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GreedFall gives the illusion of choice, but it all boils down to throwing fists

This one wasn’t for me.

greedfall gameplay
Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

I first heard about GreedFall just last month, which is a damn short window of time to go from learning that a sprawling, third-person RPG set in a fictional 18th century Europe-like locale exists to actually getting to play it. It seemed like last-minute marketing for what could be a sleeper hit – a game that finds critical success but nobody’s heard about it.

We got a code. I played it. I really don’t like it, despite loving all of the games it pulls gameplay DNA from. Let’s dig into why.

First, I painstakingly went through the entire first area twice and recorded it for you. Here it is with all of its side quests, completely uncut so you can see what I’m talking about.

GreedFall: Serene featuring all the side quests from the first area

Fundamentally, every game is comprised of the verbs that making up that game’s gameplay and interactive systems. In a racing game, for instance, your main verbs might be accelerate, brake, and steer and your secondary verbs are things like how you interact with menus, maybe spending money to upgrade vehicles or unlock things, and so on.

The more creative you get with how you apply just a few verbs, the more interesting your game can be. Think of Portal, which ostensibly only has look, move, jump, and shoot, but you can assemble those verbs in so many interesting ways that Portal is a game that people pretty unanimously will agree is great.

Where I think GreedFall stumbles is that it doesn’t seem to understand this at all. Ostensibly, GreedFall is a game that throws a giant feast of verbs at you to make the world seem open, interactive, and interesting. You can negotiate with traders. You can sneak around enemies. You can learn new skills.

So on and so on and so on, right?

No, actually. While these are all things that exist in GreedFall, everything actually comes down to two primary verbs no matter what else you do: Move and fight. Consider the following scenario which plays out starting at 46:28 in the video:

  • You’re tasked with Kurt to get some supplies that your guard has paid for. The merchant is being shady about it.
  • You learn that the merchant has raised prices after something has been paid for.
  • You need to get the stuff one way or another.
    • You can attempt to intimidate the merchant with a charisma check.
    • You can sacrifice some reputation to bribe the merchant.
    • You can straight-up threaten the merchant.

So far so good, right? Not so. Every one of these choices boils down to fighting the merchant’s goons or not. Beyond that, the charisma check is just a roll of the dice. In another run of this area, I took the requisite skill and the 50% success rate just went up to a 75% success rate: I failed both times, so it was like I didn’t even have a skill at all. All of the non-combat skills are like this, just kind of halfheartedly tacked on while the combat is thoroughly detailed and fleshed out.

The same scenario plays out with an alchemist. And with some refugee scholars. And again when looking for your cousin Constantin. Oh, and it doesn’t matter what non-combat skills you picked up, which route of finesse you decided to take, because at the end of the first area you still have a 1v1 major fight to get through no matter what. The only thing in GreedFall you have to do is fight, which speaks volumes to me about how important every other system is in the game.

Even when you’re not fighting, the thing you’re navigating around is movement

Move around the world enough and you don’t have to pay for an angry bartender’s broken benches, nor do you have to be a blacksmith to repair them, because you can just find the parts you need to fix the bench. Move in the right places and you can sneak around potential fights. Or, flip everything on its head and you can literally just fight your way through the game repeatedly and do just fine.

I guess that might be fine if the game’s combat was enjoyable, but it’s not. It’s slow and clunky. Everything can really just be brute-forced with little consequence, even if there are allegedly more complex systems of stamina, health, magic, fury, and balance that are happening under the hood.

GreedFall sold me on an immersive, rich world full of meaningful choice but I just find myself stumbling through a world where movement feels bad, the camera is annoying, I don’t have a mini-map, and I can easily solve any conflict by fighting someone and/or opening the right locks. Maybe it gets good 10 or 20 hours into the game, but I’m generally not in the business of waiting that long before I can enjoy myself with a game.

If you watch the video above and find that you are interested in GreedFall, you’re not wrong for liking what you like. This one’s just not for me.

This article was made possible with a code from the developer. GreedFall is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam (Windows). 

What do you think? Interested in GreedFall? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Jake is a writer and game designer in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He loves action, exploration, building, filling bars, and turning numbers into bigger numbers. Someday he'll release a video game.

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