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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (403)

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Greedfall 4.5/5
The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5

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Greedfall   PC (Steam) 

From ‘B’ to ‘A’… Finally!    4.5/5 stars

“Greedfall” comes to us, hot off the presses in September 2019 (with even fresher ports to the 9th Gen consoles slated for Summer 2021) from the perpetual always-rans at French B-rate developer Spiders and also-French budget publisher Focus (Home) Interactive. The history of Euro-jank videogame development is somewhat long and convoluted, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that a lot of disgruntled employees left Ubisoft as it grew ponderously into one of the Big Three, and started their own smaller studios. They were never able to compete globally on Ubisoft’s level, and since roughly 2001 have been churning out low-quality, low-budget offerings, frequently featuring some sort of licensed IP or Euro-sport tie-in.

After years of flailing around, but getting nowhere, the largest of these Baby Ubis, BigBen Interactive (why does a French company have a British icon in its name? Doesn’t matter anymore!), having grown fat and pungent eating literal garbage (they contracted with Sega to sell leftover Dreamcasts after the console was already dead, and purchased IP from Atari (delenda est) after the company’s second bankruptcy in 2016), started gobbling-up its siblings, and, after a short time, emerged from its cocoon as Nacon, the parent company of Spiders, as well as frequent Spiders collaborator Cyanide, not to mention a handful of truly unmentionable others. While Nacon and Focus are technically still separate companies, they more closely resemble conjoined twins, since they are the most frequent publishers of each others’ IPs.

After nearly two decades of dedicated effort, toil, and struggle, all of the companies and IPs under the Nacon/Focus umbrella had developed quite the reputation: A reputation for being not quite right, producing the kind of titles that used to line bargain bins during the Bricks and Mortar retail era, stuff that might trick the unwary into a purchase, but which the savvy would avoid without question.

As both a persnickety customer and someone who is definitely Not French, I had little reason to interact with these companies over the past two decades. The only game from the Euro-jank pool I actually played during all this time was “Of Orcs and Men,” an unremarkable RPG developed by both Spiders and Cyanide in collaboration (before they were both organelles in the same pulsating blob of corporate protoplasm). Yet, over the last several years, Spiders specifically has started to up their game a bit, and when early player reports of “Greedfall” being ‘not terrible’ started to trickle in, I decided to pounce on it during a 50% off sale, since I was desperately in need of ‘something different.’ While “Greedfall” isn’t a drastically different experience, it is definite evidence that ‘practice makes perfect,’ as Spiders, at least, has finally managed to latch onto the essential qualities that make a good modern game and do something with them.

Presentation
“Greedfall” is, like all Spiders games, built in the company’s proprietary Silk Engine… which is really just Sony’s Free2Use PhyreEngine development kit with a few personal modifications. Unsurprisingly, a modern 3D game built using an engine originally developed by the King of Cinematic Gaming looks really nice. “Greedfall” features huge, beautiful environments crammed with little details and detailed character models with a lot of expressiveness. Of course, Spiders is still a Euro-jank company using a free tool from Sony to make wannabe Ubisoft Sandbox games, so there are a few bits of visual weirdness. Environmentally, tufts of grass are all asterisk-shaped objects, which can look really weird and unnatural when viewed from any angle other than perfectly from the side. Characters, while mostly well animated, tend to wander into objects or get hung-up on small pieces of scenery (this is especially concerting when charging wildlife gets stuck charging eternally into a tree), but more concerning is the weird lip-synch animations that, while mostly acceptable, frequently delve into uncanny valley territory due to the fact that character’s teeth seem to move and flex like the Trollface.jpg meme.

Negatives aside, “Greedfall” does have plenty of eye candy, ranging from excellent textures on nearly everything to smooth jaggy-free polygons, to the fact that the various pieces of arms and armor scattered through the game have a variety of unique looks.

Audiowise, “Greedfall” is excellent, with an understated, but thematically coherent soundtrack that blends European classical music with tribal beats. Most noteworthy is the battle theme, which sneaks up on the player as they draw closer to a combat encounter. The game is fully voiced by a bunch of no-name voice-actors, which is good for two reasons. First, the use of non-famous vocal talent keeps the budget in check, and second, the use of actual voice actors instead of whomever was in the break room when some lines needed recording means that “Greedfall” is replete with excellent performances.

Technically, “Greedfall” is a completely solid experience. While I did experience one crash early on, the vast majority of the game is bug-free. Even better, as a thoroughly modern game, it comes with all the QoL bells and whistles we’ve come to expect, such as full Xinput support and snappy load times. There are even load time concessions built cleverly into the game for those with terrible computers or slow mechanical drives, in which every transition which would invoke a loading screen instead dumps the player into an instantly-loading wandering merchant camp, which disguises the remainder of the loading for the actual destination. The only other noteworthy comment about the game, technically, is that it was originally released as a 100% complete experience with no DLC. However, it’s popularity and solid sales have caused Spiders and Focus to begin work on an expansion pack, which will drop alongside the PS5/Xbox SeX versions latter this Summer. I don’t know how to feel about that.

