Greedfall Review – Are Spiders The New BioWare?

Spiders are an interesting little company who have been consistently putting out RPGs that feel inspired by classic BioWare yet have never managed to completely nail their visions. Their last game was The Technomancer (review HERE) in 2016 which had some great ideas but clumsy execution. Now Spiders are back with Greedfall which has gotten a good amount of attention leading up to its release. So does their latest RPG finally level Spiders up?

Greedfall doesn’t exactly get off to a great start as it spends its first hour or so making you round around a little area doing boring fetch quests. As De Sardet, Legate of the Congregation of Merchants, you are a diplomat of sorts but Greedfall begins by making you feel more like an errand boy who just can’t or won’t say no. It’s not a good start to the RPG that awaits you, and that’s a theme of Greedfall: lots of good stuff hidden behind a bunch of problems, many of which stem from developers Spiders arguably dreaming bigger than their technical talent allows.

Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Spiders
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Review code provided free of charge by the publisher

Greedfall has a lot of historical inspirations, specifically 18th century Europe and hefty doses of colonial America. Your cousin has become the new governor of a city in a recently settled land, and your job is to maintain relationships between yourselves and the other two major cities on the island, as well as the land’s native population who have rather mixed feelings about their new neighbours who have suddenly moved in. But that’s not all, because you also need to hunt down a cure for a deadly disease called The Malichor that’s ravaging the home you left, there’s crazy magic going on and a whole bunch of other mysteries that get weaved into the mix.

Spiders have done well when it comes to creating their world. There’s lore and history everywhere you look but it never feels overwhelming. Again, the historical inspirations play a large role in this: there’s a zealous faction who want to convert the natives to their religion, with sub-sects using horrible methods. The natives themselves are in touch with the land and essentially worship nature. The allusions to numerous historically instances of native groups being subjugated or eradicated are hardly subtle, in other words. But Greedfall does a good job of handling things, using it as a story element throughout rather than just a backdrop for the action, and the historical similarities help ground the complex world and make it easy to parse.

As for the main story it features some great writing and some good twists and turns along the 30-50 hours of gameplay that Greedfall offers. For the most part it had no problem keeping me interested in what was happening and the people involved. The voice acting plays a huge part in that. Although the natives have a hilariously strange accent that took me ages to stop noticing the rest of the acting is surprisingly good. De Sardet is especially good.

De Sardet though, is mostly a fixed character from the outset. There’s little to no room in conversations to mould him into your vision of what he should be. In this sense you are properly roleplaying as an existing character, a bit like you do in The Witcher 3 where Geralt is mostly predefined. De Sardet is a diplomat, and so the game does push you toward finding the best solution for everyone and to keep violence to a minimum. There are no opportunities to diplomatically tell everyone to just fuck off, for example. Still, I liked De Sardet well enough.

All in all, the world of Greedfall feels cohesive and interesting, nailing a nice blend of historical influences and fantasy elements to create something compelling.

In true Western RPG fashion you get some companion characters who trail around after you like lost sheep looking for their mothers. At first these five characters feel too much like extensions of their faction rather than people in their own right, but over time they develop their own personalities. You can take two of them along at any given time and depending on who you choose they’ll chip in on conversations or open up different choices. They also have their own Mass Effect style loyalty missions that flesh out their back stories, and these are some of the best quests in the whole game. I helped Father Petrus rig an arena fight to get dirt on the Cardinal Mother, helped Vasco the Naut discover his original family and aided Kurt in uncovering a secret regiment.

I particularly appreciated how my companions could affect aspects of the story. Dragging someone along from an opposing faction to an important meeting could end with things escalating rather quickly. Likewise, if you’re off to deal with the native tribes then taking Siora along could open up new avenues of conversation or provide extra insight.

Sadly you can’t level up your companions throughout the adventure, so they’re stuck with their core stats and skills. However, you can play around with their equipment of which there’s a lot to choose from. I love the 18th century style armour and clothing as it’s so much more stylish than what we typically see.

Greedfall sticks closely to the traditional western RPG format so you take quests from factions that mostly boil down to going to a place and doing the thing. However, Spiders have done a superb job of dressing these other wise mundane missions up through storytelling and dialogue. The situations you find yourself in are usually more than enough to keep you engaged in the story, and quite often what seems like a simple mission in other game branches out into something much larger. You spend a lot of time just running from place to place, but again Spiders impress by ensuring that it feels like there’s a good reason for you to be jogging across the land.

There are dozens off side-quests to venture out on and they are all involved, interesting missions that are worth completing for the rewards, the XP and simply just for the enjoyment of the story. Many of them tie back into the main story, offering new details and points of view. Much like in Skyrim or The Witcher 3 I often found myself forgetting about the primary story missions in Greedfall and instead doing bunches of side-missions before eventually remembering that I was supposed to be curing a plague or something.

