Shelby: The term spiritual successor gets thrown around a lot, even by me. Most of the time, spiritual successors tend to come about after a game series that inspired it has long come to an end, but that isn’t always the case of course. Greedfall is one of those games though, seemingly taking the reins from Dragon Age in its infancy, and doing away with the bloat of the latest entry.
The developer, Spiders, has made a few games in the last generation or so, such as Bound By Flame and Technomancer. Both of those titles were met with little fanfare, and also considered to be poor replications of the Bioware formula. Perhaps Dragon Age was the game Spiders wanted to make all along. Honestly though, if that was their aim again with Greedfall, they succeeded.
Shelby: Jennifer has had far more experience with the game, so I’m definitely going to need to defer to her judgement on the story and character arcs. I’ve been doing my best to stay in the dark as much as possible, because she’s told me that while the story is rather predictable in many ways, she absolutely loved it. What I’ve seen so far is rather promising.
What stands out to me is the tactical gameplay of Greedfall, which is similar to Dragon Age: Inquisition. At any point you can pause the game to use potions individually, use techniques such as planting traps and throwing bombs, or sling a slew of spells, as well as giving you the opportunity to assign up to 12 shortcuts to the controller to control any of those actions. Shortcuts make it possible to play Greedfall in real time with relative ease, but if you find yourself getting overwhelmed, you always have an out.
While the tactical nature of the gameplay is easy to get a hold of, the combat can be frustrating, yet still fair in my opinion. Many times I’ve found myself with the short end of the stick, getting mauled by creatures or shot from afar by a guard, leaving me scrambling to heal with a potion. Unfortunately for me, that often has resulted in death, as consuming a potion or even firing a shot from my firearm takes place in real time during combat. There’s nothing quite like finding just the right moment to down a healing potion, only to get sniped from across the battlefield by an opportunistic bandit right before you finish.
Part of me loves that the combat feels more hectic and the stakes are a bit higher, while the other part kinda misses the mechanics in games like World of Warcraft where you can somehow dodge and parry in the midst of a boss twelve times your size swinging a hammer larger than a VW bus at your face, all while chugging a health potion. I suppose I prefer the mechanics of Greedfall, given that there’s little guesswork considering you have full control of dodging and parrying attacks, instead of leaving it up to a dice roll; here, timing is everything. With as accurate as the hitboxes feel for both your character and enemies, I have never felt like me getting hit was anything but my own fault.
If I had any complaints about the combat, it’d be that the targeting system isn’t all that helpful. Since I went with a ranged and technique approach to fighting, I’ve frequently had problems with my firearms not hitting enemies for what seems like arbitrary reasons. I’ve lost count of the number of times I was standing within arm’s reach of an enemy and fired my weapon, only to miss for… reasons? The same applies to the traps unfortunately, which require the enemy to literally step on the trap directly.
Reading that back to myself, I do understand that’s kinda how traps work. So maybe that’s not an apt criticism. You know what? It’s still inconvenient, so I’m sticking to my guns!
More on the combat itself, I never felt like I couldn’t stand my ground in fights with even the toughest foes (apparently marked with a foreboding skull). It could be that the skull isn’t entirely indicative of the difficulty of the enemy, but I’m going to ignore that possibility because it makes me feel like I’m actually decent at the game.
Jennifer: I’m going to do my best to avoid any major spoilers during this piece.
The game starts off with the character creation by introducing you to your character via them sitting for a painting portrait. The character creation is limited in design but the overall game is limited in many areas which never bothered me.
After you figure out what your character should look like, you receive orders to go find your cousin, bid your mother farewell, and board a ship for New Serene – an island that has been recently(ish) colonized.
This part of the game acts as your tutorial, providing a handful of side quests to get your feet wet and learn the mechanics of the game. I noticed almost immediately how the game closes you off from looting every-damn-thing and going anywhere you please.
You immediately get your first companion, Kurt – the man who taught you everything you know about combat.
Once you complete all of the side quests and find your cousin Constantine, who will be the new governor of New Serene, you’re able to set sail with a Naut captain, Vasco.
