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GreedFall Picks Up The Bioware Torch & Mostly Shines Bright
Platform: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Western RPG set in a fictional 17th century era
Until recently, Bioware was known as the masters of the western RPG, with legendary games like Star Wars: Knight Of The Old Republic, as well as both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises. However, they proceeded to squander all that hard-earned reputation with current-gen games like Mass Effect Andromeda and Anthem.
Are western RPGs with impactful choices and a great story dying? Not if Spiders has anything to say about it.
While CD Projekt Red is (arguably) currently the king of western RPGs with 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Spiders has proven itself to be somewhat the second coming of Bioware with GreedFall, albeit one that doesn’t quite reach the highs of Bioware’s best but still counts as an impressive feat nonetheless, especially in an age when Bioware has abandoned what made its games great.
In GreedFall, the player is not a conventional chosen one archetype with a heroic destiny awaiting him/her (like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim‘s Dragonborn). Instead, your name is De Sardet, the newly-appointed Legate of a nation called the Congregation Of Merchants.
A Legate is essentially the diplomat or ambassador, with all the political power and benefits that come with it. Set in a fictional 17th century-styled fantasy setting, the Congregation Of Merchants is clearly meant to be the equivalent of the real-world British East India Company.
Meanwhile, the other nations and factions in the game also seem to represent similar real-world historical counterparts. The nation of Theleme is like the Spanish or the Papal States, as they have a religious hierarchy with their own Inquisitors, Bishops and Cardinals, while the Bridge Alliance is based on the powerful Muslim empires of the time as evident from the Arabic-derived names and clothing.
Those are just some of the major players I’ve mentioned, but they all play a part in the expansive story of GreedFall. While some factions are depicted to be more antagonistic or meant to be more villainous than others, none of them are blatantly evil. You’ll probably hate the those from Theleme for being bigoted zealots out for heathen blood or anyone from the Bridge Alliance for sacrificing ethics for the sake of science, but no can really boast to be the good guys.
I mean, these are ultimately colonialist and expansionist empires vying for a piece of the island of Teer Fradi, so everyone has a secret agenda to pursue, including your own faction. As the Legate of Congregation of Merchants (which you’ll hear the character say every time he’s meeting someone new), it’s your job to keep the peace and appease these opposing factions, which includes the island Natives with their own respective tribes and leaders.
I don’t agree with several prominent gaming websites (cough Kotaku cough) that complaint about the game’s colonisation themes and setting being unpleasant or offensive. As someone whose country (Malaysia) was a victim of colonisation in the past, I personally don’t find any of it uncomfortable or offensive at all.
On the contrary, I actually find the setting refreshing, as it distinguishes itself from other fantasy settings in western RPGs, which tend to be inspired mostly by medieval times. Huge developers probably shy away from exploring the controversial topic of colonisation, but that’s not a problem for smaller up-and-coming developer Spiders.
As a massive fan of western RPGs with a heavy emphasis on player choice and consequences, I was delighted to enter the world of GreedFall. As a Legate (or diplomat), walking around from place to place and having conversations with NPCs makes it natural and not forced. It’s literally your character’s job to do so.
Kudos to Spiders for doing a great job with the player choices and dialogue in GreedFall, making them matter and not just conveying the illusion of choice. Let me assure you that this game doesn’t have mindless fetch quests with no sense of purpose.
Almost every side quest you go through in GreedFall leads into and affects the flow of the story and your interactions with the characters within.
Any decision you make has an impact, the effects of which are not often immediate. For example, the fact that you helped several Natives from suffering under the other factions’ discrimination will go a long way in smoothing your dealings with the Native leaders, or vice versa, as they will have heard about what you did and will then be more receptive to you.
There are often multiple ways to complete an objective, which makes figuring out how to best approach any mission a fun endeavour. However, some actions or dialogue choices may be locked out if you don’t have enough points in any of the many available talents. For instance, you need Charisma to increase your persuasion skills, Lockpicking to unlock doors and chests to avoid the hassle of having to search for keys, and my personal favourite, Intuition, which (when upgraded) gives you more (and better) dialogue choices.
All of these choices play into the Reputation mechanic, a system where every choice will add or subtract points. It’s not clearly stated how many points it takes to get from Suspicious (which is your starting relationship status with a faction or companion) to Nice and Friendly, so you’ll have to try not to lose points to keep in their good graces.
Some of these quests also take cues from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, as they take the form of mysteries and investigations, where you have to examine clues and unearth every piece of the story. Every side quest is like a mini-plot that fleshes out the inner workings and culture of each faction, which is fascinating as you learn more about the deep lore contained in GreedFall.
The problem in some western RPGs is that the side quests often detract from the overall story or main campaign, especially in games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. You could spend hundreds of hours doing other stuff without furthering even an inch into the main plot. Fortunately, that’s not possible in GreedFall, where every side quest will affect the main story or your interactions in some way.
Western RPGs are not often known for their great combat, as even the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and the Mass Effect franchise suffered from this problem. Unfortunately, the same can also be said for GreedFall. While the combat feels clunky, I enjoyed it for its wide range of customization options.
