I love Spiders. Not arachnids, they can all die. No, I love the French game studio called Spiders. I’ve followed their exploits since their second solo title, Mars: Wars Logs, and have enjoyed watching them and their games grow in quality and scale. While they have ported adventure games to consoles and worked on a few quasi-turn-based RPGs before, their main entourage has been story-driven action RPGs. I reviewed Bound by Flame several years ago and enjoyed it despite its flaws. I also liked their last game, Technomancer, but was disappointed by its uneven difficulty and lackluster ending. Still, I always get excited when Spiders announces a new game because even though they might have technical difficulties, their games have heart. Greedfall is their latest and easily their best and most polished game to date. I would recommend Greedfall to any RPG fan as long as you’re willing to overlook some jank.
My favorite aspect of Greedfall is the colonial vibe. Technically, the developers were inspired by the baroque period, but “colonial” is what springs to my mind as my character wore a tricorne hat and a little cape for the entire game and it was glorious. There are single-shot musket rifles, revolvers, rapiers, sabers, and much more. I love the aesthetic mostly untapped in games, so seeing it here is a treat. Extending the comparison further, your character (who can be a Lord or a Lady) begins the game by setting sail from “the old world” to “the new world.” Excluding the opening hours, Greedfall is set on the island of Tír Fradí (which the colonists spell Teer Fradee) and as an ambassador of one of the game’s factions, it’s your job to liaise between the colonizing factions of the Old World and the natives. On top of this, you’re also tasked with finding a cure for the Malichor, a plague that is ravaging your homeland. In your journey, you’ll gain five allies, each representing one of the factions, each with personal quests.
One of the most obvious improvements to Greedfall over previous Spiders games comes in the writing and voice acting. Most characters are well-acted with entertaining and (usually) concise dialogue. While you can have lengthy conversations, the majority of the required dialogue is pleasantly to-the-point. However, there are a great deal of repeating faces and voices for NPCs. Facial expressions and lip-syncing also leave a lot to be desired but not egregiously so. My biggest disappointment with the sound is the game’s soundtrack. It’s good. It’s really good. But my expectations for Greedfall’s composer, Olivier Deriviere, the man behind the sublime music of A Plague Tale: Innocence, Vampyr, as well as most of Spiders’ previous games is now astronomical. Unfortunately, Greedfall’s soundtrack does not reach those same heights.
Another huge improvement over previous Spider titles (and a lot of RPGs in general) is the noticeable effort that has gone into the side quests. I remember reading articles when the game was announced that there would be no fetch quests. I cannot completely verify this as I didn’t complete every single quest (yet) but I haven’t gone a fetch quest so far. That said, not all quests are winners. Some sound like they are going to make you fetch an item but instead, they want you to mark an item for someone else to pick up or something similar. While technically you’re not fetching anything, it’s still kinda the same thing. Thankfully, most side quests are rich and quite enjoyable, especially those for your companions.
You will traverse the world of Tír Fradí with multiple companions. While you cannot specify what upgrades they get nor control their actions in battle, I found them to be very useful in combat which is honestly new for a Spiders game. Your companions are handy in many other ways, too. Completing their quests means they will offer bonuses, like increasing your charisma or craftsmanship abilities. Friends can also chime in during conversations, which can help or hurt the discussion, depending on who is in your party and what they think of the faction you’re currently talking to. The relationship with your companions can also be impacted by what you say in their presence. While I never lost anyone, you can lose them if your relationship degrades too much.
The relationships extend to each of the game’s factions. Many will be suspicious of you and your motives at the start of the game, and it’s up to you to improve relations as the factions provide for most of the branches in the story. Unlike many RPGs, there are no good or evil choices, no light and dark, no paragon and renegade. All that matters is who your friends are. And Greedfall does a great job of making you feel like your relationships and choices matter. Several main quests have multiple objectives, allowing you to experience different sequences and outcomes depending on who you align with. These nuances impact the game’s ending as well, which is affected by a number of choices, relationships, and which side quests were completed.
The combat of Greedfall is action-oriented. Every class has a main attack, a kick that stuns, a parry/counter, an evasive dodge, and a fury attack. The latter is a powerful attack that uses an adrenaline meter which builds up by using other abilities. Depending on how you level up, you can also wield magic, blades, or blunt weapons as your main attack. You can also utilize guns and set traps as well as increase your dodging capabilities. When you start the game, you must choose between one of three starting classes, warrior, magic, and technical, but you are free to evolve as you see fit from then on. Each of the three skill trees connects to the other two, so your abilities can naturally cross over or you can invest in skills completely different than your starting class.
The progression system in Greedfall is excellent. In so many games, the skill tree is simply a way to let the player choose in what order they obtain abilities. Here, that’s impossible. You really must choose and the choices are difficult because most of the skills, attributes, and talents (each earned at different rates) sound like good investments. It helps matters that your core stats also affect how you will get around in the world. Similar to the Deus Ex games, your abilities can allow you to talk your way out of fights or completely evade enemies by sneaking through cracks in walls, scaling cliffs, or making a new path with explosives.
You can’t get out of every fight, though. Although the combat is very actiony, you can pause the game and bring up a tactical screen at any point. There, you can customize up to 12 hotkeys between the face buttons and two tiers on the D-Pad to use items from your inventory, or simply perform one of your normal actions. You cannot, however, set up successive actions, as every time you select an action, the game unpauses. I do like that you can set up and change your controls on the fly but the pause screen doesn’t provide as much utility as it first appears. Plus, I found the action so frenetic and fun that I rarely wanted to pause it anyway. This is Spiders’ the most enjoyable and balanced combat to date. And the guns? So satisfying.
