GreedFall

Right now, the PS4 game that everyone is talking about is The Last of Us, Part II.

So I’m going to talk about GreedFall.

GreedFall, published by the French game company Spiders, is a story-based role-playing game in the same vein as Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises. The flow of GreedFall is the same:

– The game is story-driven, and you make decisions that affect the outcome of the story.

– The story is quest-driven, with both main-story quests and plenty of side quests.

– As you progress in the main story, you unlock sections of the world map. You can return to any section you’ve previously visited if you choose.

– In classic RPG fashion, you go up in level as you accumulate experience points from completing quests and defeating enemies. As you go up in level you gain points that you can spend on skill and talents.

– There are several skill trees from which you can choose abilities. You can specialize in one or two, or spread out your skill points. You can respec if you choose.

– You are introduced to a set of companions, from which you can select two to go along with you on your adventures.

– Each companion has two or three quests of their own. Completing those quests improves the companion’s relationship to you. You can establish a romantic relationship with one of your companions if you choose to pursue one. After completing a companion’s quest chain, they boost one of your talents if they’re in your party; this can be very useful.

– At the time you create your character, you have control over your character’s gender and appearance. Neither has any effect on game-play, except that some companions may have gender-based preferences for romantic relationships.

The story: You play De Sardet, a legate from the Merchant Congregation. The Congregation is one of the continental factions trying to exploit the resources and natives of the island of Teer Fradee. Your job is to balance the needs of the different factions (including those of natives, who have factions of their own). However, your primary goal is find the cure for a plague that’s ravaging the continent; since none of the natives contract it, the hope is that the island holds the key.

As you might guess from the name GreedFall, the spine of the story is the needs of colonizers versus the needs of the natives. The way the story is presented is… OK. It’s pretty easy to always choose the natives’ side, and that leads to generally favorable outcomes. That made the story fairly predictable, though there were occasional surprises.

One bonus in the story implementation is that each of your companions is associated with a different faction. If you think a bit about a mission, you can determine which companions might provide diplomatic solutions or additional options; e.g., bring Kurt of the Coin Guard if you’re on a mission that involves the Coin Guard. I don’t recall the Bioware games offering this benefit if you weren’t specifically on a companions’ particular quest.

I’ll idly note that if you choose to romance one of your companions, the resulting “bed scene” is rated PG. This contrasts with the soft-core porn of the romance scenes in Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Who would have suspected that a French game developer would be more restrained than a Canadian one?

At the start of the game, when you create your version of De Sardet, you get to choose an initial skill path: Melee combat, Magic, or Technology. I chose the last one, and gained some starting expertise in traps and rifles. This was a bit rough at the start, since those skills involve consumables (compounds and bullets) that I had to purchase. But as usual for these types of games, after a while the money started flowing and the defeated enemies dropped better stuff to sell.

By the end of the game, I had increased my skills and gear to the point where I was tossing long-distance large-area multi-effect grenades in battle. Not too shabby!

Companions in combat: The companions automatically level up as you do. You can improve their gear, but you can’t select the skills they have. You also have no way to control their tactics; they simply rush into battle and use whatever skills they’ve got. In Mass Effect and Dragon Age, you can coordinate your companions’ skills with your own to deliver combos; in GreedFall there are no combo effects.

As usual, I played the game on its easiest setting. As a result, I rarely had any serious difficulty getting through any of the combats. I explored every side quest I could, in an effort to level up and see as much as I could. It took me 62 hours to complete the game. I just hit level 37 at the very end, when the game concluded and the consequences of my story choices were revealed.

The end of the story does not suffer from the controversy of Mass Effect 3. In my game, all the factions liked me (and the companion I romanced (Siora, of course) loved me); I got the best possible ending or darned close to it. A few glances at YouTube videos shows a wide range of possible endings depending on your choices.

Overall: the next game in the Mass Effect or Dragon Age franchises is years away, if there will even be any more. GreedFall provides a reasonable light-weight substitute while we wait.

(Yes, I will have a review of The Last of Us, Part II in a couple of days.)

Watchmen – The TV series

At the time I’m writing this, the Watchmen HBO TV series is available on Hulu, and possibly other streaming platforms.

That first sentence was for the web-link summary. Let’s step back a bit.

I stated in an 2009 blog post that I felt that Watchmen was the finest comic I ever read. Part of the reason I got out of reading comics on a regular basis was I didn’t think I’d find anything better. It’s 11 years later, and I stand by that statement.

When I first heard that a sequel to Watchmen was being made for HBO, I was skeptical. The graphic novel told its story and was done. What more could be said? The answer, it turns out, was plenty.

The main theme of the Watchmen graphic novel was what might happen if people in our “real” world put on costumes to fight crime. It explored that idea and many practical consequences, including the reality of public reaction, government intervention, and the fact that underneath the costume there were still human beings. But the story was basically a self-critique of the “costumed superhero” concept, using and abusing the tropes of comic books to tell human stories.

The theme of the Watchmen TV series is racism. It’s clear why HBO has made the series available outside of its normal channels so that a wider audience can see it. Though the story involves costumed crime-fighters to some degree, this is definitely not a series for children, no more than the Watchmen was.

In particular, the series begins with a harrowing depiction of the Tulsa race massacre. I knew about the incident before I watched the series, but only because a friend had mentioned it at one time on his web site. It’s not a comforting sequence. Like the Watchmen comic, the TV series is not meant to make people comfortable.

As a fan of the comic, I have a few caveats:

– If you’ve never read Watchmen comic or seen the Zack Snyder movie, some of the plot points will seem opaque: Why is everyone so obsessed with “Dr. Manhattan”? Why are the Rorschach masks significant? Why should anyone care about the old guy in the manor?

– This is a sequel to the Watchmen comic, not the Watchmen movie directed by Zack Snyder. If you’ve only seen the movie, then you may have to get around the differences: Why do people keep talking about squids?

– The series has clever visual cues that readers of the comic will get, but will just slide past everyone else. These details are not critical.

I claim that the Watchmen comic is the best I’ve ever read. I won’t say that the Watchmen TV series was the best one I’ve seen. However, it does make a timely statement about the long-term effects of racism; the Tulsa massacre reverberates throughout the series.

This must be said: The series drops the ball on how law enforcement reacts to racial issues. In particular, the show only gives lip service criticism of suspending rights and due process when you’re the “good guy” and you’re fighting the “bad guys.” In that way, the Watchmen TV series is no better than the old pulp comic books that the Watchmen graphic novel condemned.