the useless fat of open worlds and big empty stretches of nothing, but GreedFall managed to somehow make exploring boring and uninspired despite this fact. A lot of this has to do with the immersion-breaking loading screens, especially when you enter doors in towns or travel to different hubs.

The idea to place caravans in between zones as a loading hub is a good idea, but after a while these caravans turn into a waste of time. You can skip this entirely with caravans, which act as fast travel points for towns you’ve already explored, but this does not allow you to travel to other hubs without towns in them. I think that allowing for skipping the camp phase in travelling would’ve been better in some cases, but it’s also evident that this phase is essential for loading the next level, which makes it frustrating.

Then there’s the appearance of invisible walls, which you hit every once in a while, when exploring most of the hubs. I get the intent of not allowing the player to somehow fall off certain areas, but the overall execution was a bit too much in my opinion. You hit these invisible walls so often in some areas that they end up becoming a huge detriment to exploring. For the most part, GreedFall does not really want you wandering off a set path, and this just makes travelling so incredibly boring. To GreedFall’s credit, this gets better in the later stages of the game, but for players who want to just explore to their heart’s content immediately, GreedFall might not give off a good first impression.

Art direction, animations, sound design and music

GF Animations
Some of the characters' animations can be pretty ugly at times. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

GreedFall’s art direction is another mixed bag to put up with, although I think that a lot of its negatives can be attributed to horrid facial animations. Animations really do not match up all too well to the dialog.It’s also sometimes unintentionally hilarious, enough to break your immersion whenever you’re deep into the story. This happens for most of the side characters, as I noticed that most of the main cast (De Sardet and his companions) do not suffer from poor model animation. It is enough to be a nuisance, though, and again it may not be a good first impression for anyone trying the game out.

The overall art style and design is pretty good, although colors can be hit or miss depending on where you are. I think GreedFall has really managed to capture the spirit of 17th century architecture and giving the fantasy aspects a grounded and somewhat gritty, realistic look. The color grading in cities and towns, however, is a bit too orange for my tastes. I have to wonder if this is intentional, seeing as how much of the posters and other promotional material shows off this color scheme, but that does not change the fact that it can be jarring at times.

GF Nighttime
Walking around at night may be dangerous, but it's also very relaxing. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

If you step out of the towns or travel at night, it’s a whole different story. Lighting is pretty good, and the vistas and sweeping views are excellent. A good reason to enjoy the exploration despite the constant interruptions is how amazing the world can look, and there was clearly a lot of work done in order to give Teer Fradee this distinct fantasy-realism feel. When nightfall comes, you’re treated to looming shadows made by a bright moon, which is quite the sight.

Sound design is pretty good, and the voice acting is performed well. I was really fond of the accents they used for the natives in this game, as well as the rather pompous, yet well-meaning delivery of the colonizers. The music, however, is a bit forgettable. It’s quite disappointing too, since Olivier Deriviere’s work on other Focus Home titles this year really stood out. Besides the sweeping orchestral soundtrack when the game’s title first boots up, the music felt like it took a backseat to everything else.

Technical performance

GreedFall’s technical performance is decent, but not without its faults. There’s a bit of jank here and there when it comes to certain parts of the game, and it’s not hard to come across some stutters and stability issues. I also crashed once while playing, which was really disappointing since I did not know what caused it. It only happened once though, and for the rest of my 20-hour playthrough it didn’t happen again.

Most of the other issues come from small bugs with the companions’ animations, which can happen from time to time especially whenever you enter and exit buildings. They’re not really game-breaking, but every once in a while, you can see companions standing around weirdly by your side before snapping out of their reverie to follow you once again. These are issues I expect will be ironed out in future patches and updates.

Overall

GF Overall
Not groundbreaking in the slightest, but a feat thanks to its strong writing and great combat. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

GreedFall easily ate up most of my weekend, and for many others looking to get into a decent RPG with a finely tuned narrative, this game comes highly recommended. There were some questionable decisions made in terms of exploration, but all of the other ingredients that make a solid role-playing experience are there: well-written characters, an intriguing plot line, good worldbuilding, and solid combat mechanics. In comparison to The Technomancer or other games from Spiders, GreedFall is easily their best work yet and should be on the playlist of every fan of the studio.

While not exactly a timeless masterpiece or a groundbreaking work of interactive fiction, GreedFall is an exemplary title that manages to play to its engaging narrative strengths and compliment it with satisfying combat and other gameplay aspects. It also delivers on giving player choice an actual meaning, in a sea of other role-playing titles where choices are surface level and do little to impact your playthrough. In GreedFall, all of it matters, and for players who want a truly immersive experience that is carried by solid storytelling, that is reason enough to make this game your next big time sink.

REVIEW SUMMARY
GreedFall
8.5
GreedFall Review - A Sublime 17th Century Experience
GreedFall is easily Spiders at its finest, and fans of the Western RPG genre can easily take enjoyment in its well-written and voice acted narrative as well as the solid combat when it comes to gameplay. It's by no means perfect, with a few hiccups here and there, but in GreedFall's case the great far outweighs the bad to carry the torch of a genre that has lacked a decent entry in quite some time. Extremely decent, and a must-play for any fan of the studio.
  • Gripping narrative and amazing worldbuilding.
  • Well-written characters that are engaging to converse and interact with.
  • Believable dialog and writing, factions are grounded and reasoned well.
  • Solid combat mechanics ingrained within a deep RPG system.
  • Diverse builds allowing for different kinds of play styles.
  • Great voice acting.
  • Some technical issues when it comes to running on PC.
  • Horrid facial animations which can be unintentionally hilarious.
  • Forgettable soundtrack and music.
Loading...
Join the Discussion
Top Stories