Story
“Greedfall” is an open-ish world game which takes place in a fictional Dark Fantasy world during the Age of Sail (putting it roughly somewhere in line with the late Renaissance in the 1500s when compared to real-world history). Our hero (or heroine) is DeSardet (no first name), a young noble and the cousin of the soon-to-be installed governor of the Colony of New Serene, located on a distant island which has just been discovered by all the continental powers.

This mysterious island, called Tir Fradi (or Teer Fradee, depending on who’s talking), is perceived as a last-gasp hope by the continental civilizations, most of which are entrenched in wars with each other, but all of which are suffering from a mysterious plague called the Malichor, which causes the blood to turn black, followed quickly by blindness and death. The top scientists and priests of the various powers believe that a miracle cure will come from Tir Fradi, with the science-minded Bridge Alliance believing the cure will come from some undiscovered native plant, while Theleme, a religious parody of the Papal States (only with a Lady Pope), believes that Tir Fradi is the miraculous otherland visited by Saint Matheus (their messiah stand-in) written of in their scriptures.

Standing between these two warring factions, DeSardet’s cousin represents the Congregation of Merchants, a Fantasy Switzerland that controls vast quantities of coin but remains emphatically neutral when it comes to war. Thus DeSardet’s – and the player’s – role is that of diplomat. To make matters even more complicated, Tir Fradi isn’t uninhabited, but features its own Neolithic culture.

In general, the backstories and lore for the various cultures are incredibly well-done and do an excellent job of holding-up a mirror to our own history. Indeed, “Greedfall” seems to ask the central question, “What if a collection of advanced civilizations from India, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa encountered Western Europe when the locals were still carving Henges and living a Druidic lifestyle?” Unfortunately, Spiders didn’t have the balls to really run with this narrative concept, as they stir African, Asian, and Caucasian character models into all of the game’s cultures, willy-nilly, taking some of the punch out of that particular bit of moralizing, probably to pander to some Woke-Lite whining.

Aside from the foibles and faults of real-world history, “Greedfall” also seems to draw a large amount of inspiration from an unexpected source: The collected writings of H.P. Lovecraft. While the Far Left loves to poop all over Lovecraft these days, his writings are still a popular source of inspiration for Euro-jank videogame developers… because they are PUBLIC DOMAIN and thus FREE… not to mention the fact that they’re really good! Looking at the overall construction of “Greedfall’s” lore and plot, though, the Lovecraftian themes and influences are undeniable. You’ve got the ‘savage’ natives who are alleged to know ‘nothing’ when compared to continental folk, yet they are deeply in-touch with the island’s otherworldly magic in ways the European-style colonists either can’t or simply won’t understand. There’s a thread of hidden ancestry running through the entire game. A large part of the plot involves trying to find and speak to a mysterious ‘god’ who lives on top of a mountain. There’s a theme of transformation or metamorphosis… Really, “Greedfall” just has Lovecraftian fingerprints smeared all over it, and is a quite fantastic adaptation of the writer’s style into a videogame format.

Best of all, though, is the fact that “Greedfall” tries to be one of those big, sprawling Sandbox games where the player’s choices matter… and they ACTUALLY DO! Choices made during mainquests and side quests, including which order to do them in, can have far-reaching repercussions. “Greedfall” features four different endings, and all but the worst revolve around player choices from the outset (fortunately, I chose well and got the Best Ending without consulting any guides). While the main plot always railroads toward the same destination, the secondary and tertiary occurrences that orbit around it are where the real meat of the storytelling lies. These side-quests never feel like dead weight or busywork, and every one of them reveals some interesting tidbit that ties back to the main plot or the relationships between the various factions or supporting characters.

Overall, “Greedfall” clocks in at about 50 hours for a very complete playthrough. There are some achievements that absolutely require a second run (romancing all the supporting characters requires a playthrough as a male DeSardet and another as a female DeSardet, since two of the four humpable companions are strictly hetero and won’t go for a same-sex hookup, no matter how much they like DeSardet), so maybe obsessed players who want all the ‘Cheevos (and the mediocre endings) can squeeze more time out of it. As for me, I’m extremely happy with “Greedfall’s” runtime, as I usually find these types of games to outlive their welcome or get dragged down by pacing issues. “Greedfall” has none of that, but instead presents a meaty, snappy narrative that flows along at a steady pace, and even manages to throw a couple of really big twists in front of the player that would make old Howard Philips green with envy.

