Off Topic: Greedfall is an extremely old-school RPG. No, older than that.
After about a month of playing Greedfall, I finally finished it last night and I immediately wanted to write a review of it for the site, because it’s a game unlike anything else I’ve played in years. It’s not at all like RPGs that get released since Dragon Age or The Elder Scrolls or The Witcher series got big — in many ways, Greedfall is so old school, it feels like it should be less of a third person RPG and instead should be a Baldur’s Gate clone. The way it handles factions, companion quests, and side quests that tie into the storyline in surprising ways reminded me of nothing so much as Planescape: Torment, and while I won’t say it’s as good as Torment was, it is surprisingly good at times.
Playing as De Sardet, the cousin to the newly appointed governor of a colony city on the island of Teer Fradee — Tir Fradi in the language of the island’s native population — you quickly discover that things are never what they seem. You’re going to be dealing with lies a lot in this game — just about every person you meet and deal with may well have some deep secret they keep from you. Even your own mother, as it turns out. Without dumping a lot of spoilers on you, I think it’s fair to say that the game uses the many side quests woven throughout the narrative to unveil a lot of conflicting narratives — each person you meet has their own agenda and you have a multitude of ways to deal with those agendas.
The game sometimes stumbles — it’s approach to colonialism and colonial issues is, as one might expect from a game set in a magic fantasy version of these events, less nuanced than one might hope — but when it does, it always feels like it stumbled trying to do something bigger and more challenging than most RPGs would dare.
Do The Quests
While watching me play the ending of the game, my wife turned to me and said, “this is like the tantric sex of gaming,” and she really had a point. Greedfall’s solution on how to tell these stories is to stagger the heck out of them, feeding you little moments in dribs and drabs that are entirely optional. One example is fairly early in the game. If you don’t do a certain companion’s questline and earn their loyalty, then at a crucial moment in the game, that companion will betray you in a shocking and unexpected manner. It’s a payoff that I didn’t even get to see, because I did his quest. I had no idea he’d do what he does if you don’t do it, because I’m an obsessive quest completionist — it wasn’t until someone asked me how I got through that part that I found out it could happen.
I’m not saying that this is a bad game, mind you — I very much enjoyed it, despite flaws like wonky localization and occasional captions that didn’t match my character’s gender, which I accepted because Spiders is like 40 people trying to make a game in the same field as companies with hundreds of people on a team. But going into Greedfall, you really need to understand that this is not a game along the line of modern RPGs which throw a big open world sandbox at you and let you just explore everywhere. This is a game where you travel to specific areas and interact with quests that layer the world back a piece at a time, and doing those quests is important — it literally changes the game if you don’t do them.
When I say Do The Quests, I mean All Of Them
The companion quests are a really deep example of this. Doing one companion’s quest chain, I expected to get a look at the culture they come from, and instead I found out about De Sardet’s origins, why the native people of Teer Fradee view me as unusual and what my family has been hiding from me all this time. It would be easy not to do this quest, to miss out on this backstory, and to thus never really understand why De Sardet is the center of the events of the game’s story.
It would be easy to blaze to the end of Greedfall. Nothing makes you do most of the content here. You only have to go to a very few places on the map, and there’s no exploration mechanic outside of two quests that are basically start camps in all these places and find these journals and neither of those quests are really necessary. The game’s map is another place where Greedfall feels more like a Baldur’s Gate game, in that you can travel from region to region but not on the land between those regions — it is very much not an open world, go anywhere you want, explore everything game. It’s a much more focused one, that aims itself directly at giving you the pieces of a narrative and lets you decide how much of it you want and then unfolds accordingly.
Ambition: not always rewarded, but to be encouraged
It’s certainly not a perfect game, nor nearly as polished as you may be used to. If you played RPGs back in the early 2000’s, when we were getting games like Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire on consoles, then you may have a good grasp on the kind of game Greedfall is. It feels very much like Jade Empire or Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords at times, and that’s a good thing. But it should be said that outside of Kurt and Siora, none of the companions you get are nearly as much fun as the ones in those games — I do love Siora, though. She’s fun, and she takes none of the patronizing colonial BS everyone else in this game spews at her. And Kurt is just your big brother from the moment you meet him.
Also, Christian, your cousin and the governor of New Serene is a character who is maddening and endearing and surprisingly hard to reconcile at the end of the game. Rarely is a character so many different things at once, and I’m really interested with what they chose to do here. Again, there’s a lot of stuff in this game that doesn’t quite hit, that isn’t quite as assured and polished as you might expect, but again, this is a game studio with 40 people total — including freelance talent — in a gaming development world where a game of this scope is usually the work of four hundred or more. I think Spiders did some really good work here, and I’d like to see them get to go further.
I know money is tight and there are tons of games out there people want to play, and hey, I’m right there with you — I can’t even get The Outer Worlds this month because of money and BlizzCon — but if you find yourself wanting a new game that feels at times like an old game? Then I definitely recommend Greedfall. It’s not perfect, but in many ways, the flaws make it charming.
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