Colonialism, eh? Blooming emigrants, going over there, taking people’s land. Which, as GreedFall has it, is where you come in.
You’re five years too late to eject your guts on the Oregon Trail but the island of Teer Fradee, GreedFall’s New World analogue offers enough discord to keep you on your toes. As a representative of Engla— sorry, the “Congregation of Merchants”, this action-RPG charges you with keeping the peace with the native tribes and discovering a cure for the Malichor, a plague which is ravaging the land. In theory, that is; the game never quite sells the Malichor so the illness seems as world-threatening as athlete’s foot. But GreedFall sports enough monsters, intrigue and monstrous behaviour to ensure you’re thoroughly enthralled by your new home.
And it does feel like home – the game’s invading powers have been on Teer Fradee long enough to establish cities, one for each faction, each with a distinct architectural flavour. You’re able to choose your appearance, gender and starting class, the latter of which boils down to warrior, rogue or wizard. GreedFall’s circular skill system cleverly lets you acquire skills outside your class’s comfort zone as long as you work towards them. My bog-standard warrior became a spellsword; freezing enemies before running them through never, ever got old.
GreedFall’s combat is a joy, even if you dispense with spell-casting. You may not be able to Spartan-kick someone off a cliff but booting them away then introducing them to the business end of something pointy is almost as much fun as freezing them. You’ll recruit companions to fight alongside who, aside from aiding you in real-time battle, can prove useful in diplomatic situations and each has their own histories to explore. Bring your native companion with you and she’ll often help smooth things over with other tribes, a welcome twist. Some companions can be romanced including, supposedly, companions of the same sex. Strangely, my gay blade had no such options, which may well have been down to a bug, but it was a little disappointing. It didn’t stop me from digging into that companion’s past, though.
The game’s developer, Spiders, has put a lot of thought into the native mythology, even going so far as to give them their own language. However, this effort is undermined by the decision to have each character pronounce “I” as “OI”, not unlike the way it’s pronounced in Afrikaans. Some of the voice actors absolutely nail this and it comes across as a charming affectation, giving their speech an exotic air. But others lean on the “OI” sound so much that it sounds like they’re trying to get your attention across a crowded pub. It can be off-putting at times.
Some natives warm to you, others require you to assist them first. Most of the native quests involve defeating a monster or retrieving some artefact, often guarded by the game’s less human denizens. Free of goblins and orcs, GreedFall pits you against giant lizards, bears and a range of human foes. Guns are involved but they’re appropriate to the era the game’s emulating, so it feels more like firing a bow. GreedFall’s world isn’t open in the same way that, say, The Witcher 3’s is, nor is it as large, but there’s plenty of scope for exploring individual chunks of the map. And it’s certainly gorgeous-looking, whether you’re roaming the wilds or wandering city streets.
Throw in a huge number of side-quests and you’ve got a game that offers a lot to occupy your time (it took me 35+ hours to complete). You’ll frequently butt heads with other factions and it’s here that GreedFall’s dilemmas arise. There’s no morality system; instead, you have an approval rating with each faction and with each of your companions. When you discover a group of natives are being tortured, do you politely explain (if your charisma is high enough) that dissecting people to discover the source of their hardiness is A Very Bad Thing? Or do you run them through which, satisfying as it is, might raise an eyebrow?
Disapproval doesn’t have a profound impact during the course of the game but after you’ve seen off the final boss, you’re regaled with the consequences of your actions. Scarcely a mission goes by without you second-guessing your actions, expecting a faction (or the world) to go Game of Thrones on you, even if you’ve been through the game once.
Engaging as many of GreedFall’s sub-stories are, it all feels like a bit of a mishmash. It dips its toes into multiple themes including politics, power, identity, religion and tradition but never really takes the plunge. The evils of colonialism are, for the most part, inflicted by other factions; by the religious zealots of Thélème or the turban-wearing Bridge Alliance. Despite its title, greed is rarely put under the microscope; your faction, the Congregation of Merchants, is mostly depicted as blame-free, despite its commercial enterprises. I’d love to see a sequel that, away from Teer Fradee (and its dodgy accents), opens a wider window into GreedFall’s world.
GreedFall certainly left me wanting more; while its story may be a bit shallow in places, it’s still got a lot of depth, a fluid, intuitive combat system and enough morally-grey missions to bring me back to Teer Fradee some time soon. Forget waiting for the next Dragon Age, GreedFall is an impressive debut for what could well become a classic series.
GreedFall is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. We reviewed the PC version.
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