The major failing that almost all the missions have is that travelling can often take up more time than the quests themselves. At first there’s some fun to be had from adventuring to each new area, but since it’s not an open world, rather it’s a series of corridors essentially, there are a lot of loading screens between you and your goal. The alternative is to use fast travel, but even then you still have to jump in and out of fast travel numerous times in a relatively simple mission. There’s also a strange “travel break” that pops whenever you fast-travel or go from one area to another. This little camp lets you chat to your companions and purchase gear, but mostly exists so that the game can load the new area in the background. If you opt to run straight through the travel break you’ll encounter a reasonably short loading screen.

Also, a more minor complaint: timed missions. Some quests ask you to wait or come back, but there’s no dedicated wait button. Sometimes the game will give you the option to wait or even teleport you across the world to where you need, and sometimes it just won’t. The only option is to trudge back to a camp (you can’t fast travel from wherever you like, sadly) and use the sleep option.

One area where Greedfall consistently impressed me was in how it handles levelling up and implementing skills into the missions. Depending on how you choose to go you’ve often got a choice on how to get through situations, like using charisma to talk your way out of it or even sneaking around. There’s not vast amounts of freedom but there’s enough to make it feel like you can play the game your way, although Greedfall can be inconsistent about when it lets you exercise that freedom – sometimes it just feels like you have little say in how events pan out both in terms of gameplay and conversations.

The actual act of levelling up involves sinking points into skills, attributes and abilities. Your skills determine whether you wield swords or hammers, single-handers or two-handers, magic or firearms and you get a point every time you level up. Attributes are your base stats such as strength and agility and can determine the types of armour you can wear or the quality of weapons you can wield. If you want to use the best rifles, for example, then you better start focusing on levelling up your accuracy. Finally, ability points are rare and let you focus on things like your charisma, intuition, science and more.

It’s good that there are many ways to avoid fighting because combat is probably Greedfall’s biggest shortcoming outside of its technical problems which we’ll get to later. You can have two weapons equipped like a sword and a magic ring and can swap between them on the fly. There’s nothing horribly wrong with the fighting per say, but it just feels clumsy and awkward. There’s no real depth or tactical thinking, and no matter what build you go for it never changes – you’ll always be mashing a button while occasionally dodging. On top of that sometimes hitting the attack button will send your character dashing toward the foe for a strike and sometimes it just won’t. Hit boxes are awful, frequently failing to register hits.

Something I love about combat in RPGs is how combat can vary a lot depending on the style of character I build, even if that means in Skyrim I’ll somehow always wind up being a stealthy archer. In Greedfall there is the option to invest points in guns or magic and thus theoretically in a ranged build, but the reality is neither of those things are truly viable, I think, at least unless you opt to cheese the game by abusing the fact that enemies won’t follow you outside of a certain range. Yes, amusingly you can actually run out of an area and the enemies will reset themselves, sometimes even regaining their health in the process.

Spiders are a company with big ideas and grand plans but they often struggle when it comes to the technical aspects of bringing their visions to life. This remains largely true with Greedfall: I experienced many crashes, ran into various bugs where events didn’t trigger properly and encountered loads of terrain that would grab my character and refuse to let go. Camera angles in conversations are frequently terrible, there are invisible walls everywhere, dialogue will suddenly cut out and so much more.

Then there are the small details that Spiders seemed to have missed. Scene transitions are a great example, by which I mean it often feels like they are just missing completely. In fact, lots of little stuff felt like it was missing. I solved a puzzle which somehow tamed a nearby beast without me knowing it due to a lack of any sort of cue, and then when I walked up to the beast and pressed B to “tame” it, it vanished into thin air and the doorway I needed to go through opened up. This sort of thing happens a lot in Greedfall and you can’t help shake the feeling that you’re playing a true budget title. I also got a good laugh during a sequence in a governors’ mansion where we were under attack yet the servants just carried on cleaning the floors while bullets and magic flew over their heads. Again, it’s small stuff, but it’s everywhere within the game, like the repeated interiors and the static NPCs.

The worst offender, though, is the abysmal lip-syncing which does its very best to damage the excellent voice acting. In fact, I don’t think here actually is any lip-syncing. Characters move their mouths and sounds come out, but I don’t believe anybody ever tried to match it up.

Still, this is Spiders best looking game to date. The environments tend to look rather samey with basically three different location types repeated over and over, but the level of detail and the textures are impressive at times. For a small team working on a tight budge they’ve done a good job on the audio and the visuals.

I’ve got a lot of faith in Spiders, and with time they could potentially fill the void that BioWare has left in the industry. There’s plenty of room for some good, double-A RPG and Spiders continues to improve with each new release. They just need to work on their technical skills.

Greedfall needs a good polish and general tidy up, is what I’m saying here. There are a lot of problems that did frustrate me, damaging a game that I actually really enjoyed. Greedfall is the definition of rough around the edges, but if you can accept the issues then there’s something genuinely good here. The emphasis on talking, building characters and telling stories over combat and bombastic action is a most welcome change of pace. I think as long as you don’t expect another Witcher 3, Greedfall could just be the next RPG you sink a couple of dozen hours into.

3 out of 5

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