Developer Spiders has come a very long way since the release of their last game The Technomancer in 2016, and I’ve always kept a keen eye on the studio, which has a history now of developing unique AA Action RPGs. And while I’m glad to say that GreedFall is perhaps the best game they have ever put out, there are a number of issues that hold it back from being the absolute best it could be.
The game starts with your character venturing to the island of Teer Fradee, a mysterious land not yet explored by the various different settlers that seek to exploit its hidden secrets, in your quest to find a cure for the equally mysterious disease Malichor that is quickly spreading across your homeland. But like any good fantasy plot, things are never as simple as just stumbling into the answers you seek, and I’m so very glad to see that this game doesn’t pull any punches with its narrative.
GreedFall’s story is complex, and it deals with some very dark themes that even other larger studios often do not go near. At its core, it’s a colonialist story that doesn’t shy away from the human cost of, well, colonialism. It’s a subject matter that is far too often sugarcoated to minimize the atrocities that are committed in the name of expansion, mostly in real life, but GreedFall doesn’t shy away from some very graphic depictions of such cruelty.
There are no definite good or bad people here, and this sentiment is often reflected in the numerous difficult choices players have to make in the game. The different factions that you interact with during the story are very varied in their morals and beliefs, and navigating through the web of political corruption, fanaticism and greed is anything but simple. The game gives you freedom in flexing your own set of beliefs, and it doesn’t judge you for the decisions that you make. The factions however do, and there’s a loyalty system in place that determines the outcome of the storyline.
Quests in GreedFall similarly are hardly ever straightforward, often making players question the decisions they make well after they have committed to them. The branching storyline and extensive dialogue are also indicative of the possibilities of multiple different variations within a single encounter. I won’t spoil anything, but specific skills allow players to complete objectives in ways that are not immediately obvious, opening up paths that dramatically alter the trajectory of quests.
And when talking about the story, delivery also matters a lot in how well emotions and tone is conveyed. Character facial animations are significantly better than what we saw in The Technomancer, but there’s still a certain level of artificialness and unintended stoicism present on the faces of all characters that really holds everything back. Voice work on the other hand is pretty great, with the few noticeable letdowns being the exceptions to the otherwise consistent performances as opposed to the norm.
The world of GreedFall was a kind of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand if often looks really beautiful, but on the other if often seems lifeless and bare. It also doesn’t have a whole lot of personality, which sounds really obnoxious when you say it out loud, but it’s something you pick up on when you’ve been playing fantasy RPGs for a long time. It’s pretty bland as far as fantastical magical worlds go, and while I can appreciate trying to go for a more gritty and realistic tone, it just isn’t all that exciting.
The different cities that you explore are often impressively dense and pretty, but there’s a sameness to them that you start to notice when you spend enough time in them. The open wilderness similarly is very pretty but similar looking, and it mostly seems devoid of life apart from the same sparingly used enemy wildlife. This is supposed to be a location mostly untouched by humans and technology, so why does it seem so dead?
Combat in the game deviates between being really satisfying to just mind numbingly mediocre, and your experience with it depends on which playstyle you want to stick to. My advice: just stick to melee combat for now with a sidearm as a secondary weapon, because rogue builds that primarily make use of ranged weapons or traps are just really glitchy, with combatants walking over deployed trapping devices multiple times without even triggering them. It’s really a coin flip as to when these mechanics work and when they don’t. Magic works better, but it just didn’t appeal to me apart from an AOE ability.
Even melee combat however is just okay, and there are technical issues that can bog it down like the other playstyles. There is a consistent jankiness to the combat that results in moments where attacks initiated at point-blank range just miss or just don’t do any damage. The animations are also not great, with the parrying one in particular sometimes being so rough that it breaks all sense of rhythm and balance.
When everything about combat works, it’s really great, but it just isn’t all that consistent. It gets really repetitive a few hours in, and as you level up and gain stronger and stronger abilities, at one point it just becomes way too easy. Your character is eventually able to absolutely decimate large numbers of enemies with a single Fury Attack, and those don’t even take all that long to charge.
You are also accompanied by a few companions on your journey, and they can assist you both in combat and outside of it. They have a wide range of useful abilities such as healing, and you can improve their repertoire further by doing companion quests specific to them. It’s very heavily inspired by the Dragon Age series, and that includes the romance options.
In conclusion, my time with GreedFall had a lot of ups and downs. I think it’s a great game, and while it needs a bit more polish in terms of the combat, I enjoyed my time with it when it went really smoothly. There’s a real lack of diversity in the environments, and the outdoor locations in particular can seem a bit too bland, but what is here often looks really great.
The true star for me here is the narrative, the places it goes, the themes it explores and the wealth of options available to players in regards to how they want to steer their own individual journeys. That’s what I’ll eventually come back to this game for again.
GreedFall is out now on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PC. It was developed by Spiders and published by Focus Home Interactive. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review code was provided by the publisher.
While a lack of polish may hold GreedFall’s combat from being great, the game more than makes up for it with it’s fantastic quest design and a narrative that doesn’t pull any punches. The game is not perfect, but developer Spiders have nonetheless set a new bar in storytelling for themselves with it.