Upon reaching New Serene, Constantine requests you go see him in his mansion. Once he saunters off, you’re approached by Vasco and informed that he’s been removed from being a captain. At that point he requests to join you and your adventures.
As legate of the Merchant Congregation, it is your task to find a way to bring the factions together in peace. That is the task given to you by Constantine. De Sardet, your character, is basically an investigative detective.
I doubt you came here for a full account of the story from beginning to end so I’ll skip that and get to what I experienced.
Unlike most RPGs, Greedfall doesn’t bog you down with five thousand side quests of fetch. Each quest has a purpose and either plays into the overall story or is directly related to your companions. There was only one quest that I didn’t do, besides the contract ones you find on quest boards, because it was the only one that seemed the most unrelated to anything else in the game.
Shelby: It’s funny to me how out of place that quest was considering how focused everything else was. I mean, the side quests are usually about either your companions as you said, or they’re about gaining reputation with one of the numerous factions, so being told to find all the campsites and find some professor’s notes was extremely out of place.
I apologize for that momentary interruption!
Jennifer: With your companions quests, when they discuss their issue with you, you can tell them you’ll handle it right away or that it will wait. Whenever you do embark on their quest, they’re “locked” in your party until whatever they have asked you to assist with has been completed. I wasn’t a fan of that because sometimes I wouldn’t go do their quest right away and then I’d have someone in my party that I wasn’t used to having (pretty much anyone other than Kurt or Vasco). But that was a minor inconvenience.
The main story doesn’t really pick up in intrigue until later in the game. Once you start really hunting for the cure of the disease beset on your people, the Malichor. The main story drips with mythology of Teer Fradee and the skeletons in the island’s closet. Your quests take you down paths that were followed by previous settlers as you gain knowledge of what had occurred during a past visit by the Merchant Congregation.
I loved how the story didn’t give you all the details immediately. You weren’t told “this is the bad guy now find out how to kill him.” It is more along the lines of “not sure what went down X amount of years ago but I’m gonna find out because I think someone effed up.” but you don’t get all those details until near the end of the story.
Another aspect that I enjoyed was the ability to change the outcome either during the main quests or even the last choice that you make in the game. Your main mission is to unite the factions; you can fail at this. And even if you succeed, you’re given the choice, your last choice, to turn your back on everything. That choice selection reminds me of the ending to Mass Effect 3 when you can choose to do more than just destroy the Reapers, something you’ve spent three games working toward doing.
Now let’s talk about romance. As is per usual with most RPGs these days, I’m not complaining, you’re given the choice to romance one of your companions. Vasco and Siora swing both ways, Petras is non-romanceable, and Aphra and Kurt only go with the opposite sex. The romancing is basic and not extravagantly integrated, however it’s fun to flirt and the ending you get out of it may be enjoyable for some.
For me, I romanced Vasco. The game actually glitched for me in the beginning when I hit the apex of the relationship. I thought, at the time, that a romance gave you a boon (it might and I just didn’t notice), so I quit the game until mid-January and by that point Spiders had fixed it and I was able to complete my relationship with the handsome Naut. The ending with Vasco was perfect and not at all unrealistic or too mushy, it was just right. Though the make out session was awkward to watch; my De Sardet and Vasco’s faces were literally inside of each other.
Shelby: I failed miserably with the romance, but I think that may have something to do with how the conversations aren’t cut-and-dried like those in Bioware games. I never felt like the options were obvious to me, but that could’ve just been my own social ineptitude at work.
Jennifer: The companions that you get are each from one of the five factions. Siora is a native, Petrus is from Theleme, Aphra is with the Bridge Alliance, Kurt is from the Coin Guard, and Vasco is with the Nauts. De Sardet, of course, is from the Merchant Congregation. During quests that are tied to one of the factions, if you have that faction companion with you, they’ll provide input or an opinion regarding what you’re doing or the choice you’re making. I enjoyed the commentary they provided and felt it made the game feel more engaging with the companions actually doing something other than looking pretty and slashing enemies. It also reminded me of Mass Effect – the elevator in the Citadel and during various quests your people might pipe in here or there.
