"I do give GreedFall credit for not constantly painting its scenario in complete strokes of black and white."
Diplomacy isn't nearly as easy as it seems on paper. Spiders' GreedFall asks players to imagine sailing to a new world where a territorial foothold is being established. Once there, they must deal with political nuance while trying to earn the trust of settlers and the understandably skeptical natives. To top it all off, a mysterious and deadly plague is raging through the main character's homeland.
Taking on the role of De Sardet, a noble of the Congregation of Merchants, players travel with their cousin, Constantin, to the recently colonized island of Teer Fradee. There, Constantin is to become the established governor of the Congregation's New Serene settlement with De Sardet assigned as his legate. Tasked not only with — hopefully — keeping friendly relations with the various factions residing on the island, De Sardet must also try to track down a cure for the deadly affliction known as the Malichor that is sweeping through the old world.
I couldn't help but instantly recall BioWare's Dragon Age series when I started playing GreedFall, and that reminiscent feeling helped immerse me in the role of De Sardet. The biggest difference between GreedFall and Dragon Age is the former's more baroque setting, which I found to be rather unique, considering how many games of this ilk go for dark or high fantasy environments. Regarding general gameplay and environments, I'm inclined to say that GreedFall resembles Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. Meanwhile, the more action-oriented take on its combat is very similar to Dragon Age: Inquisition, and will probably be picked up easily by any gamers who have played that particular BioWare title.
GreedFall's combat is fluid and quite enjoyable once the player develops their own unique fighting style. My De Sardet specialized as a mage, so she was most adept at throwing magic missiles at foes from afar or — depending on the fight strategy — literally jumping from target to target while pummeling them with energy fists. Button shortcuts and a pause menu allow for tailoring specific actions to make fighting easier, and the companion AI generally worked nicely. My only real complaint with GreedFall's battle system would be that sometimes the camera angles unforgivingly dipped to random views of trees or rocks, and I'd be left with no actual view of the combat my party was partaking in.
Crafting can also play a key role in traversing the wilds of GreedFall's new world, as upgrading armor and weaponry gives gamers much needed stat boosts. I found that crafting items never stopped being beneficial to my character's journey. These systems are implemented into the game mechanics very well, and the only thing that really held me back from utilizing them to their full potential was that I needed to level up my Science and Craftsmanship skills during my playthrough.
As De Sardet levels up, players can equip various Attributes, Skills, and Talents based on the player's preferences in order to navigate GreedFall more easily. These character traits range from battle abilities that strengthen attacks to skills that help with crafting or opening up locked chests and doors. They can also be skills like Charisma, which allows the player more dialogue options to choose from during conversations. I tended to pool all my points towards strengthening magic, given my role as the party's mage, Vigor (the ability to traverse difficult areas more easily), and Charisma to make dialogue more worthwhile. However, I really appreciate how leveling up character traits ultimately depends on how each player would like to approach playing GreedFall. It certainly provides an exceedingly individualized and personal gaming experience.
GreedFall's setting of Teer Fradee is a strange and wonderful place. It's full of beautiful forested areas and is lauded in-game as home to all sorts of strange flora and fauna. Spiders did an excellent job bringing the island to life visually, even if there wasn't much differentiation between one area and the next. In fact, graphical variation might be GreedFall's Achilles' Heel. It's easy to notice the lack of distinct visual presentations as you travel GreedFall's world, since monster types, enemies, and several NPCs tend to look similar.
While GreedFall's visuals were lovely if not homogeneous, there was a certain sense of loneliness I tended to associate with them too. Crossing the locales was often punctuated by long stretches of solitude, save for the occasional fight, and even more NPC-populated areas, such as cities or villages, had few people players could actually converse or interact with. It didn't help that GreedFall also utilized the same color palette with shades of green, gray, and brown for areas, as I often felt like I was on a solitary journey that didn't change as I traveled. Also worth noting are the odd facial animations, which had a tendency to make characters appear to have super tight upper lips and created an uncanny valley quality to their designs.
Overall, GreedFall's script was excellent, offering incredible world-building. I noticed only a few grammatical errors or typos, the biggest ones relating to player character gender. I played as Lady De Sardet, but there were a few instances where my character was still referred to as a "he" in the script. This also happened on a few occasions with more prominent female NPCs. It didn't occur nearly enough to be detrimental to the overall gaming experience, but more time editing game dialogue and the script probably would have prevented the errors entirely.