Just like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, every piece of armour (head, torso, hands, feet, necklace, cape) has their own stats and special properties. The same goes for your two weapon slots. What’s good is that you can mix your own classes, without having to be restricted to just one combat class for the entire game.
I chose to primarily focus on being a mage in my playthrough, but there was nothing stopping me from expanding skill points into using firearms or more technical combat like bombs. The way combat works is that both you and your enemies have a health bar and an armour bar. Physical attacks with swords and axes must whittle away the armour before they can take away health, while magic attacks and firearms have the advantage of ignoring armour altogether but with the disadvantages of limited mana and ammo.
While swinging your physical weapons, firing firearms, and unleashing magical attacks feels satisfying to pull off, battles often don’t feel as precise as it should be. This is because pressing the button and waiting for the animation takes too long to finish. There were many times in which I was sure that I dodged an attack but still received damage, as the hitboxes can be unpredictable and unclear.
Thanks to how clunky the combat feels at times, it’s easier to fight a single boss than fight a swarm of enemies. I rarely die while fighting bosses (some of which are damage sponges), but I will often find myself overwhelmed by groups of enemies who surround me with no chance of retaliation. Each encounter is set within an established boundary, but it’s easy to wander outside this invisible ring and frustratingly return to enemies with all their health restored.
The variety of enemies range from the Teer Fradi versions of bears, bats, wolfs, crocodiles and rhinos. Of course, the game has exotic-sounding names for these creatures, but that’s essentially what they are. There are also many variants of each subspecies (which you can read about in the game’s extensive Codex), but they only slightly differ from each other in small ways and are basically reskins.
One type of bear might have more armour, while another might spew poison. There’s not much variety to the enemies in GreedFall, and that applies for the bosses as well. You’ll fight the same four types of Guardian bosses throughout the game in different situations, and they’ll even fight in practically the same pattern and moves.
In addition, I got sick of hearing my companions shouting the exact same battle lines in every single enemy encounter throughout my 33 hours of playing the game. The bland battle music doesn’t exactly help to alleviate this in any way, so I hope you like listening to a bunch of tribal drums being pounded.
There are five companions in GreedFall, and they’re frankly the highlights of my 33-hour journey. They each hail from a different major faction, with distinct personalities and combat styles. My personal favourites were the warrior-priest Petrus and the obsessed-with-science Aphra.
Just like Bioware’s Mass Effect games, each companion has special quests to undertake with, which will improve your relationship with that particular character. What I like about these quests is that they not only flesh out these specific characters, but also the world around them and even the main protagonist’s story.
Who you have as your companion at each given time also affects your interactions with NPCs, either positively or negatively. For example, having a native Siora with you while dealing with other natives will help you understand their culture better. That’s a positive example.
Something negative could also happen. When I was meeting people from the Bridge Alliance (who was at war with Petrus’ nation of Theleme) with Petrus in my party, it resulted in an angry outburst from him, which caused my relationship with both the Bridge Alliance and Petru himself to deteriorate (decrease in points).
I would have loved for more interactions between my companions, as these resulted in awesome moments but were far and few in between. The romances with them were also disappointing. Your romantic attempts feel forced and rushed, which makes the climax of your romance ultimately feel hollow and empty.
In comparison, the romances in Bioware games like the Mass Effect franchise were executed much better and developed much more naturally. I won’t remember Siora from GreedFall when I think of my video game romances, but Tali Zorah Vas Normandy from Mass Effect will always be best waifu.
GreedFall doesn’t feature an open world like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Instead, it’s closer to the hub worlds and areas seen in games like the Mass Effect franchise. While you can still veer off the linear path. the exploration isn’t that rewarding.
Most question marks on the map are either campsites (where you can fast travel, sleep, store and craft items) or altars that grant you skill points. Sometimes you’ll encounter new people that trigger new side quests but those are far and few in-between. Don’t expect to suddenly get yourself lost in a mysterious dungeon with loot if it’s not tied to a quest.
The lack of resources and the fact that GreedFall isn’t a AAA title is evident throughout the game. The interior of buildings in the game is almost identical to each other, as faction buildings and Native huts are clearly just recycled.
The facial expressions and animation of the characters are also wooden, but at least they’re not broken like the ones in Mass Effect Andromeda.
Thankfully, I was impressed by GreedFall‘s strong voice performances, which were definitely much better than I expected. The voices do a much better job of conveying the feelings of the characters, making up for the wooden animation.
GreedFall is Spiders’ most ambitious RPG title to date, and it certainly shows. It features a great story and deep lore, with interesting characters and setting. However, it’s brought down by its lower production values and janky combat, as well as the occasional technical issue that arose from time to time.
One wonders what a masterpiece could have resulted if Spiders had access to more resources. Still, GreedFall is a solid western RPG in its own right and one that is highly recommended to fans of the genre, especially for those who missed Bioware’s peak performance days before they decided to botch up a loot-and-shoot game.
GreedFall was reviewed on a PS4 Pro.