GreedFall is a game of compromises. At any moment, you're trying to maintain order on an island that's one crisis away from chaos. Your goal is to navigate all the strife and calamity of this colonial fantasy, while also trying to find a cure for an unstoppable plague. When GreedFall works, it's thanks to all these factors clicking neatly into place; the problem is when it struggles to do so, especially during its high-stakes moments.
GreedFall, from developer Spiders, is the story of De Sardet, a legate of the Congregation of Merchants who is helping establish a trade faction on the newfound island of Teer Fradee (sometimes styled Tir Fradi) alongside their cousin and newly-appointed governor Constantin. You'll have to navigate diplomacy with the other two factions who've set up a colony—the zealously devout Theleme and ruthlessly scientific Bridge Alliance—as well as the natives who call Teer Fradee home, the mercenaries of the Coin Guard, and the Naut sailors who make sea travel possible. Every action you take through the main narrative or side quests can affect both your standing with factions as well as your companions, who all hail from the various forces on the island.
Last week, we published my impressions at 20 hours in. I praised its slow-burn approach to the "old BioWare" style. And while GreedFall does at times feel like a spiritual successor to Dragon Age, it tries to distance itself in ways that prove both fruitful and fraught with trouble. Every side quest in GreedFall is deeply carved out, filled with bespoke characters. It's less open-world and more a scattered collection of discrete maps. Even when you're doing a menial task, it carries some level of weight or reward; you might learn more about the island's history, discover a secret about one of the factions you're helping, or stumble upon a new quest line that leads to greater truths.
The depth of quest content is wonderful, and makes the middle portion of the game its meatiest and most rewarding section. Venturing from task to task, uncovering more about the world while also trying to handle various issues between factions is engaging, as there are a lot of factors that go into each decision. Having different companions with you can open up new dialogue interactions, for example, or wearing the garb of another faction might let you infiltrate a restricted area without hassle. There are moments where GreedFall pulls off mechanics and moments that feel refreshing, and that makes side events feel less like optional content and more like a small slice that affects the larger whole.
How these play out in practice varies, though. Early on, side content can have a significant effect on who stays by your side. For instance, at one point in the story, a companion betrayed me because I hadn't completed their line of missions by a certain point in the story, thus not earning their trust. Later on, I used facts I had discovered as blackmail, and missed out on a follow-up questline entirely because I killed a monstrous researcher. (No regrets, though.)
At one point, I was given the option to attack an Inquisition camp which had been kidnapping natives, torturing them until they converted to Theleme or died. I had the option of either raiding it alongside a native clan, rescuing its kidnapped members and slaughtering anyone else, or letting the Mother Cardinal know. I chose the former, opting to prioritize freeing the captives over saving the church any face; in turn, the Mother Cardinal disapproved of my actions. She would have given me forces of her own to destroy the camp with, but now the church seemed complicit with the acts of its extremist sect in the eyes of the native clans. I felt right in what I did, but future negotiations with Theleme would be that much more tense.
The intertwining of smaller and larger story beats makes the narrative feel incredibly cohesive. It's built up by your companions as well, all of whom have their own loyalty to gain and viewpoints to share. Siora, a native wise-woman, and Petrus, a fatherly bishop from Theleme, were the standouts for me; pirate captain Vasco and bodyguard BFF Kurt were also solid additions, though the researcher Aphra ends up feeling like the least interesting of the bunch.
The struggle is really with De Sardet, who is the blankest canvas upon which to paint your own role-playing. Other games allow you to define a style of character, a paragon or renegade, a cheeky rogue or stoic knight, but De Sardet is extremely one-note to a fault. Other characters steal the spotlight, and I never felt attachment to my protagonist like I do in other RPGs.
While GreedFall grapples with the atrocities and real-world history of the colonial era, any meaningful attempt ends up glossed over in the end. De Sardet's role as legate of a third party means you're often incentivized to play all sides at once for the best result; siding with say, the Native faction consistently over the church's horrific Inquisition means putting one relationship on the rocks in exchange for what you feel is right. But the endgame rarely reflects these choices, and those hoping for impactful romance will be a little disappointed, as GreedFall's four love interests don't get nearly the depth or attention you'd hope out of a relationship.
Diplomacy may be the main draw, and GreedFall manages well enough in that space to hold a candle up to BioWare, but negotiation isn't the whole of GreedFall. Some missions require stealth and even tailing targets, which range from interesting changes of pace to downright odd in the latter's case. Combat is the last option, for when words have failed or if you're playing a particularly bull-headed De Sardet.
Combat is ultimately one of the weakest areas of GreedFall. There are some interesting systems incorporated, like an armor bar separate from your health that mitigates damage to health at the cost of its health, or various status effects like Stasis, which can freeze enemies in time. Yet most of the combat feels a little too loose and indiscernible. It wasn't uncommon to get hit by something that seemed well out of reach, only for the enemy to "zip" right into my face mid-animation.
You also don't have many options in combat, mostly relying on your melee attacks and profession skills. If you went for the technical route, this means guns (fairly straightforward), traps, and explosive phials of alchemical mixtures. Or you could go mage, which has some cool spells available and seemed like the most original of the bunch. I didn't spend much time exploring the warrior branch, which seemed to mostly augment what De Sardet could already do rather than offering new combat paradigms.
Battles take a curve over the course of the story, where they go from challenging and quickly back to menial. By the time I acquired the technical branches' ultimate ability simply dubbed "Bomb," I had my trump card locked in. Enemy combatants rarely offered a challenge beyond a basic sequence of attacks, and difficulty was usually ramped up by just increasing the number of enemies I fought at any given time. The standout were the Nadaig, Teer Fradee's giant guardians who had their own skills and abilities, acting as boss monsters for major battles. Those fights were the only time I ever had to think about what moves and skills would work best, adapting on the fly to enemies that could kill me in a few swings.
Despite being a gorgeous game, GreedFall also has its fair share of bugs and glitches too. The camera would somehow bug out and go bonkers for a few moments while I was exploring, enemy encounters could reset, and stealth encounters had sometimes hilarious moments of De Sardet being completely hidden while my companions stood in open view of guards. The lip synching and overall character graphics range from great (for the main cast) to middling or worse for side characters, which isn't out of the norm, but was more noticeable given the increased focus on side content.
GreedFall is the kind of game you recommend with caveats. It's a flawed but earnest attempt to capture some of the BioWare magic that seems so distant at this point, and when it succeeds, it feels like a strong foot forward for Spiders. It fails to neatly tie those tensions together into one knot at the end, and alongside lackluster combat and some technical oddities, GreedFall feels more like the first draft of stronger games to come. I'm hopeful for what Spiders does in the future, and this certainly sated my BioWare craving for the time being, but it doesn't quite reach the narrative heights it could have.
I enjoyed my time with GreedFall, but it's already failed to leave a lasting impression on me. Its best moments shine bright and show how much potential Spiders has to develop in this style of RPG, but it isn't cohesive enough to work in concert. GreedFall is certainly worth checking out if you're aching for the old days of BioWare, but it’s a tough sell for most others.