The following discussion of GreedFall and its colonialism contains spoilers for the base game ahead of the release of its expansion.
With GreedFall’s expansion, The De Vespe Conspiracy, dropping tomorrow, I’m champing at the bit to get my hands on it. Yes, I got a kick out of this action RPG romp, but I’m hoping, perhaps optimistically, that this upcoming content will add something that’s been absent from the main game: culpability.
GreedFall casts you as De Sardet, a noble sent to the island of Teer Fradee to negotiate with the current occupants. That might not sound particularly revolutionary; several role-playing games feature some small degree of diplomacy. Mass Effect, for example, has a side mission that sees you talking to “Lord Darius” in an attempt to get permission to mine his planetoid. Watch your words and you can complete your mission without having to shoot him in the face.
But unlike Mass Effect, GreedFall isn’t about one man’s fiefdom of a barren rock; Teer Fradee already has a thriving native population. No, this is colonialism, pure and simple. This is British settlers turning up on the shores of America, then deciding they have more right to the land than the “savages” who’ve lived there for over 10,000 years.
By your character’s time there are already cities on the outskirts of Teer Fradee, and the game’s three factions are pushing farther inwards. GreedFall doesn’t specify how many of the “Yecht Fradí,” the island’s natives, have been slaughtered, but it’s no surprise that some tribes want to murder you on sight. What is surprising is how it gives your character and faction a free ride.
GreedFall tries to distance you from the conquest of Teer Fradee by saying you’re there to discover the cure for a plague, the Malichor. Yes, your cousin is a prince. Yes, your family’s wealth comes in part from the ongoing plundering of the island. But that’s not something that’s ever pinned on you. Despite your alleged mission, it feels like you’re a well-heeled student going on a gap year.
Spiders, the team behind GreedFall, stated in an interview they introduced the game’s plague element to make it clear that people were “not just settling on this island to steal gold from people who live there.” But the Malichor isn’t referenced nearly enough to sell that.
So what about the nation faction you represent? You’ll discover the Bridge Alliance, a competing faction, conducting unethical experiments on natives, the Thélème trying to convert them to their religion and so on; by contrast, yours is never as pointedly evil. Their name? The Congregation of Merchants. Maybe GreedFall is making a point about billionaires avoiding scrutiny, but in a game about subjugating another civilization, making the exceedingly wealthy the “good guys” comes across as crass.
When I first played GreedFall, I saw some of the choices as quite gray, but on reflection, it’s apparent it has a very clear idea of what constitutes a “good” choice. Many of the sub-endings reference restoring “balance between the new world and the old,” but halting the ongoing invasion of Teer Fradee is right out.
I think, in my heart, I knew a relatively mainstream title like GreedFall wasn’t going to offer a super-focused deep dive into colonialism and its evils, but I still hoped for more than I got. Despite the game’s setting and title, the endgame boils down to one man’s greed, and as long as you don’t choose the “crush the entire world” option, colonization continues. The lesson is, “It’s okay to steal other people’s land, as long as you don’t steal too much.”
The De Vespe Conspiracy is GreedFall’s chance to halfway fix things. Not on the grandest scale, though, as I don’t expect a piece of downloadable content to give you the chance to radically alter the fate of the island. But at the very least, I want it to make you face your part in Teer Fradee’s occupation, in terms of your character, your family, and your faction.
“Navigate a web of lies, manipulation and secrets,” boasts The De Vespe Conspiracy’s blurb. That’s the phrase that’s given me hope, that some of those secrets will come from the heart of the Congregation of Merchants, that they won’t all be laid at the feet of the “villainous faction” the expansion also teases.
There’s also an opportunity in the GreedFall expansion to show first-contact colonialism in action. It’s a little arrogant calling the upcoming DLC’s location “an undiscovered region of Teer Fradee,” since it’s likely home to multiple Yecht Fradí tribes, but for marketing’s sake, it makes sense. So, knowing how the rest of the island has fared, are you really prepared to expose the remainder to a greedy world?
I don’t want to walk away with another quote about balance ringing in my ears. I want The De Vespe Conspiracy to offer me tough choices, tougher than the rest of GreedFall. I want it to jab its finger into my chest and remind me I’m part of the problem, that I don’t get to pretend colonialism is other people.
Am I hoping for too much? And am I being hypocritical for getting a kick out of GreedFall’s RPG elements? Maybe. Making Teer Fradee an island is a smart move; you can just imagine the invading nations squeezing inwards, and by GreedFall 2, the human cost of each faction’s efforts is all too evident. But with a sequel anything but certain and with the original only paddling around in the shallow end, GreedFall: The De Vespe Conspiracy has the chance to deliver colonialism’s wrongs right to your door.