Warning: Greedfall spoilers ahead.
It starts with a cough. A fever. Boils that are painful to the touch and even more so when popped. How is it passed? Through a shared cup. Unwashed hands. A kiss. The how is endless, the end is always the same. For there the culprit will sit, hidden within the body, before it leaves it in sickly ruin and, eventually, death.
The culprit? Germs.
Early European explorers in the 15th century managed to successfully demonstrate their strength over indigenous cultures by simply not covering their mouths when they sneezed. Sound like an exaggeration? It’s not. In a world that has never been impacted by smallpox or mumps influenza, early Europeans brought with them a biological weapon that would destroy up to 95% of American indigenous populations (Mann, 2005; PBS, 2005).
The video game Greedfall (2019) plays upon the same themes seen during the Age of Discovery, where European Empires extend themselves past their shores with the intent to improve trade routes, expand political influence, seek out wealth, and convert those to the Christian faith. Weapons, steel, and, yes, germs were factors that guaranteed success over sophisticated civilizations in the Americas.
Teer Fradee is no different. All three factions from the Continent sail to this island with the same intention as their European counterparts: to profit off of the secrets, miracles, and riches within the island. These factions will do so with their superior weapons, ships, and, most importantly, their germs. The Malichor.
The malichor is incurable in the Continent. Claims anyone and everyone indiscriminately. Has turned Sérène, one of the largest ports in the Continent, into a sick bay. At the beginning of your journey, you must navigate streets where citizens are sprawled out, either hacking out their lungs or rigid with death. Even the main square, just outside the palace, hosts a massive pyre, the smoke of the dead billowing upward into the gray air.
Teer Fradee sounds like a blessed reprieve free of illness and carries a promise of a cure. That is motivation enough to send the two protagonists out to sea, soon to enter a world of bright colors and conflict.
In Search For A Cure
The malichor, at first glance, is virtually nonexistent in Teer Fradee. No one is sick.
Each faction will have a theory on a potential remedy, but the game reveals that the effort towards a cure are, actually, hostile attempts to control the Islanders (those native to Teer Fradee) and gain territory. It’s easy to, initially, forget that the real motivation for De Sardet, the protagonist in the story, is to seek out a cure as they are thrown into the political fray.
It isn’t until De Sardet’s cousin, Constantin d’Orsay, comes down with the very illness that has ravaged Sérène does the cure become a priority, once more. De Sardet will throw themselves at every possibility and avenue to find it.
The first and foremost avenue sought out is seeking counsel with En on míl frichtamen, Teer Fradee’s deity. It leads to problematic choices that the game will not allow you to step away from (i.e. influencing the selection of the next High King in order to earn a favor), often at the expense of the Natives and their traditions. You, as De Sardet, are locked into this decision to do everything in your power to heal Constantin.
Each step towards this goal leads to ruin in two folds. On one side there is rising tension between the different factions and the Islanders. Solve one problem, two appear. On the other side, the Island churns out its own havoc. It will send creatures out, like white blood cells, in a desperate attempt to stop a process that would help spread the malichor.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and in this case, performing a sacred ritual that would bind Constantin to the Island. While it will “heal” Constantin, it is the equivalent to sharing infected blood with another. Instantly, everything in the Island will fight Constantin. Even the very deity of the Island will plead for help to anything and anyone for a solution. Even inciting the infamous High King Vinbarr to physically intervene and nearly kill Constantin, or at least keep him far away.
During the encounter, both En on míl frichtamen and Vinbarr will express that the malichor will destroy the very essence of the Island and, in turn, the deity itself. Vinbarr will even dub Constantin the “deathbringer.” There is no happily ever after if this continues. There is only destruction. New Sérène will begin to look like Sérène if not stopped.
Sardet, regardless, will fight for their cousin’s life and a hope all will be well.
