Spiders has always been a studio that’s easy to root for. They mainly ply their trade in single player story-driven games, they’re purveyors of classic western RPGs, and every time they make a game, they don’t let logistical limitations stand in the way of their ambitions- at least as far as conceptualization of those games is concerned. Sadly, up until now, their ambitions and their execution of said ambitions haven’t always been on the same page.
With GreedFall though, they’ve made good on the salivating promises they’ve been making for this project. Being billed as the game to fill the void left in the classic western RPG genre by BioWare – a studio that stumbles from one error to the next – GreedFall certainly has a lot to live up to. And though it bears the sort of technical issues that one would expect to see in a game coming from a studio of Spiders’ size and scope, impossibly enough, it lives up to expectations with great aplomb.
GreedFall’s greatest strength lies in the number of options it presents to players nearly every step of the way. From the way you can tackle quests, to how you want to progress your character, to how those vast and intricate systems interact with each other to create an even deeper well of options, GreedFall delivers an experience that doesn’t just put up the pretences of being a choice-driven role-playing game, but one that truly subscribes to the core tenets of the genre with utter devotion.
"GreedFall delivers an experience that doesn’t just put up the pretences of being a choice-driven role-playing game, but one that truly subscribes to the core tenets of the genre with utter devotion."
Most of the quests can usually be completed multiple different ways. Need to break into a building? You can employ stealth, or you can brew sleeping potions to put guards to sleep to make that stealth easier. You can don the uniform of the faction the building belongs to and try to just waltz right in, or you can look for a backdoor and try and get in that way. You can try and use contextual dialogue options to charm your way in, or you can just resort to good old fisticuffs and brute force your way through.
What makes that element of choice so compelling is the fact that the outcomes of these choices are, more often than not, determined by the game’s systemic nature. In order to use contextual dialogue options, your character will need to have invested in the Intuition branch. To craft potions, you need to have points in the Science branch. When you use your charisma in dialogue options, the game will perform skill checks to determine if you’re successful. If you want to be better at stealth, you can drink a potion to buff your stealth stats. If you spot a more discrete entrance into the building you need to break into, you’ll probably need to have enough balance points to be able to do things like jumping across a large gap, or walking along a narrow beam.
GreedFall doesn’t just say it’ll do all the things you want a good systemic western RPG to do- it actually does them. All of this is facilitated by the game’s surprisingly layered and flexible progression mechanics. Levelling up and earning experience points functions the way you’d expect it to, but as you may have gathered by all the examples laid out earlier, you always have a lot of choice in terms of what areas you want to invest in. The choice of how you want to shape and build your character carries actual weight, because you always know that the skills you end up gaining and strengthening and the ones you end up sacrificing as a result will all prove to be useful at various stages in the game. It helps that you have the ability to respec your character, which encourages experimentation with the multiple different playstyles on offer.
"The choice of how you want to shape and build your character carries actual weight, because you always know that the skills you end up gaining and strengthening and the ones you end up sacrificing as a result will all prove to be useful at various stages in the game."
Combat is, of course, one of the ways you can solve these quests, and often forms the meat and potatoes of the experience (if you want it to, at least). In this area, GreedFall is less successful than it is elsewhere. That’s not to say combat is bad. The moment-to-moment combat is action-oriented, requiring dodges, parries, and usage of light and heavy melee attacks, firearms, and magic. Enemies are no pushovers though, and you’ll find yourself resorting to the tactical pause menu quite a bit. It’s all functional – often even enjoyable – but I found myself trying to avoid combat wherever possible. GreedFall can feel a bit stiff in terms of moving your character, and even the camera controls a bit jerkily, and that no doubt has an impact on the game’s combat.
All of this, however, would go to waste if the quests in GreedFall themselves weren’t any good- thankfully, that’s not the case at all. The nature of side quests in GreedFall – mind you, the nature, not the quality – is very similar to what we saw in The Witcher 3. There are contracts that players can pick up, which serve as your regular “kill this beast” or “rout those bandits” objectives, but these are on the lowest rung of activities on offer in the game. The actual, proper side quests are bespoke, handcrafted, narrative-heavy experiences.
The stories these quests tell are engaging and well-told, and some of them can be surprisingly nuanced. Not every one of them is a home run, but side quests consistently offer enough variety and interesting narrative hooks that they never feel like repetitive affairs, while the open-ended nature of how you can tackle them makes sure they’re never a chore. Each of your party members also gets a dedicated questline, loyalty mission-style, and learning more about them, their cultures, and their backgrounds is more than enough reason to never ignore these quests.
