I don’t game as much as I used to, with writing greedily taking over every available moment, but after I won NaNoWriMo a few days early, I gave myself a weekend of video gaming in reward. That meant finally getting to the end of Greedfall: a game that I came across by chance and that surprised me in many positive ways.
The setting: unique and full of flavor
Even though Greedfall might look like 17th century Europe, the game doesn’t copy the historical setting with an addition of magic. Using only the era’s aesthetics and elements of history, it creates its own continent where three countries vie for power: the scientific Alliance of Bridges wages an exhausting war with religious Theleme, while Congregation of Merchants, allied with both, struggles to remain neutral. As if it wasn’t enough, a deadly illness named malichor is sweeping through the lands, taking a high toll of lives. The continent’s hope lies in Teer Fradee, a mysterious, newly-discovered island, full of strange magic, even stranger creatures, and secrets.
Although it sounds like colonization of America, but don’t expect reliving the wild wild west. Quite to the contrary, as a legate and a cousin of the Congregation’s governor, you will be too busy solving diplomatic issues that threaten the delicate balance in the newly colonized lands.
From renaigse to on ol menawi
The game’s focus is on exploring the local lore and customs, and it does it in an organic way. The character is exposes to bits and pieces of knowledge which at first make little sense. It’s easy enough to understand that a renaigse is a person from the continent, the newcomer, but other terms mean nothing to us. Yet, as we explore and ask questions, we discover the rich culture of “the savages” (as some people from the continent would have it). With it, comes understanding of what motivates them in various circumstances, and step by step, we become more submerged in their way of life… and balancing between factions’ interests becomes all the harder. Sometimes doing “what’s right” requires standing against allies or doing something against their back.
This aspect, the immersion into a culture in an extremely organic way, is one of the best features of the game. It also helps that all the information contributes to the bigger picture, so taking time to listen to that old legend or explanation of what the guardians are offers deeper understanding of the story instead of being fluffy flavor text.
The quests are set up in a similar manner: every side quest links in one way or another to either the wider story or a companion’s personal storyline. This means that, in comparison to the RPG giants, there aren’t many quests in Greedfall, but in return, each of them is meaningful.
A story that moves
Everything in Greedfall seems to serve the story, but is it any good? I enjoyed it vastly, because not only it draws from a familiar historical setting thus exploring familiar issues characteristic to that period, but it is also brave enough to present twists that didn’t—and couldn’t—happen in our world. With the choices we make, religious Theleme might take a very interesting turn at the end of their faith-based storyline, and we get to question the ethics of the Alliance of Bridges and their blind devotion to science when the spiritual aspects, so prevalent on Teer Fradee, are the only way to explain some of the events. Also the character’s personal story offers interesting developments and surprises.
And the choices we make… I haven’t discovered all the possible endings as many things along the way might affect them, but I would dare to say that there might not be an ending that is heroically good. The tough choice we make will leave a trail of death, and only in the hindsight we can understand how some of them choices—seemingly the best at that time—led to an unwelcome outcome.
This all causes Greedfall’s world to feel realistic and more a palette of gray than a clear black and white division, and makes for a very rewarding experience.
The game itself is beautiful: stunning sceneries that make limited maps feel like vast wilderness and beautiful, uniquely designed cities and locations, but when it comes to dialogue and cut scenes, it shows the lower budget in comparison to such games like Dragon Age: there aren’t many cut scenes, during dialogues have limited gestures and expressions, and the companion characters rarely say something outside of their personal storylines.
Combat is a lot of fun, though if you do all your side quests before progressing with the main story (which is highly recommended as skipping them leads both to consequences and takes away from the immersion and context), it quickly becomes quite easy. Only a few moments were challenging. I would have also liked to see more diversified monsters as except for the bosses, they all look quite similar, so by the end of the game, it feels like fighting only three or four different kinds of creatures. I still appreciate that combat somewhat action-oriented, with dodging and moving about, but without that annoying “time it perfectly or you’re dead” approach.
Also, the balance between skill, attribute, and talent points could be better: midway through the game I had more than enough of skill points to max out everything I needed, but could use at least a few extra attribute and talent points.
To play or not to play?
If you ask me, it shouldn’t even be a question. Rarely a game surprises me in so many positive ways while avoiding all the things I might complain about. And as concise as it is, it doesn’t require as much time as some other complex RPG titles out there: it took me about 60-70 hours to finish everything except for a few minor tasks that weren’t related to the story.
- Story: Very High
- Immersion: Very High
- Inspiration: Very High
- Relaxation factor: Very High
- Procrastination risk: High
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.