No Refunds: “Greedfall”

Seen it before, done it before, irritated again.

Honestly, the constraints of this “No Refunds” column isn’t ideal for discussing a lengthy RPG; the first two hours of most are often bogged down by all the expositive world-building and tutorials, and reading through a skill tree doesn’t properly convey how the game will actually play out once you start getting enough depth to actually choose not only how to tackle enemies in combat but how to work your way through missions.

Then again, in a glutted market, maybe it is ideal. Playing through Greedfall, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d played this exact game before, or if not this game, then a game very similar to it. I found myself thinking about first dates and missed opportunities and how it’s true that you only ever get one chance to make a first impression. Greedfall might not be a bad game once players leave the small, grey quadrant of Serene with its decidedly un-bustling docks and lazy architecture, such that the Coin Guard’s barracks, the local tavern, and a rich family’s home all have interchangeable and unmemorable facades. But it feels safe to say that Greedfall will never be a great game, only a serviceable one.

Take, for instance, the prologue. Each of the three side missions introduces you to a key faction: the nautical Nauts (get it?), who use some sort of sworn magic to calm the seas; the Bridge Alliance, who are essentially a consortium of science-leaning nations; and those from the religious nation of Theleme. As is customary, you’re given the “choice” of how to resolve the favors they ask of you, but this isn’t The Witcher, where figuring out who to side with is difficult. Sure, that rogue alchemist might have first been turned against by his own people in the Bridge Alliance, but he’s actively lying to and experimenting the innocent, desperate people he’s swindling with his false panacea. Those heretics that the Cardinal from Theleme has asked you to hunt down? There’s no doubt that they’re telling the truth about being persecuted because they uncovered the truth about some of the church’s doctrines, and you’d be heartless to turn them in.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Your agency is an illusion, and there’s no penalty for being “good” given that you can just lie to the quest-givers if you still want that reputation bump. You can still work with them, at least in the prologue, even if you betray them. It’s hard to tell what the consequences may eventually be, but harder still, given the low-stakes writing, to care. Greedfall, even in its best scenario, is simly cribbing from history and fairy tales, regurgitating the familiar as a comfort to those who need to idle away their time in a fantasy RPG before idling their time away in the next fantasy RPG before . . . . Well, you get the idea.

Many games compensate for a familiar setting or story by trying to accomplish something with the combat; not so with Greedfall. At best, it’s the tactical pausing of Dragon Age mixed with the annoying bosses of Dark Souls, but without any of the deeper world-building or specific design of either game. That first boss, a massive wolf-like thing with tree-tendrils coming out of it (a trope most recently seen in Remnant: From the Ashes), is imbalanced in all the worst ways. It can kill you in two or three hits, often chaining attacks on you while down; the dodging is imprecise and parrying ineffective; and for all that, if you compulsively loot all the glowing crates you stumble upon and have lockpicking, you’ll probably have dozens of bullets by this point and can simply shoot it without a second thought.

“Look,” says Greedfall, of the choice between climbing an unguarded ladder or fighting through a throng of sailor guards, “We gave you options!” If that’s the metric for unequal decisions here, might I suggest one more? Play something else.

It feels safe to say that Greedfall will never be a great game, only a serviceable one.

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