"The stories these quests tell are engaging and well-told, and some of them can be surprisingly nuanced. Not every one of them is a home run, but side quests consistently offer enough variety and interesting narrative hooks that they never feel like repetitive affairs, while the open-ended nature of how you can tackle them makes sure they’re never a chore."
Often, these character-specific quests also involve particular requirements- for instance, your sailor companion might need you to break into a building run by his faction, but he will request you to not kill any other sailors, whom he views as his family. How successful (or unsuccessful) you are in carrying out these requests has an impact on your relationship with the character in question, which in turn can have interesting repercussions in the long run.
Similarly, nearly every major side quest in the game also adds to or detracts from your standing with the multiple factions in GreedFall’s world, and your reputations with these factions have an impact on the larger machinations of the narrative. To be clear, it’s not like the quests or the main story have an infinite number of endings- they each have limited outcomes. But how you get to that outcome is always an engaging experience, because of how much control you have over proceedings.
The smaller and larger stories GreedFall tells through its multitude of quests also combine to craft a gripping and convincing world. I was surprised by how well written the game is, whether that’s in terms of its dialogue or the background text you might find in the codex or lore entries. Voice acting is also, for the most part, solid- at least for the main characters. What really propounds the strengths of all the stories and characters in the game, however, is the world, which the game sells as a compelling setting very effectively. GreedFall combines its historically-inspired depictions of colonialism with its more fantastical elements, and leverages that setting to offer up new discoveries, captivating lore, and multidimensional conflicts almost constantly, and all of that serves to greatly enrich the game’s world.
"GreedFall combines its historically-inspired depictions of colonialism with its more fantastical elements, and leverages that setting to offer up new discoveries, captivating lore, and multidimensional conflicts almost constantly, and all of that serves to greatly enrich the game’s world."
And though GreedFall’s world isn’t as singularly impressive from a design perspective as it is from a conceptual perspective, it’s still one that serves as a great foil for the experiences it crafts. Like Dragon Age titles, GreedFall’s map isn’t a singe, seamless, large open world, but rather a collection of various smaller locations- this, in fact, is something that works very well for the game. There’s quite a lot of diversity in these locations, from ruins, villages, and forests to larger cities and large expanses of rolling plains. More importantly though, none of the areas feel unnecessarily large, and they’re all densely packed with unique and interesting quests and points of interests.
For obsessive completionists, there are your typical question mark pointers on the map to check out, but the game doesn’t litter its map with these to create a chaotic cacophony like so many other similar games do. GreedFall goes for density over size, and better yet, it goes for the right kind of density. There is one gripe to be mentioned though, which is the annoying fast travel system. The points you can fast travel to and from are often separated by distances that are longer than they should be, and walking from quest to quest can be a little tiresome at times (though when in the middle of a quest, the game does thoughtfully offer to take you directly to that quest’s next marker if it’s too far away).
GreedFall has some issues on the technical side of things though, and plays host to the kind of problems you’d typically expect to see in a AA game made on a relatively tighter budget. Animations can be a bit stiff, and lip syncing is often off, textures look muddy when viewed up close, cutscenes sometimes have weird and abrupt transitions, and assets for interiors and character models are often reused. None of these issues are pervasive, but they’re prominent enough to be frequently noticeable.
"Though GreedFall’s world isn’t as singularly impressive from a design perspective as it is from a conceptual perspective, it’s still one that serves as a great foil for the experiences it crafts."
With all that said, those issues are also easy to ignore, because when it comes to the things that matter, the things that will make or break this experience, GreedFall passes with flying colours. It’s a welcome arrival in the fantasy RPG space, a space that has been bafflingly uncrowded of late. But GreedFall doesn’t just impress because of a lack of alternatives. It successfully delivers nearly everything that one would want to see in a game of this genre, and does so in convincing fashion. Fans of western role playing games who have lamented the absence of many true contenders in the genre this generation, prepare yourselves: a new heir to the legacy of BioWare is here at last.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Offers lots of choices in how to tackle quests; Layered and flexible progression system; Great side quests; Solid writing and voice acting; A well-developed cast of core characters; Excellently crafted, rich world; Compelling lore and world-building; Smaller, densely packed maps.
Jerky movement and camera; Technical issues.