Before we start, I need to be very clear here. I have not enjoyed any of French developer Spiders previous Action RPGs. Additionally, Gameplanet to this point has not published a single positive review of any Spiders game. So, coming into their latest offering I was weary, but still hopeful they could finally manage to do something they’ve failed to accomplish in their previous attempts; to design and deliver a quality action RPG. Greedfall is their fifth roll of the dice at taking home the prize, and it is certainly their best effort to date. It is objectively better than all of their earlier titles, and in many ways significantly so. But being better than awful is a low bar to clear and is certainly no indication of quality. So, is Greedfall a good game? Well, that’s a little more complicated to answer than you might think. Maybe?
Greedfall is an Action RPG set in a fantastical colonial-themed world with great nations vying for power and a native population being squeezed on all sides by the machinations of these occupying forces. You play the role of a diplomat representing one of the three colonial occupiers of the “unexplored” and untamed island of Teer Fradee, hoping to build trade and political alliances and hopefully discover the cure to a plague ravaging your people back home.
For the most part, the central story is handled pretty well. It is perhaps a little shallow in its exploration of the themes of colonialism, exploitation, religious zealotry, and leans far too heavily on the “noble savage” trope, but for the most part, Spiders has delivered a solid, if not all that compelling central narrative. My main problem is that the core story thread is surrounded by so much meandering and padding that it almost gets lost. It’s not that the story is terrible, but it never really stamps its own identity on proceedings, that is until the very end.
There were hints early on that the game would expand into a complex conflict between nations with a native population caught in between and left fighting for their very survival. Sadly, for the most part, how things ultimately unfold is pedestrian, predictable, and not very well written. The writing has some odd nuances I struggled with for a long time. I was never really sure if it was a translation issue or a conscious choice, but throughout the game, every character will, at some point make some very odd word or phrase choices. Grammatically these choices are never objectively incorrect, but they feel awkward and out of place, almost like someone injecting thees and thous in an effort to sound like that Shakespeare fella. Then there is the accent used by the natives of Teer Fradee, which while being consistent throughout never stopped sounding like a botched attempt at an Irish accent to me. Both of these factors kept me from engaging with most of the characters as a result.
To its credit that final stages of the story ramp up the drama significantly and add some much-needed emotional heft to proceedings, but it does come in a little too late. Of the 35 hours or so it took me to complete the story, only about eight were genuinely compelling and half of those were in the final act.
Presentation-wise Greedfall fairs a little better. Cities have a distinctly Dickensian feel which is rather refreshing to see in a fantasy title, and the wilds you’ll explore are suitably verdant, vibrant and varied, juxtaposing the griminess of the urban spaces. The interiors fare less well; there are a lot of reused layouts and assets here. While this is to be expected from a lower budget title, the sheer number of buildings and native structures that are identical once you step through the main entrance is disappointing and distracting. Textures are also blurry and indistinct on my PS4 Pro which also took away some of the shine. The game also uses the now common FauxK resolution on the system rather than native 4K which also adds to the feeling the game is more dated than it actually is.
Mechanically the game is solid if rather workmanlike in a lot of places. Combat is real-time and can be a lot of fun, but its limitation and issues soon become very apparent. Melee weapons feel solid and importantly feel very different depending on what you’re using. A one-handed weapon is fast and responsive, while two-handed weapons have heft and feel impactful. There is also a wide variety of weapon types as well as armour that can all be altered and upgraded using a robust and well-designed upgrade and crafting system. Magic and firearms are relegated to your ranged special attacks as you cannot specialise in either of these in any meaningful way despite there being separate skill-tree upgrades for them. Instead, they work more like The Witcher 3’s Signs and Crossbow mechanics.
My main complaint regarding combat is that it seldom feels like you’re in complete control. The dodge and parry are serviceable, but due to some inconsistent animation timings and hit boxes neither feel consistently reliable. The AI is moronic, and sadly this also affects your NPC party members who you have zero control over at any point in the game. There is a lot of rushing in and flailing of limbs regardless of the enemies you are facing or how many there are. Instead, you’ll be left solely focusing on your own attacks and defenses while hoping the other two don’t screw up too much. A lot of ranged attacks are hard to see, making avoiding them hard especially as some of these foes like to clump together in a messy clump of mashing meshes and missiles. On the hardest difficulty, combat can feel pretty good when it all comes together. The unlockable skills and spells in the late game open up some interesting options and can make the combat feel more dynamic. Staggering enemies, breaking their armour, and stunning them becomes far more important as does getting the timing right for your attacks. If only the two idiots following me would actually get their shit together.
So that’s the Action portion of the Action RPG sorted, now for the Role Playing! It’s actually pretty decent, if a little limited. The real strength though is in how quests can be completed. There are usually three main routes to resolution; the pointy end of a sword, the silken side of your tongue, or avoidance via stealth or disguise. While all of these ultimately don’t alter the outcome in any meaningful way (most of the time), they do allow you to play as you want and allowing you to actually Role Play your character. Most of the quests are pretty by the numbers and require a lot of footwork. There are also far too many that “just one more thing” bollocks that does nothing to add to the quest except more time spent completing it. Side quests are varied, and seldom fall into the FedEx bollocks Spider’s earlier games were overly reliant on. Story quests feel important, and your choices will impact the narrative in meaningful ways. It’s just that at no point were any of these quests particularly interesting, and even those attempting to add a little spice failed actually to add any discernible flavour to proceedings.
There are a few other niggles that annoyed me more than adversely affecting my time in the game. The need to put points in specific abilities just to climb a small wall or walk across a narrow bridge is antithetical to how the overworld traversal movement otherwise feels. There are countless invisible walls, or waist-high barriers blocking movement. The narrow window whereby the pick-up, interact with or talk to option becomes active is too small. The Lip-syncing in English is non-existent. The pacing is awful, and the opening stage in your home city of Serene is overly long and tedious. The middle section is filled with needless padding, whereas the final act is genuinely dramatic, emotional, and compelling.
Mostly though, my problem with Greedfall is that it feels like a BioWare by way of Bethesda lite title. The way the world is built, how you interact with your party, and the “romancing” options all feel like Dragon Age II meets Mass Effect Andromeda by way of The Elder Scrolls with even more jank.
There is nothing actively bad in Greedfall, just a lot of missed opportunities, some less than ideal design choices, and the constant feeling that you’ve been here before.
+ Interesting setting that can look spectacular in places.
+ Decent Role-Playing options.
+ Combat can be fun.
- No NPC control. Strange design choices throughout.
- Distracting writing.
- Constantly feels derivative.