Choice and consequence play large roles here, from the very beginning of the plot when you choose the gender of your De Sardet and customize their appearance all the way to some of the final plot points, when you decide the fate of Teer Fradee. I only wish that certain decisions were covered with more than just a brief summary of their eventual outcomes at the ending of the game, but I appreciated that they were explored in some manner nonetheless. There are five different political factions that De Sardet, as the legate, must interact and hopefully maintain good relations with. It is quite easy, depending on the decisions and actions taken, to ingratiate yourself to one faction in particular while alienating another. For instance, I found it easy enough in my playthrough to befriend the island's native populace, though that came at the expense of my relations with the factions of either Theleme (a more religious-minded settlement) or the Bridge Alliance (the more science-minded settlement). Truth be told, I found it hard to be diplomatic when one faction was constantly trying to forcefully convert people or used unethical experimentation practices on them, so I never felt like I was in the wrong for upsetting particular characters.
I do give GreedFall credit for not constantly painting its scenario in complete strokes of black and white. Further time exploring the island showed that not everyone on their more extreme factions were wholly disreputable, and I was eventually able to raise my statuses with all. For example, the Mother Cardinal asked my character to give aid when she upsettingly learned that an order of Theleme was inhumanely treating the native populace, which helped my standing with that faction quite a bit. While it would have been an easy choice to dispense my own justice on a mad scientist who performed untold acts of cruelty, handing him over to the Bridge Alliance so that they could dispense their own justice towards one of their citizens and helping with the subsequent trial put me in good standing with their group. Maintaining peaceful relations with as many of the factions as you can is a sort-of hefty balancing act to be sure, but it pays off in dividends towards the game's later stages.
Speaking of the ending and how choice can play a huge factor in it, I ended up not getting what is largely considered the best ending on account of one particular decision I made. I didn't mind the ending I received as it was quite fitting for my choices, and in a way it felt as if I had tailored the story's finale with my own hand. Seeing the outcomes of what you do, or choose not to do, is quite interesting and it had me thinking about what I was doing carefully. There are no easy "right or wrong" answers in most of the game's decision point scenarios, and I appreciate that in choice-heavy narratives. If I have one critique in that regard, it is that I would have liked seeing the choices I made reflected more prominently in the game itself instead of simply reflected in a few sentences during the ending.
As stated before, GreedFall's world-building is excellent, and I was amazed at how much detail was put into the lore and cultures of Teer Fradee in order to really make the island feel alive. The characters of GreedFall are likable enough, and I did get attached to the five party members in particular, one of which represents every unique political faction in the game. However, I'm hard-pressed to say they're as fleshed out or memorable as, let's say, a BioWare cast tends to be. Players should try to maintain a good rapport with the party, lest they become outright hostile and attack De Sardet. They will certainly have opinions on certain actions De Sardet takes. I found many of the party members' personal quests to be some of the more memorable ones in GreedFall, particularly Aphra's and Petrus', though my biggest complaint is that they feel as if they're over with far too soon. Once you reach Friendly or Loving status with a party member, they pretty much have nothing new to say to you until the journey is almost over, which I found a bit disappointing because I did like having them around.
Out of the five party members, there are four potential romance options (three in total for each gender). Those gamers expecting a detailed courtship in the vein of BioWare might be left wanting more given that the romance happens pretty much automatically once it is initiated and then that is about it until the final portion of the game. I started a romance with the Naut-affiliated Vasco in my playthrough fairly early on and, while I thought that it was sweet, I didn't get another romance scene between the pair until the final mission. The party members' personal quests and romances don't feel quite as seamlessly interwoven into the plot as a result of those pacing issues.
Sound-wise, I have no complaints about GreedFall's background music. I felt that the various tracks captured the moods and cultures of Teer Fradee quite nicely, adding another important layer to the lore and world-building. The sound effects for fighting, creatures, and the more forested or urban areas were also nicely implemented. GreedFall's voice acting is top-notch, with quite a bit of emphasis placed on emoting and accents. I have to admit that the natives' "rolling" accents were rather off-putting as they sounded very forced and unnatural, but I give the voice actors credit in that they never dropped the accent and still conveyed a large breadth of emotion and sincerity into their lines despite it.
The PS4 version of GreedFall that I played for the purpose of this review was relatively free of any game-breaking glitches. I only had one instance when my party members and some NPCs blocked me into a room and I was unable to leave or advance the story, but it wasn't anything a quick recent auto save reload couldn't fix. There was the occasional weird visual glitch or hiccup such as a light shining where a plant or rock should be, or an amusing case of people sitting behind desks in seats apparently floating in air, and even a brief glimmer of a skeletal nightmare face during one story scene, but they weren't frequent or game-breaking in any way, shape, or form. Overall, GreedFall's presentation was quite solid.
GreedFall does nothing exceedingly harmful in terms of gameplay and its BioWare-esque elements had me enjoying the time I spent playing it. This title is certainly a step in the right direction for Spiders, and I hope that they continue to improve from here. Spiders is an RPG developer with a lot of potential that could very well take BioWare's WRPG crown one day.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.