There’s just something incredibly charming about imperfect RPGs.
The kind of games that have tons of good ideas, or pioneering systems and interesting lore, but just aren’t quite as shiny or as polished as their bigger budget cousins - and you couldn’t care less. I’m talking about stuff like Kingdoms of Amalur, Two Worlds 2, and Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Cult games that build absorbing worlds with frayed seams threatening to burst from everything stuffed into the package.
Greedfall, the latest RPG from the French studio Spiders (Bound by Flame and The Technomancer) looks to be next in the line of succession.
While the wider game is inspired by the 17th Century Age of Discovery, Greedfall’s closest analogue in terms of gameplay is the Dragon Age series. Instead of a sprawling open-world, you visit large semi-open spaces with self-contained quests, their own spin on enemies, and hidden secrets and loot to uncover. There seems to be a decent variety even within these spaces. The quest line I played recently first took me through a waterlogged swamp, then to higher ground across sun-bleached hills, and finally moss-covered ruins.
While it’s not really pushing the limits of possibility, the PC build that I played looked good, with decent detail in the environments and strong atmospheric lighting. When you encounter enemies - some of whom you’ll find sleeping in line with the day and night cycle - the combat plays out in real time but, again like Dragon Age, there’s a tactical pause function. You’ll run into classic RPG baddies like big wolf thingys, kind-of bears, and giant bog monsters, but you have a lot of levers that you can pull when you’re taking them on.
Your two main weapons are melee and magic, and both have a distinct fantasy flavour. You can quickly switch between a giant flaming rapier and shooting magical orbs out of your hands, but you also have a range of support items like traps, guns, and potions mapped to the d-pad. To balance this the MP meter seems to be quite restrictive, so you’ll need to make use of everything at your disposal - it reminds me a bit of Vampyr, the DontNod RPG from last year, but with better integrated secondaries. When you add your magical melee to the mix, it’s easy to improvise your own flashy combat style that makes light work of smaller beasts. As you’d expect, not everything is a pushover, and tougher fights litter the open spaces.
And RPGs like these wouldn’t be complete without complex dialogue trees and relationships. In Greedfall, rather than a chosen hero of legend you play as a diplomat sent from the mainland continent to find a cure for a mysterious plague. This means there’s a big emphasis on stoic diplomacy in your conversations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun.
Within the first minute of the demo I had the option to chat up one of my companions, and while not all of the script is as on the nose, it’s clearly on the hammy side of the spectrum. Like characters who are native to the island slip words from their first language into sentences - which isn’t really how people talk, but is a key trope of grandiose fantasy worldbuilding however exaggerated it sounds.
Greedfall has a lot going for it. There’s an interesting premise full of political intrigue to unpack, tons of characters to converse with, monsters to slay, equipment to craft, collect, and min/max, and a new world to explore. Whether that holds together as a compelling package that stays gripping for its whole runtime remains to be seen when it launches on September 10, 2019.