Retrospective: GreedFall

Spiders is one of my favourite developers. According to their website, they currently employ over twenty people which, in the grand scheme of videogames, makes them a pretty minute company but they consistently punch far above their weight. The thing with the games industry is we kind of have AAA Games, some other stuff, Indie Games where that category in the middle is fraught with peril as they battle development costs against a AAA benchmark which is constantly accelerating away. When developers in this middle-ground manage to produce work which emulates the output of their uber-budget brothers – even if the marble is a veneer – it impresses the heck out of me and I’m prepared to overlook flaws and short-comings.

The story of Spiders‘ output is one of constant filing away of flaws. From Mars: War Logs (interesting but janky with frustrating combat) through Bound By Flame (lovely environment design, good combat, some balance / difficulty curve issues) and The Technomancer (pretty, more refined combat, interesting story, often repetitive gameplay) and now GreedFall (beautiful, solid combat, great story), what I find remarkable about the studio is in the variety of the games they produce. Many of their games share the same genes in terms of combat design (quick swapping between melee and ranged weapons mid-fight, and in the use of traps) and this is the element which is successively refined and built-upon, in each game they are telling a new story in a new world with an entirely new aesthetic. I find it amazing that they’re yet to produce a sequel to any of these games instead electing to start from scratch and create something entirely new. In this day and age, that’s a refreshing approach.

I knew nothing about GreedFall when it launched – despite loving Spiders, somehow I was unaware it was being worked on – but bought it because of the developer alone. Loading it up my initial impressions were extremely high – the quality of art was a clear step up and although there was plenty of evidence of the modest budget (facial animation and lip-syncing is somewhat basic by modern standards) it was clear that GreedFall shares far more in common with its AAA contemporaries than what separates it.

Thematically there’s much which reminds me of Horizon: Zero Dawn in terms of its depiction of tribal communities and their relationship with metal (Horizon) / organic (GreedFall) creatures but overall I prefer it in GreedFall. I like the political elements in GreedFall and the status the protagonist has well justifies the running around gathering companions and fulfilling quests. I found no quests which contradicted the presentation of the story or the personality of the protagonist as I did in Horizon where some of the side-quests didn’t really mesh that well with the urgency of the main quest. So all in all, I found the game to be remarkably solid – not without flaws, of course, but nothing which can’t be overlooked in the context of what was accomplished.

For instance, when you fight creatures out in the world there’s an invisible radius in which the fight takes place. It’s often possible to accidentally leave this area mid-fight through rolling around to evade attacks and when this happens the creature will disengage and retreat back to its zone and reset to full-health. This can be annoying, but it’s something which happens in many open-world games including Horizon: Zero Dawn. It’s not the most elegant solution to having enemy groups in an open-world but neither is it an issue which should be criticised too harshly as it is not uniquely guilty.

The overall story, while an interesting premise and told competently and paced well, is not spectacular. There are no twists and turns that’ll surprise you particularly – after the first hour or two of gameplay you’d have a pretty good idea of where it’s going and you’d be right. But I enjoyed it, I was immersed in it, and I cared about it and the characters I met along the way.

Having recently played Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-reckoning (not really the most noticeably remastered game I’ve ever played) I realised how many quality-of-life features were present in GreedFall. Since the “open” world in GreedFall is divided into multiple areas they elected to split the loading process, have a brief loading screen before dumping you at a camp while the game background loads the rest. Not only does this give you an opportunity to sell and store items, change party line-up without going back to a town it also reinforces that this island is supposed to be big – that the journey from one area to another is a trek, a fact reinforced by the passage of time. And although you will eventually tire of these interruptions they, and the camp sites you find in the world itself, mean that you’re never concerned too greatly about inventory limits. In KoA, by contrast, most of my time in the game was spent returning to my house to dump items and use the blacksmith.

If I had one major criticism, it would be the price tag. At £44 it’s well and truly in the AAA price-point area and, for all its outstanding art direction, wonderful music, and improved-upon gameplay this is not a AAA game. But I choose to see that price tag as less reflective of its positioning among AAA games and more a stamp of approval from us, as customers, to Spiders as developers. I’m happy to pay that price to do my bit in saying, “long may you continue, Spiders“.

I just wish they weren’t called Spiders. I hate spiders.

GreedFall, currently 50% off on GOG

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