Shelby: Something I noticed about having companions along, is that they didn’t just provide context or make comments about a situation you were in. I felt like situations could play out differently based on who you had with you at the time. Much like how De Sardet is the diplomat extraordinaire, the companions you can bring along have their own ways of influencing the way things play out. It was a nice change of pace from the way other games handle having companions in your group, where they just basically make snarky quips and observations.
Jennifer: Along with story mechanics, one of my favorite things was the lack of a stamina bar. It kills me having stamina bars. It’s a game, I don’t need it to be so realistic that my character is out of breath after 15 feet (cough, The Witcher 3). It made roaming the somewhat closed maps much more enjoyable and less of a drag. The fire checkpoints were nice as well, cutting down the time you’d have to spend otherwise during missions where there’s a lot of back and forth.
Shelby: I found it interesting that De Sardet spends the majority of the game just facilitating communication between the various groups on Teer Fradee. At first, it was pretty irritating that you spend so much time wandering back and forth between objectives and talking to people, but once I realized that the Legate’s job isn’t to solve problems unilaterally, it made far more sense. Of course, that didn’t make many of the quests feel less sloggy, and there are a few that feel like they go on forever.
Then it hit me; I’m so used to games with dozens of quick side quests to complement a handful of main quests, but Greedfall isn’t structured that way. Instead, the majority of your time solving Teer Fradee’s problems is spent completing the swath of main quests, and side quests are generally comprised of work to be done for your companions, or tasks given by the various factions. You won’t be running off to a nearby tomb to investigate a “ghost”, hunting a group of bandits, or completing randomized radiant quests. Well, there are missions you can complete for extra money and experience, but they’re designed more like other games handle bounties.
The focused nature carries through to many other corners of the experience. Lockpicking isn’t a minigame you’re forced to take part in, your character’s ability to sprint isn’t tied to a stamina bar, finding good gear isn’t tied to specific bosses but you’re also not spending inordinate amounts of your time sorting through mountains of garbage. Crafting can be handled by various NPCs around the island, meaning you aren’t forced to take on specific skills in order to advance. The same applies to gathering quest items throughout the game, which is a huge relief because you can buy the majority of what you need from vendors.
The only complaints I can think of about Greedfall are the performance of the game on the Xbox One X, the conversation mechanics, and the camera itself.
It’s clear to me that Spiders didn’t put much effort into trying to lock the framerate of the game on more powerful consoles like the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, where the player is much more likely to play the game on a TV without variable refresh rate or technologies like G-Sync or Freesync. It isn’t always noticeable, but when it is… Hoo boy, it’s painful to look at. Even Jennifer noticed it. I doubt the issue is noticeable on PC much, but I don’t have personal experience with the game on PC.
As for conversations, it isn’t the conversations or scripts themselves, but the fact that previously selected options aren’t “greyed out“, meaning you can easily find yourself having the same conversation multiple times without realizing it.
Lastly, I’m not entirely sure why, but it took me a ridiculously long time to get used to the camera movement itself. There seems to be a perceptible input lag on the camera controls, and I’ve found myself swinging the camera around wildly just trying to see where I’m going when turning corners or trying to make my way around building interiors. Part of the issue I experienced with the camera is due to the way that the run button is also tied to performing actions. This wouldn’t be too big of an issue if actions weren’t automatically performed when holding down the combined sprint/action button (A on Xbox, X on PlayStation). I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve accidentally gone through a door I didn’t intend to go through just because I was trying to run to the next floor but drifted too close to a door because the camera was off in la-la land.
A New Experience In The New World
Shelby: What I truly appreciate about Greedfall is that it takes what is already a pretty congested genre, and makes something worth experiencing out of it while still feeling familiar. I don’t want to be misunderstood however. Greedfall doesn’t really break new ground in the sense that it turns the genre on its head, or even sports a premise that’s unique (colonizers go to a new world and screw with the natives). Still, Greedfall scratches that Bioware itch that Bioware apparently forgot how they could tap into a long time ago.
It isn’t perfect, but I can’t say I expected a game from Spiders to be perfect. If anything, it’s a diamond in the rough, and even though this diamond lacks many of the cuts that others have, it’s still worth picking up nonetheless.
Chances are that you’ve already played and beaten Greedfall yourself, so what did you think? Have you not played it yet?