Not long ago, the gaming world was given the epic fantasy adventure of the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The game featured over 250 hours of gameplay for those looking to explore every dungeon and complete every quest. It was a task that many, though knowing they could never fulfill to its entirety, flocked to.
Just a few months later, gamers were told about a new fantasy adventure, different both in visual tone and gameplay mechanics that would rival that scope. In a recent interview when asked about the length of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, developers stated that the fastest speed run of the game by one of the QA testers who had already competed the game previously and knew locations of every major event in the game at just over 200 hours.
Originally started out as an MMO from former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios, Reckoning split off in to its own single player action RPG adventure. With executive game designer Ken Rolston (Elder Scrolls III: Marrowind, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), artwork from Todd McFarlane (Spawn), an epic 10,000 year world history from R.A. Salvatore (Forgotten Realms) and music from composer (Goldeneye, Viva Pinata), Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning had the most impressive pedigree for a new IP in recent memory and quite possibly the most hype to live up to.
At its core, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a hack and slash with strong RPG elements and influence. Using three basic archetypes of a warrior, rogue and wizard, players are allowed to customize their character’s attacks based on various skill abilities and new moves as well as several different kinds of weapons. Players are able to bend the gameplay to whichever playstyle they prefer whether it is headstrong up close and personal combat, fighting from stealth as an assassin or distance combat through magic or archery.
Most players will find that combinations are often the best bet as it feels like a player is wasting time when they see an enemy charging from the distance to not shoot an arrow or fireball at the incoming enemy or for a wizard not to be equipped with a solid melee weapon when their opponent is getting too close for comfort to cast spells. The method that calls most for a secondary skill set is that of the rouge.
Able to deal out massive amounts of damage when able to sneak up on opponents completely undetected, the layout of the game doesn’t often lend itself to this style. Unlike stealth games like Splinter Cell, there are just many instances that players cannot sneak behind a group of opponents since they are either sitting in a circle and surveying the entire area or already facing the entrance to the dungeon players are coming from.
What stands out the most about the gameplay of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is that the combat is fun. Blocking, dodging and hacking away at opponents doesn’t get old as players are presented with different enemy strategies as the game progresses and new enemies and areas are explored. Various combinations of using the game’s parry system along with interruptible casting times make players actually plan out their attacks instead of just button mashing.
After building up a meter which increases faster with players actively using different attacks and moves, players can enter a “fateshift” which makes them move much faster than their now slow motion opponents and deal massive amounts of damage. It ends in a quicktime rapid fire button mash to give the player up to double for the experience for all the opponents defeated during the “fateshift”. The only negative to the “fateshift” is it can quickly become a crutch that makes the gameplay too easy. On normal difficulty, if a player enters this mode during a boss battle it is almost a sure thing that the player will be able to defeat the boss and take no damage during it. For those who hate boss battles in any game, however, this will be a much favored technique.
The gameplay only really suffers when players are paired up with AI controlled compatriots in tight dungeons. While solo, players can navigate and enter combat with ease but AI controlled teammates will often get in the way of attacks and be greater nuisances than anything else. On the plus side however, they do make fantastic undying meat shields to protect players from basically any enemy attack.
Story and Presentation:
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a pretty straightforward fantasy tale. Players awaken as the Fateless One, an unknown who has died and been brought back to life through the Well of Souls. By being reanimated both in body and soul, the player has changed the course of fate and this effect encompasses all those he comes across. In the process of finding out who he really is and how he died and was resurrected, the Fateless One quickly becomes entangled in the Crystal War between the mortal races and the Summer Fae, a proud and peaceful immortal race, and the Tuatha forces of Gadflow, former members of the Winter Fae who were once in a comfortable truce with the Summer court. Gadflow quickly takes notice to the Fateless One as the anomaly he is and keeps interacting with the player through projections of himself as he threatens to unleash the power of his Tuathan god Timoch upon the world.
While some RPG games allow players choice in interaction with other characters, it is usually a moral decision. The conversation trees in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning lack this depth as players can decide mostly just on the tone their character answers in, though it doesn’t directly influence the result of the conversation. The only real players have to make is when speaking to an NPC with a quest, players have the option to accept or reject said quest. It isn’t so much of a moral decision since they can come back and take it on at a later time.
Though this lack of choice may seem like a step back in terms of the trending themes in games recently, it does keep the story flowing smoother and more focused. Players go in playing the hero and while they can make dirty decisions like pickpocketing or stealing from a locked chess, the game encourages a more noble route as opposed to becoming a mass murderer like some choose to in Skyrim. While there are options to turn the safeties off and go amuck around a town, there aren’t story decisions to drive someone to do so.
Graphics and Sound:
When hearing the game was being driven artistically by Todd McFarlane, one would expect a gritty and dark environment filled with horribly evil, puss dripping, disease infected horrors. But surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. Instead, the world of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning look more influenced by that of World of Warcraft, with bright and vibrant skies and lush forrests. Even the caves themselves have floresent plants that light the way instead of the grime filled pathways of Skyrim.
The enemies designed for Kingdoms of Amalur also take a departure from the more traditional fare you’d expect in a fantasy title. While some standbys like gnomes and trolls exist, many creatures were created for Amalur or at the very least giving their own unique visual design to not just look like any other RPG out there. Kobolds exist in this world but don’t resemble any from other games or fantasy lore and a player is never going to come across orcs or goblins. Much like the environment, the characters have a slightly exaggerated art style with bright color schemes, making them a great fit for this world.
The game does suffer from a small lack of visual polish at times. The game world will sometimes pop in awkwardly with characters even attacking the player while totally invisible as their textures haven’t been loaded in yet. While not gamebreaking, it does catch a player off guard when they are taking damage and cannot see where the foe attacking them is.
The game is fully voice acted with varying degrees of talent but the lip synching can throw players off briefly as this obviously wasn’t one of the main focuses during development. Mouths start moving half seconds before dialogue begins sometimes making the player wonder if the sound on the TV isn’t properly synched to their console but instead just finding out it is the game. The music in the game does a great job of setting the mood and the sound effects all work well in making even the smallest battles feel epic.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, though in development for a number of years, is almost a sleeper title. With little in terms of advertising, this game is going to get most of its attention by word of mouth from the players who give it a chance and tell their friends what a fantastic overall experience it is. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning also does a fantastic job of filling the start of the year RPG slump before Mass Effect 3 comes out and dominates consoles.
The world built in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one people are going to be looking forward to returning to. The unique and finely crafted characters and races quickly capture players but it is the gameplay that drives it home. While the epic length of the game may be too much for players to experience every year, the Kingdoms of Amalur franchise is one that players will look forward to returning to time and again.
XBox 360 (Also available for PlayStation 3 and PC)
Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
Publisher: 38 Studios, EA