Monday, August 26, 2019

Is GreedFall the Bioware RPG We've Been Waiting For?

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If you think about it, this is the first time in a long time that Bioware has failed to provide us with an industry-defining roleplaying game within a given console generation. During the original Xbox era, Bioware provided us with two classics, Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. For the Xbox 360 and PS3, Bioware crafted Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins, two games often hailed as the pinnacle of western RPGs.

For the PS4 and Xbox One, Bioware has largely flopped. Their one success was Dragon Age: Inquisition, though it's a cross-generation title as well as a sequel, so I'm not sure if it counts. It's also an "open world" game, which in my opinion went too far away from what Bioware's strengths are. The other two games they released were even more problematic. Mass Effect: Andromeda failed to capture one iota of the original trilogy's storytelling brilliance, and Anthem is already dead in the water six months after it launched as EA's flagship "live service" gaming experience.

But this isn't an article focused on critiquing Bioware. That's already been done to death, and I think at this point we can all agree that the Bioware we all knew and loved is gone forever. No, this article is about the game GreedFall, and whether it might serve as a proper heir to Bioware's masterpieces.

Some might argue that Bioware has already been replaced, that games like The Witcher 3 have already supplanted it. But I disagree. As great as CD Projekt Red is, they don't make games that scratch that Bioware itch. Maybe Cyberpunk 2077 will prove me wrong, but thus far they've shown me that their strengths are completely different from Bioware's.

The old Bioware's strengths lied in its ability to craft engaging dialogue, complex companions, memorable relationships, moral choices, and focused stories with well-crafted (but not open) worlds. CD Projekt Red is weaker than Bioware in nearly all of those areas. For example, I can't recall a single line of clever dialogue from Geralt, and while the Witcher series does a good job of allowing for choice and consequence, you're ultimately hemmed in by Geralt's personalty and background as a Witcher. (Before people gather their torches and pitchforks, I will freely admit that CD Projekt Red is superior to Bioware in nearly as many ways as Bioware was superior to it.)

Indeed, while some may critique Bioware's dialogue wheel, it's much better than what CD Projekt Red uses. The player rarely has any control over how Geralt says something. Charisma and speech skills don't matter, with the rare exception being that you can sometimes charm people using Witcher magic.

Ultimately however, it probably comes down to personal preference as to whether you prefer Bioware games over CD Projekt Red games. I'm probably biased, as I'd rather replay Dragon Age II thanks to its dialogue interactions than The Witcher 2. (And for the record, I've poured over 100 hours into both Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher 3, fully completing both plus their downloadable content.)

Anyways, let's talk about the subject of this article: GreedFall, which is being developed by Spiders (no that's not a typo). I actually only heard about this game today, and after watching videos of its gameplay I immediately felt a sense of excitement I hadn't felt since I watched the trailers for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Why? Because, at least to me, GreedFall looks like the Bioware RPG that we were promised this generation, but never received. It has everything you would expect from a Bioware game: interesting companions, a customizable main character, the ability to be good or evil based on your actions and dialogue choices, a fascinating story and setting, and intriguing combat. Best of all, GreedFall isn't open world. It's more like the RPGs of yesteryear, with open spaces connected to hubs inhabited by interesting NPCs. This should help to cut down on the bloat and keep the game to a respectable and reasonable 35-40 hours long.

In terms of story, GreedFall places the player in the shoes of a diplomat tasked with exploring new lands in search of a solution to a problem plaguing their homeland. The time period is supposed to be a rough approximation of 17th century Earth, though with the addition of fantastic beasts and magic. Essentially then, it's a story about colonization and its impact on the native environment. The extent to which you are good or evil in the game depends on how willing you are to exploit the native population to further your goals. In this way, it leaves a lot of story avenues open to the player in terms of how they want to approach things.

From all of the videos I've watched about the game, everything I've described above looks to be about as high quality as what was produced by Bioware from 2003-2014. Obviously, there are questions about how good the game will be once we get our hands on it, as Spiders is rather infamous for creating flawed RPGs that attempt to emulate the great smaller-scale RPGs from generations past, like Knights of the Old Republic, rather than sprawling open world behemoths like The Witcher 3 and Assassin's Creed Odyssey. I can attest to that, having played two of their previous offerings in Bound By Flame and The Technomancer, both of which are plagued by various issues that hold back their many strengths.

But for some reason, I get the sense that GreedFall is different. Maybe it's because I so badly want there to be a developer out there who can take up Bioware's mantle and continue making RPGs in the style of Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because the game really is as good as all of the promotional material suggests. We shall find out when it releases on September 10th.

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About The Author

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Nicholas Garcia (M.A.) is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Davis. He is also a Co-Founder of the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. Previously, he contributed to and the Davis Humanities Institute.