Malichor: More Than A Deadly Virus
The tragedy and irony of this illness infecting Constantin is apparent the moment you find out what has been leading to his declining health. Constantin is vastly different the other factions’ Governors. He has traveled to Teer Fradee due to his father’s direction, but wishes to use this opportunity to prove himself. He’s hopeful, eager for adventure, and quick to ruminate over how poorly his family thinks of him.
However, Constantin is, also, a capable governor. While he will maintain neutrality, as per his faction’s go-to in all political dealings, he has shown visible empathy towards the Islanders and has an understanding of the harm caused. He demonstrates an awareness that other factions have attempted and will continue to attempt to con him, misinterpreting him as foolish and young. Even during each debriefing of a mission, Constantin has risen to the occasion, demonstrating fairness, pragmatism, and proactiveness. He shows none of the imperialistic ambitions that his neighboring Governors demonstrate. He simply wishes to thrive brightly in this new world.
That Constantin is nearly snuffed out after the infamous bonding to the Island. A different Constantin takes root. The physical changes are apparent, markings of the Malichor and of an on ol menawi, intertwined. He’s terrifying in appearance, but appears and professes to be perfectly fine.
That dream of surpassing his father’s expectations has taken a dark and paranoid twist. There is, now, an intense drive to control all of the Island. One who wishes to brutally take out anyone and thing that threatens that lofty goal. Constantin will engage, alone, in rituals to bind himself further to the island, warping the area about it. En on míl frichtamen will warn Sardet that the more Constantin takes, takes, and takes from the Island, the closer does the Island’s destruction come at hand.
It takes laborious work (i.e. fighting off corrupted guardians and animals) and the planting of new seeds underneath corrupted bonds/stones to undo just a small portion of Constantin’s devastation.
En on míl frichtamen will share with the audience and Sardet what the malichor truly is. It’s more than a disease. It’s imperialism. It’s colonialism. It’s a greed for more and the idea that one culture is superior than the other. That concept will devour everything it touches, even Constantin. It is no wonder it is near impossible to remedy Constantin’s actions.
Despite desperate attempts to reason with Constantin, Constantin cannot see the issue. He’s blinded and determined to succeed in this goal. He genuinely believes he will deliver progress and cannot recognize who he is harming in the process.
“He himself is the incarnation of the old world he is speaking of… He has its vices and poisons.” — En on míl frichtamen
This is not the first time the real meaning of the malichor has been broached. A few Islanders have hypothesized it came out of the Continentals’ disrupting the balance between earth and people. That this is the consequences of mining, over-farming, industrialization, etc. The consequences of greed. Now, everyone is witnessing the consequences gore the Island in real time.
There is something morbid about enlisting the aid of other colonizing factions and charging into the Islanders’ most sacred of places to stop Constantin. The very Constantin who, originally, stood out starkly so against his counterparts. Now, he embodies the very illness that has decimated parts of the Continent and is, now, doing the same to Teer Fradee.
In my eyes, the symbolism is vivid when you see the ending conflict takes place in the heart of Teer Fradee. One of the greatest consequences of European colonialism in the New World was the destruction of history, sacred sites, and cultural artifacts from indigenous groups (Mann, 2005). So many sacred places have felt Sardet’s and other factions’ boots, unintentionally and intentionally. Knowing that the scene for the end of this game takes place here has a more harrowing note. The very core of this group’s culture and religion is pleading for its own survival.
De Sardet — you — have a choice as the driver of this story: stand with Constantin, despite knowing the consequences or kill Constantin and prevent this overwhelming tragedy.
The problem with the second ending (killing Constantin) is that it doesn’t solve the issue of the malichor, since we now truly know its face. The cure to the malichor cannot be obtained by killing Constantin. As long as the factions war with each other, the Islanders, and the Island itself in their pursuit for more, the malichor will never be truly gone.
PBS. (2005) The Story Of Smallpox — and other Deadly Eurasian Germs. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/variables/smallpox.html.
Mann, C. C. (2005). 1491: New revelations of the Americas before Columbus. New York: A Division of Random House, Inc.