GreedFall 2 is setting its sights high, hitting all the CRPG tropes at once

Greedfall 2's protagonist
(Image credit: Nacon)

Spare a thought for all the mid-budget RPGs set to release in the next few months. Launching a game in a genre as storied as this is hard at the best of times. Adding to it less than 12 months after it was shocked into the limelight by a universally beloved phenomenon feels faintly masochistic.  

 Though if Baldur's Gate 3 will inevitably stand as the yardstick to which all CRPGs are—fairly or unfairly—compared over the next several years, at least GreedFall 2: The Dying World seems to have inadvertently repositioned itself to court those fans wanting more of its party-based combat. 

This half-prequel, half-sequel to developer Spiders' 2019 gunpowder fantasy ditches its predecessor's middling action RPG fights to raise the camera to a semi-bird's-eye view for simultaneous turn-based brawls. It's more BioWare than Larian, admittedly, with all the action unfolding in real time, but a clear step towards the sort of tactical thinking that's long characterised the crunchier end of the CRPG spectrum. 

(Image credit: Nacon)

Between hitting reptilian monsters in their pudgy faces and skewering human thugs, an active pause option lets you queue up your parties' next hammer swings, sword strikes and arrow volleys. The character skills available in my preview of the early game are limited, but hint at deep synergies to come. I'm able to spend from a limited pool of action points to instruct my starter companions to stun foes in knockback attacks, launch more powerful hits for big targeted damage, and distract enemies away from ailing allies. 

In other words, it's a world away from the hit-dodge-parry formula that the original GreedFall clung to. And when you add in the odd footprint-tracking segments whose visual breadcrumb trails smack of Geralt's Witcher senses, mountains of lore delivered through optional branching dialogue trees, and opportunities to complete quest lines by brute forcing your way through huddles of enemies, stealthing your way around them, or using your talents in diplomacy to skill check your way out of danger without drawing blood, it soon becomes clear that GreedFall 2 isn't just chasing what's in vogue but trying to hit all the tropes of the CRPG genre at once.

New beginnings

(Image credit: Nacon)

A little aspirational, maybe, but it seems a shrewd enough idea given the studio's past work. As Spiders co-founder Jehanne Rousseau explains, the original GreedFall's two million unit sales was a mammoth success for the small studio, and has left the team room to tinker with broader ideas. Much of that has involved considering improvements that fans requested of the first game: fleshing out the lore, introducing new settings that were previously only hinted at, and better involving the player's party. "Having control over the group makes more sense for a lot of players who come to these kinds of games where you have a team and companions with stories between them," says Rousseau. "So the first thing was completely changing the system of combat."

The second was to flip the script. Where GreedFall positioned you as a colonist arriving at the magical island of Teer Fradee in search of a cure to a disease blighting your people back home, this follow-up places you as a native of the island, soon kidnapped and transported to the colonisers' home continent. It's a part of the GreedFall world that loomed large in the first game but was largely absent from the player's journey.

As the story shifts geography, so too does it seem to be taking a darker turn. GreedFall 2 wastes no time hopping into the tensions between colonists and natives, or hinting at the butchery many of our more untrusting clanspeople expect could be just around the corner. For the benefit of our rather wet-behind-the-ears protagonist, it's all explained from the top. "What's really important to us in the GreedFall world is that you're playing someone that is discovering something new," says Rousseau. "You're exploring new cultures and new people, so by putting you in the shoes of a native from Teer Fradee, the continent is something that you will have to discover and understand."

Muskets and magic

(Image credit: Nacon)

It's that new world, Rousseau reckons, that gives GreedFall 2 its unique flavour, and from the game's opening moments, there's a sense that Spider is betting big on the fictional setting to hook new and returning players. From the off, you're immediately thrust into a dialogue tree that offers as much exposition as you care to take, and the starting tutorial quest that charts your journey from regular tribesman to magically attuned sage is never short of optional snippets of lore. Even the majority of NPCs I meet throughout my preview speak in a fully voiced fictional language—as much a boast of the world building that Spiders has already put into the game as a demonstration of just how committed it is to throwing the player in headfirst. 

What you'll find in that world is a place of warring, wicked, militarily advanced empires, many of which have obvious analogues in history. Cartels of traders seem to operate much as the rich merchant rulers of Amsterdam and Venice once did, and the smugly democratic empire with a lion on its coat of arms looks like a stand-in for the smugly democratic Britain of old.

Rousseau says she's already created 1,000 years of history to precede the events of GreedFall 2, covering the historical figures who shaped its world, the seven factions players will meet in the game, and the rival subgroups vying for power. Your job, as ever, is to navigate their interests, and align yourself with whoever most appeals.

"We really wanted to offer a lot of choices that will be meaningful on the adventure, not only to have several different endings but really to offer a different journey," she says. The idea is to ground the game's otherwise intimidating body of lore in the personalities of your companions. With each belonging to a different faction, they can provide you with essential information that may change how you deal with an obstacle, or bring extra social weight to a pivotal encounter that could alter the course of events.

Clash of kings

(Image credit: Nacon)

Even in this early portion of the game, my fellow Sages-to-be aren't shy to share their thoughts on my decisions, regularly commending or criticising my approach to dealing with the settlers and their treatment of our clan. But I suspect picking your party will only become more important as the journey stretches on and the stakes get higher.

Where the original GreedFall introduced the European-inspired colonial history that forms the backbone of its world, its intrigue and politticking it is more accentuated this time around. You're brought closer to the corridors of power, and don't just have the fate of Teer Fradee hanging in the palms of your hands, but the new world order. Little surprise, then, that Rousseau likens GreedFall 2's flavour of historical-fantasy to the politically charged stories of Game of Thrones author George RR Martin. Magic exists and is a force to be reckoned with, but it's the scheming, betrayals and power plays of ordinary people that form the bulk of the drama. 

Not that there were many moments of my preview that dealt with those lofty ideas with much subtlety. At one point, I meet a group of trappers clearing a forest of animals that just so happen to be my tribe's regular source of food. One of my companions objects to their wanton destruction, and gets ready, I presume, to launch some choice insults at the colonial profiteers. But the only barb he can muster is a meek "We need those animals too!", after which I'm given the option of settling the conflict through intimidation or steel. Not exactly the pointed ideological showdown I was hoping for.

Tinkering tools

(Image credit: Nacon)

Stilted dialogue, no doubt partly a consequence of GreedFall 2's translation from French to English, occasionally lets down what should be dramatic moments such as these. Though I imagine this is just one of many areas that will improve in time. With GreedFall 2 set to release first in Steam early access in the coming months, before a full launch next year, Spiders hopes the extra community involvement will help iron out big development pivots, like the combat system, as well as set the groundwork for upcoming modding tools.

It's an approach that studios like Larian and Supergiant have already found huge success in. And as the scope of videogames becomes ever larger, and the costs to produce them only spiral, might the early access model now be all but necessary to make an RPG the size of GreedFall 2? "Well, when you look at what happened with Cyberpunk, maybe they should have done early access," says Rousseau. "Now the game is wonderful, but when it was released it was not." Giving business tips to CD Projekt Red? Well, nobody can say the team at Spiders don't have their sights set high.