GreedFall's careful balance of diplomacy is its greatest strength. At any point in the story, you have to navigate a web of alliances and intrigue, negotiating precarious peace on an island both free from and still beholden to the ingrained feuds of the mainland. Though it certainly stumbles in some areas, GreedFall has captured my interest by delivering a kind of RPG experience that's become increasingly rare as of late.
GreedFall exploded onto most people's radars sometime in the last few weeks. Spiders isn't as high-profile as other role-playing game developers like BioWare or CD Projekt Red, but its newest game sets out to capture the spirit of two of those studios' most prominent properties. That's a really exciting prospect for RPG fans, but it's important to note where it deviates from that formula, and how that ends up working to GreedFall's advantage.
You play GreedFall as De Sardet, a legate of the Congregation of Merchants, headed to a new island called Teer Fradee. A plague dubbed the "Malichor" is ravaging the mainland, and every nation seems to think the cure lies somewhere in this newfoundland. But of course, there are the native inhabitants of Teer Fradee, as well as the pious theocracy of Theleme and the scientific Bridge Alliance, who are all vying for control of the island.
It's impossible to escape the obvious real-world analogies to be drawn between GreedFall's exploration-era tale of colonialism; and it embraces the conflict too, along with its many tough subjects. You are forced into making choices that shape the future of Teer Fradee and each nation staking a claim to it, and are faced with atrocities and multi-sided conflicts. The story gets off to a slow start, but over time, the writing has surprised me in its ability to craft these conflicts, forcing you to consider each action and its consequences.
At one point, I assaulted a secret "conversion camp" run by Theleme's more extremist faction of inquisitors, leading a band of native Teer Fradee tribes to free their people from cells where they were being tortured to death for their "pagan" rituals. I thought it better to ask forgiveness than seek permission, even if I knew the Mother Cardinal of Theleme would support the sect's annihilation, but she later chided me, saying I should have come to her first. In her eyes, the Church could have made amends with the Teer Fradee by showing it was solving its own problems. Instead it looked like they were oblivious to their own worst demons, and my relationship with Theleme suffered, while my diplomatic efforts with the native clans flourished.
The core of GreedFall is this balancing act, measuring cost and benefit while trying to maintain a fragile peace and discover a cure for the Malichor. Rather than a hardline Paragon or Renegade option, I have to choose who to side with and when, as well as what that could mean over time. I've yet to see how this plays out in the endgame, but so far, GreedFall's main quest line and its various side activities seem intricately interlaced with one another.
And while the main quest is straightforward and laid out, GreedFall's sidequests are unfathomably deep. I'm just about 20 hours in, and haven't encountered any quest that feels perfunctory. Even when I'm doing something as basic as fixing some bells in the woods or organizing a meeting between factions, each activity is drenched in lore. At first, you're beset by dozens of proper nouns and terminology you have no grasp of, but given time you begin to understand and contextualize how all the events of GreedFall coalesce into its grander arc.
Each of your companions has their own questline as well, and while they're not exactly "loyalty missions," they still play a pivotal role at points in the story. Each member of your party represents a major player in the island's politics: Kurt, the curt mercenary from the Coin Guard; Siora, a healer from a local native tribe; Vasco, a captain of the seafaring Nauts who hold exclusive power over global trade; Petrus, a father and diplomat from Theleme, and Aphra, a scientist of the Bridge Alliance.
Completing a companion's quest isn't just about getting them on good terms with De Sardet, but in some cases, keeping them on your side at all. At one point, a less-than-loyal member of my party turned on me during a sudden twist in the narrative, and I hastily re-loaded an earlier save. It turned out I hadn't done enough to earn their trust, and so I had to go back and close out some lingering threads in order to keep them on my side of the fight.
Quests build up in your log over time, and it's usually pretty easy to see when certain events are coming that might cut off any lingering threads you have. That said, some quests use an element of time, forcing you to wait out in-game hours or days before progressing. While I never waited long enough to see if standing around could fail a timed quest, there were at least a few where it seemed like being in the right place, at the right time, was dire. And sometimes it's used to extraordinary but simple effect, like when you're asked to wait outside a meeting while those inside discuss matters. Are they talking about something they don't want me hearing? Could they be plotting?
GreedFall shines the brightest is in its moments of character conflict and tense negotiations. Where it falls off a bit is in the combat. While GreedFall has some excellent fights, but the more routine combat sessions feel a bit tedious after a while. Action largely takes place in real-time, though you can opt to use a tactical pause menu to stop the action and peer around the battlefield to determine your next move. The pause menu is helpful the further in you get, as your skill tree branches out into various paths and you accrue more abilities and attacks.
But fighting basic mobs quickly becomes fairly routine, though you can sneak by a large portion of them if you want. Larger foes are where combat gets more tense, and factors like armor-which can absorb hits and make sturdy enemies even stronger-and elemental effects play a bigger role. Controlling the battlefield and deftly dodging strikes is much more crucial against a massive guardian than a few wolves.
GreedFall is incredibly ambitious. Its scope is comparable to many classic BioWare RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins, its quests are surprisingly involved, and the scope of the story it's trying to tell-and how deep it goes into the minutiae of how actions play out across the island-is impressive. When it connects, it's truly engaging in a way that fans of this style of RPG have likely been aching for.
But it also noticeably falters at times. The camera will get hitched on the wrong point of view for conversations, and characters will behave strangely. Though I've encountered no massive bugs on Steam, I've heard others have had progression halting issues on consoles. Considering this is a game where I'm already making frequent use of saves (25% Charisma check? More like 100%), it's good to be aware that there's going to be a little messiness. Faces and lip sync also fail to match up at times, and the map can get a little frustrating to navigate.
All that said, GreedFall seems to be Spiders making a case to be considered among the top RPG developers, and so far, it's working. What started out as a slow, confusing burn has become a world I look forward to returning to every evening, as I determine the course of Teer Fradee's future and uncover more of the island's secrets. I haven't yet seen whether it all pans out in a very meaningful way, but I'm invested enough to see it through. If you've been aching for a Dragon Age-style game for a while, GreedFall fits that bill quite well.