I don’t know whether a game has ever left me as personally divided as Greedfall has. After spending dozens of hours exploring and questing around the island or Teer Fradee I’m still unsure whether or not I actually like this game and I suppose because in my head it exists in two separate spaces: The mechanical and the narrative.
In both spheres Greedfall is ambitious, setting out to not only design a role-playing system that’s unique from the hundreds of alternatives out there but in choosing to set its game in a period of time, albeit with fantastical elements, that very few other developers have approached. Yet how much weight should ambition alone carry in an evaluation of something? This has been one of the questions swirling around in the surprisingly empty void that exists within the confines of my skull because based on what Greedfall sets out to achieve, and in some cases sticks the landing, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s a good game, yet I don’t know if I actually enjoyed my time with it as much as I wanted to.
The deathly sickness known as the malichor has taken hold of the continent and despite all the advancements in technology and medicine, no-one has been able to uncover a cure for the disease that’s slowly spreading throughout the city. The last hope for the country of Serene and her neighbours is the colonies, for within those strange lands may there be a remedy for this plague that’s tormenting your people. You’ll play as the legate (a diplomat, I had to look it up too) for Serene as you attempt to uncover any kind of help that you may send back to your family on “the continent” and from this point on the game’s a fairly standard RPG. You’ll have dialogue choices, experience points, various talents and attributes to specialise in; it’s a fairly standard framework for a role-playing game that evokes a lot of similarities to classic Bioware games. What separates Greedfall from other titles are its setting and its combat system, both of which do a great deal in providing the game with a unique voice.
While initially seeming like a straight-up action game, with counters and dodges galore, combat can also be halted mid-fight to bring up a menu and assign different moves and roles to both you and your party. It’s fairly robust in its execution, providing far more options to the player than just mashing a single attack button until the thing is dead, yet I’d be lying if I said I actually used it. I suppose this is more a personal taste thing but I’ve always found real-time combat to be a far more compelling way to play RPGs; constantly pausing the action to assign orders just throws me out of the loop and divorces me from the actions I’m meant to be taking. The option to essentially make the game into a pseudo-turn based RPG at the click of button is a really cool idea and will do doubt be appreciated by a great many players, but given the amount of random enemy encounters you’ll come across while venturing through the games many (and often gorgeous) locations, it would be sluggish to resolve every situation through a menu rather than just getting dirty yourself.
The hotkeys provided for combat also seem to render the ability to pause everything superfluous; if everything I need for my character build can be accessed on the fly, why would I want to halt everything to trawl through a menu and find it? It’s a system that seems to fight against itself in an attempt to prove some kind of relevancy.
Which, as strange as it sounds, goes for the game’s narrative as well. This, also, is where the brunt of my complaints with Greedfall take place and it really saddens me that I had to write that sentence. This isn’t going to be a paragraph complaining about how the game utterly fails as a post-colonial story because I think that would be expecting far too much from it. Rather, it’s a place to discuss pacing; specifically how bad pacing can absolutely ruin whatever intrigue you manage to establish in your story. Greedfall seems intent to butcher its own story by slotting in trivial quests in the middle of some of the game’s most intense and interesting moments.
What starts off as a genuinely compelling narrative becomes drowned in tedium as you’re forced into completing random quests for people before they let you progress with the main storyline. Many of these “inserted” quests have absolutely nothing to do with the main story and serve as a way of stretching out the experience far longer than it needed to be. Shave off ten hours by removing all the poorly implemented quest objectives and Greedfall would have been a far tighter, more cohesive story of colonial greed and the suffering that it caused indigenous cultures, but instead, it becomes a chore to slog through.
This is when we have to come back to ambition and how important that is when evaluating something like Greedfall. This was a game made on a budget and it’s not difficult to see where money was saved. There’s a general “jankiness” to everything: from the awkward facial animations, voice lines being repeated during combat and the reused interior environments and while none of these detracted from the experience of playing the game, I have to wonder if a smaller scope wouldn’t have helped Greedfall’s quality.
It’s a game that places a lot on it’s shoulders as it tries to juggle complex mechanics and narratives and while mechanically it mostly succeeds on all fronts, it sadly has to sacrifice it’s narrative to provide the illusion of content for those mechanics to exist around. Walking away from the game, I’ll admit that I enjoyed my time and I applaud the developers for clearly going above and beyond to deliver an RPG that does its best to stand out from the crowd.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased to be done with it.
Last Updated: September 16, 2019