"GreedFall, in its entirety, is a setting and story juxtaposed between a furore of exploration and colonialism."
GreedFall, in its entirety, is a setting and story juxtaposed between a furore of exploration and colonialism, setting players loose in a 17th century-equivalent fantasy world where reputation, diplomacy, steel, and sorcery are used in equal measure. We had the opportunity to view a short slice of the action RPG in motion, the setting, and a selection of narrative beats players might explore throughout the playtime of GreedFall.
Developer Spiders (The Technomancer, Bound by Flame) and publisher Focus Home Interactive seek to settle players in the shoes of a protagonist recently upended from their overpopulated and disease-ridden homeland known as the Old World. Ravished by the Malichor plague, the Old World seeks a cure for their troubles, hoping it to be found within the confines of Teer Fradee — an island steeped in natural magic, with settlers trying to eke a living and factions vying for control and power.
As the demo began, set in an early portion of the game, we were thrust into immediate gameplay, where our protagonist, a well-dressed man (though entirely customisable in gender at the beginning of the game) by the name of De Sardet, strode through the streets of New Serene, a settlement steeped in an intentional visual aesthetic of a bygone 17th century Paris. Comprised of cobblestone streets, towering stone walls, and rough-hewn houses, the utilitarian architecture speaks to it being a recently constructed settlement. This is one of the main hub areas of GreedFall, where players can accept quests that will place them among a total of five factions at play within the island itself.
As the demo continued, one such quest was highlighted, putting the protagonist in a position to influence the narrative of the game during a bubbling conflict between two factions: the Congregation of Merchants and a clan known as the Red Spears. Arriving before the manned gates separating the Congregation of Merchants headquarters from the rest of the city, De Sardet is implored via a cutscene to help a red-haired, tattooed individual known as Siora, the first of five total companions that can be recruited within GreedFall's playtime.
Siora asks the guards at the gates to let her enter to talk to a man known as Constantine, a figurehead for the Congregation of Merchants and the protagonist's cousin; he serves as a primary contact and source of information within New Serene. They immediately refuse her, and it takes the influence and timing of De Sardet's arrival to continue the momentum of the narrative, letting the two of them explain the situation to Constantine: a war brewing between settlers and soldiers of the Congregation found in the valleyed land of the Red Spears and Siora's need to avoid bloodshed that seems all but inevitable, involving her mother, the clan head, and her sister.
As it stands, every line of dialogue in this opening section is voiced and competently directed. The character designs of both Constantine and De Sardet, as 17th Century faux-French soldiers and measured aristocrats, and Siora as a tribal, foliage laden figure, provide a serviceable aesthetic communicating the legitimate differences between factions in the audio-visual presented to the player.
The demo cut here, moving forward to the middle section of the same quest. Here, De Sardet and another companion, a mercenary known as Kurt, are in the middle of one of sixteen confirmed playable areas. They are on the way to meet Siora's mother as a way to negotiate an end to hostilities. As both characters moved forward down a dirt-laden road surrounded by golden wheat fields, bandits ambushed them, exposing us to GreedFall's combat system.
The combat in GreedFall is rooted in real-time battle with the option for players to tactically pause to execute specific commands, akin to Dragon Age or The Witcher. De Sardet has the ability to wield any of the various weapon types in the game, and the ability to swap between two sets of arms. Weapon types included one-handed maces, keen short swords, brutal two-handed claymores, flintlock firearms, and more. Magic is also on the cards as well, with both light and shadow spells in De Sardet's arsenal, allowing for massive damage to multiple enemies, a group heal that includes your companions and other configurations that weren't shown during the demo's run-time.
Visually, each thrust and shot within combat felt purposeful, with what seemed like deliberate pauses between each strike, dictating a distinct rhythm to each combat encounter. While not explicitly stated, we witnessed both players and enemies dealing status effects to each other, such as prone knockdowns and stunning each other, hinting at complexity in GreedFall's battle system that players can leverage to great effect.
Experience is gained after felling the bandits, and Spiders took this moment to showcase the GreedFall's skill system. De Sardet possesses a gigantic skill tree, resplendent with groups of nodes that can be levelled up, allowing them to specialise in various areas of combat, but also diplomacy. Diplomacy unlocks a greater number of non-combat scenario choices for the player to select.
After dispatching the bandits almost effortlessly, Kurt and De Sardet eventually make their way to the tribal settlement of the Red Spears and learn that Siora's mother has already called war upon members of the Congregation of Merchants. The only recourse in this case was to lessen the consequences of such an action.
De Sardet, Siora and Kurt hastened to the site of the battle, providing us with a greater view of the environments. Rolling hills, shale covered walls, and gnarled tree trunks border the area, with foliage scattered about that can be collected to create consumables and items. As the three characters scaled a hill, log walls border a battle that's in its dying throes. Congregation soldiers faced the members of the Red Spears, and gameplay shifted into a cutscene.
Siora lunged forward towards an individual who Spiders confirmed as her sister, locked in a deadly battle against two musket wielding soldiers. In the ensuing melee, Siora's elemental magic shines in the form of a dramatic vine accosting the soldier threatening her sister, framed in powerful authority. Once both soldiers are dispatched with great and bloody effort, Siora's sister informs her that she is too late on two counts: the brutally fought battle and her mother being slaughtered during the conflict.
GreedFall, at this point, displayed a hallmark of Western RPG design in recent years — a dialogue wheel and an emphatic focus (as highlighted by Spiders) on narrative consequences of choices both big and small. The player is given the opportunity to resolve the quest-line in various ways, with dialogue options locked behind various statistical requirements. In our demo, the quest ends with a loss in reputation with one of the factions and with a promise of combat that reaches into the epic, against a wandering enemy of gargantuan scale.
As it stands, GreedFall presents a familiar world with a fantasy lens, both narratively and aesthetically rich in design, inspired by pivotal keystones of culture that echo throughout our own history. Spiders has had time to refine their craft with releases such as The Technomancer and Bound by Flame, and it is through this experience that GreedFall shows promise. Melding that design with the beating heart of an action RPG, weighty combat, and narrative consequences, GreedFall seems to be one to watch when it releases in 2019 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.