Greedfall – Clunky Colonial Fantasy
PC, Xbox One, PS4
First impressions of Greedfall are not good. I was all set for a colonial fantasy in the vein of Witcher 3 meets Assassin’s Creed. This is certainly how the game’s advertising has been selling it. You are met, however, with an opening two hours that does its utmost to keep you mired at a beginning section of the game. A section that you have no interest in, forcing convoluted barriers before the quest of simply getting on a ship. It doesn’t help that this opening also feels like a Dragon Age 2 mod that has been made by a high school class for a term project.
Animations are awful, the camera just doesn’t feel right, the reticule, when you move it on the map screen, is never smooth, characters’ mouths are horror-show things with unnaturally lit teeth masticating in some semblance of speech, systems are complex and clunky, combat responsiveness feels off, and the world, in general, feels incredibly simple and stage-like, with every corner you come around exhibiting a perceptible pause in motion of all actors before they suddenly burst into their ascribed roles. And if you do follow a single NPC, you’ll enjoy their complex daily routine of endlessly walking up and down the length of an alley.
Despite my initial feeling that this was going to be a real doozy, there’s something beating beneath Greedfall, passion, ambition and enough pure will that these generic pieces are held together long enough for an overall image to start forming. It helps that the game’s premise is an evocative one, presenting a colonial-era culture clashing with an untapped and exotic fantasy land full of magic and creatures and existing people with their own issues and alliances. So while the initial Witcher and Assassin’s Creed aspirations may fall short, we are left with something closer to Dragon Age Inquisition by way of Risen.
To gain enjoyment from Greedfall, you have to cut it a lot of slack. In my case, I had to learn to just not care about side missions, as they were so poorly designed. For example, an early mission sees you combing a fresh battlefield, healing any remaining living soldiers. Sounds simple enough, but the problem is the game fights you at every opportunity. To start with, the mission is timed. Secondly, the map shows markers for where you need to search, but when you get there there is nothing, so you have to just kind of wander around and hope you stumble across a soldier in need. And thirdly, whenever you do find one, you have to give them a health potion from your inventory. If you don’t have five health potions ready, you can’t complete the quest. And you can’t just whip some up – that requires a workbench which would take too long to get to and return – plus, given that there are different types of character that you can be, you might not even have the required skill to even make potions in the first place. Therefore, I couldn’t finish the side quest because of the game design itself.
I will admit, though, that over time the game builds on itself and such initial wrinkles smooth out a little. Take the starting classes – you choose between Warrior, Technical and Magic, but because your progress is linked to an open skill tree it’s entirely possible to customise yourself to whichever combination of the three you desire. I focused on guns and one-handed early on but soon came to realise that a little bit of magic (thanks to a regenerating mana bar) wouldn’t go astray.
Quests are hit and miss, with some being interesting while others will have you skipping dialogue and simply going through the motions just to get them finished. The dialogue throughout is very ye olde, lots of titles and verily speak and such. It’s difficult to feel that each character is distinct, although I do like the indigenous inhabitants, as they speak plainly and with some resembling South African accents. This is not an open world but rather a dozen or so pocket-sized region. Travel between areas takes quite a while to load, so the devs have smartly included a little camp area that loads in-between areas. Here you can talk to your companions and choose who to keep in your party of three, as well as buy and sell stuff to a portable merchant. This does make the game feel a bit limited, technically, but I have to admit it is a decent solution to players enduring a long loading time.
Visually, Greedfall can be striking at times. Indeed, it’s only in motion that it betrays its budget, with frame rate drops across all moments of battle. I’m also impressed with the overall design and visual presentation of the world, particularly the creatures and monsters. That said, animations are never smooth and I found it very difficult to time button presses effectively so as to avoid creature and enemy attacks. Instead, I found it more effective to dance to my own beat to keep ahead of the AI, attacking once, dodging, attacking a couple of times, dodging – repeat until they are dead. A few times, the game’s waypoints led us through an area where elite enemies would kill us within seconds, requiring some edge-skimming to get past (and some silent prayers). It’s this general kind of janky design that pokes through in Greedfall time and time again. If you can forgive it, then you’ll gain a lot of enjoyment from this title, but if you can’t then you’d be better off replaying an old favourite RPG.
To the developer’s credit, fetch quests seem to have been thrown beneath the bus (as they should be). However, to give the game its 30-hour runtime quests do tend to take on too much busywork, with barriers thrown up at every point. For example, getting from A to B might require you to unlock a gate, which has a busted lock mechanism. You can scrounge around to craft a new one or backtrack to a merchant and just buy one. Then when you get to the quest-giver, there’s inevitably some favour that will take fifteen minutes that you’ll need to do – repeat many, many times.
I have to say, though, that after a few hours, Greedfall starts to become a bit of an easy pleasure. It’s not so difficult that you can’t breeze through quite a few areas in each sitting, and the one-long-quest structure makes it hard to just stop playing as you’re always going somewhere to investigate something or talk to/fight someone. I also really liked the world that’s been created. Fantasy names come at you thick and fast and with enough confidence that you accept the world-building and start to enjoy the ride. Once you’ve taken out a few mini-bosses and found some epic weapons, you start to feel quite badass, which makes repeatedly fighting the half a dozen original creatures more bearable.
It is said that Dylan Burns has no shadow, or if he does that it portents a shifting of the elder signs that govern the floating curses of the universe, gathering their power and directing ill intent and misfortune to all game developers that enact post-release patches. Consequently, Dylan’s shadow curse finds itself working overtime, permanently engaged, thus the propagation of legend. When not guiding the swirling forces of evil, Dylan enjoys writing (evil) fiction, taking menacing walks, and lurking behind bus stops with a general demeanour that suggests malevolence.