Combat wouldn’t be any good, however, without engaging enemies to fight. The human characters are interesting because they can parry your attacks and buff themselves with magic. The real star of the show are the New World’s animals which are wonderfully animated and capable of using several tactics to defeat you. Some can pull a donkey-kick if you try to attack from behind, others will do a Sonic-The-Hedgehog-roll to quickly traverse the battlefield, and creatures with tails deftly use them to their advantage. My favorite are the weird shark/porcupine things called Dantrigs. They’re the best. I mean, they’re porcupine sharks… that’s amazing!
Greedfall has a lot going for it but one thing people will have to overcome is the jank, like in the momentum-based movement akin to The Witcher 3. This never bothered me in it but it does here and I think it has to do with the dead zone on the analog stick. After the dead zone, there’s a middle zone where you walk and there there’s a small outer zone where you jog. The dead zone is way too large and the outer jogging zone is far too small. It’s very annoying when you’re trying to jog but your character keeps doing stutter-steps because of how little you need to move the thumbstick to go from a jog to a walk. Along with this, there are some collision detection issues, like getting hung on rocks or the path through a doorway being smaller than it appears. You get used to it, but I can see a lot of people disliking this enough to not experience the rest of the game, which is a shame.
The other main problem is enemy leashing in that they have a small area where they patrol, stand guard, or sleep. If you engage the enemy but accidentally exit the area, they lose all interest in you and go back to their natural state. Weirdly enough, your allies can pull enemies out of their leashed area with no effect. The real kicker is that when you exit the enemy’s area, they end up regaining their health. So if you use a ton of consumables on a difficult group of baddies but then step out of their predefined area, well, you might as well reload your last save. Thankfully, Greedfall has a liberal autosave system and allows you to manually save whenever you’re not in combat.
Another issue is the number of NPCs that are on screen. Actually, it’s the lack of NPCs on screen. I never came across more than about a dozen people at once and this makes the cities feel barren. Inside buildings and in the tighter city streets, it’s fine, but when you see the city market of Hikmet for the first time, hear the sound of a bustling crowd, and listen to the music swell but then see only six people, it feels disjointed. The wildernesses fare better than the cities because it’s believable to only see 4-10 wild beasts in a group.
Speaking of the wilderness, the outdoor environments are beautiful. You’ll come across wonderful sunsets, see fog hanging over the ground at dawn, and light pierce through the ceiling of a cave. It’s good stuff. Cities, both colonial and native are good too, each distinct and has a nice look to it. Building interiors are another story as they repeat assets. A lot. Every noble’s house is the same. Every tavern is the same. Every barrack is the same. Every governor’s mansion is the same. And most building interiors are pretty bland to boot. On the upside, there’s no loading screen when you enter or exit buildings, loading between maps is very short (less than ten seconds), and fast traveling within a map is instantaneous. To me, the trade-off here is worth it.
Greedfall is Spider’s first open-world RPG but they have handled many things smartly. Their previous games had open areas but you progressed through them linearly. Greedfall is not an open world like Skyrim, but separates cities into their own maps and connects them by roads and wildernesses, each with their own map. I love this style of open-world design as it creates a sense of scale that’s very hard to do in single-map games. Also, breaking up the world into bite-sized chunks makes it easier to manage; seeing a dozen markers on the screen at a time is exciting whereas a hundred markers is daunting. That’s not to say the game is small, it’s huge. My first playthrough took almost 60 hours. But it never feels unmanageable.
Traveling from one map to another takes in-game time, anywhere from two hours to more than a day. When you travel, you will go to a small map with a campsite and a wandering merchant. This camp loads instantly. It’s very reminiscent of the party camp in Dragon Age: Origins. There, you can speak with and outfit your companions, stow or retrieve items from your storage chest, craft or deconstruct items at your workbench, and buy and sell items with the merchant. In addition to the traveling merchant camp and your residences (which you have in each colonial city), you can set up small camps in every wilderness region to quickly access storage, the crafting workbench, interact with your party, and fast travel.
Given that time passes when you travel, Greedfall does have a day/night cycle but it doesn’t matter much. For one, there is no way to tell what time it is other than by whether its light or dark. In certain locations, you can see the sun rise or set but the camera only tilts so far up, so you cannot see the sun at all times. More specifically, the day/night cycle only affects a few quests, requiring you to wait until a specific time of day or wait a predetermined amount time for the next stage to trigger. Otherwise, day and night are functionally the same. Bars and shops are open all the time and quest givers are always in the same spot and never sleep. It doesn’t feel like anyone in the world has a life or a purpose except you.
Finally, the last hurdle you have to overcome are the (sometimes) bad textures. Those used for the environments, armor, and animals all look great but the characters’ hair looks often bad. There are also a few characters that have the Malichor disease and a few of them honestly just look like their face texture is messed up. The look is consistent so I’m positive the texture isn’t faulty, but man it does not look good.
In 2014, I said that despite its issues, I enjoyed Bound by Flame and would like to see a sequel. While not a sequel, Greedfall is a successor to Bound by Flame and every other Spiders game and it’s absolutely their best work yet. If you’ve never been an RPG fan, I struggle to recommend the game as it’s so quirky. It doesn’t have the polish of something like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and feels more like a mid-to late-2000s RPG along the lines of the first Witcher or Divinity II: Ego Draconis. But if you’re open for a eccentric RPG from a small studio, go grab a copy of Greedfall today. Yes, it has its issues but the good more than outweighs the bad and it’s truly impressive what such a small team has accomplished. I would rather have a flawed game with heart, like Greedfall, than a polished game without a soul, like so many AAA titles.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.