Gameplay
“Greedfall” is a fairly ‘Standard Game’ for the early 21st Century. By that, of course, I mean that it is a third-person Action/Sandbox thing with optional Stealth and Crafting and Loot, not terribly different from the typical Ubisoft or EA offering.

DeSardet controls and fights very similarly to our grumpy friend, Geralt of Rivia: Poorly. You’ve got your light attack, heavy attack, dodge, and parry, plus a wide variety of consumables at the player’s disposal. However, unlike the samey combat in alleged ‘G.O.A.T.’, “The Witcher 3,” the player actually has a few more options at their disposal that allow different player’s DeSardets to be significantly different from each other. Further differentiating “Greedfall” from the pack is the fact that the player has the ability to pause the action at any time to select a skill or consumable item to use from a menu, though this feature is severely underutilized and ultimately unnecessary, since the 8 assignable hotkeys can handle skills and items for all but the most situational circumstances. Moreover, DeSardet isn’t a loner like a certain dour Witcher, and, more akin to a certain ‘Dragon Age’ Inquisitor, can bring two AI companions along for the ride, creating a mandatory party of three for nearly the entire game.

“Greedfall’s” character building system is based around a tri-fold skill tree featuring skills, ability scores, and passives. Every level-up (accomplished by killing random enemies, which actually repopulate the world after a while, so grinding is indeed possible, or completing missions) grants a skill point, but ability and passive points only come every few levels, and they’re staggered at that.

Skills are the bread and butter of character customization, and when creating a new DeSardet, the player can choose between a melee-based character, a magic-based character, and a guns-and-alchemy-based character. I went with the latter, but quickly had a thoroughly custom character who focused almost entirely on offensive magic, since that’s really the only part of the combat system that I thought felt ‘good.’ Melee is far too dependent on Souls-rolling or parrying, which is fine for one-on-one encounters, but not so much in a party-based game where several enemies will try to gang-up on DeSardet at once. Figuring out which foe to watch for their tell is a crapshoot, and an enemy with a ranged attack that isn’t even within DeSardet’s reach will probably take a pot shot at him and knock him on his ass anyway. Guns-and-alchemy requires way too many consumables as a combat style, requiring the player to pick flowers and mine ore in order to keep themselves in bullets, traps, bombs, etc.

Ultimately, I ended up as a magic-using DeSardet simply because offensive magic, which allows the player to fire little magical balls at the cost of a regenerating magic meter, allowed me to keep DeSardet at a comfortable range from foes (especially bosses), while the extra offensive magic skills that can temporarily paralyze an entire battlefield of foes are incredibly useful. I didn’t go with a ‘pure’ magical DeSardet because the defensive magic options simply aren’t that exciting, while the guns-and-alchemy options are actually fairly interesting as supporting skills.

Abilities and passives, as mentioned, come a lot more slowly than skills, but can be much more important. Ability points allow DeSardet to equip better tiers of loot, while passives have various incredibly important effects in the world, such as the ability to pick locks, persuade people during conversations, or notice and utilize secret passages. Oddly enough, the worst passive ability is ability to craft mods on weapons and armor, as there is a blacksmith in the main town who will do this at the maximum skill level for a trivial amount of coins per modification.

The loot system in “Greedfall” might appear to be rather ‘Diablo’-like at first glance, but it’s actually much more sedate than that. Yes, there are color-coded tiers of gear quality that range from crappy white items, to green, to blue, to purple, to awesome legendary items. However, these items are all drawn from a fairly small pool with fixed stats and no item levels. Thus it’s very easy to run across identical items multiple times. It’s also very easy to find one piece of good gear early on and use it for the entire game. Personally, I’m very happy with this system, as there’s enough diversity to allow for a huge array of player builds, but it doesn’t require Insane Hurto Luck to acquire and maintain usable loot.

Another interesting thing about loot in “Greedfall,” which specifically applies to the main body armor, is that each piece of armor is emblematic of one of the game’s factions, and can, thus, be used as a disguise to infiltrate off-limits faction areas without provoking a fight. This mechanic isn’t used quite to its full potential, but I thought it was incredibly novel and well done when it was used.

Overall
It took them long enough, but the folks at Spiders Software and Focus (Home) Publishing have finally managed to drag their gaming-related endeavors out of the ‘B’-rate pit of Euro-jank and mediocrity and made the transition to solidly Single-‘A’ quality. “Greedfall” is one of the absolute best open-ish-world Action/Sandbox games I’ve come across since the genre started proliferating everywhere, and I hope it’s just a sign of good things to come from Spiders in the future. “Greedfall’s” only real downside is the fact that the melee combat is about as sub-par as any other sub-par melee game. But between the wide variety of non-melee options and AI companions to complement the player’s capabilities, it’s easy to ignore the game’s relatively few mechanical weaknesses and become engrossed in its truly excellent original story and world.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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