I’ve never been a big RPG fan. I’ve played quite a few over the years, from Fallout to Skyrim and many in between. The reason that the genre never truly hooked me was the slow-paced drawn out combat systems. And at other times a game required so much micro-management of my character that it became frustrating trying to create the game experience I wanted. Luckily we now have a new experience in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
Reckoning does a solid job taking the core parts of RPGs and mixing in the combat and action I’ve enjoyed in games like God of War. The team at 38 Studios, Big House Games, and EA have built systems that make it easy to build your character in many unique ways as you progress, yet still offer the numerous choices that RPG fans desire. While the game does have some flaws, at the end of the day I felt incredibly satisfied with the countless hours I’ve spent exploring and fighting in the world of Amalur.
The story of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is from New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore. The game begins with your character, who you craft from a rather standard RPG character builder, returning from the grips of death thanks to the magical Well of Souls. You find yourself lacking a destiny though, and it’s up to you to build your destiny through the journey that awaits you in Amalur.
The world of Amalur is quite beautiful and it’s size is quite amazing. From the brains of Todd McFarlane you’ll find yourself traveling through different locations all with their own unique style and feel. From the lush forests and murky swamps and caves, to the dusty deserts and wide open plains. Amalur is huge and each of it’s regions offer up new visual experiences. Also unlike many other RPGs which kind of feel non-linear, just going from town to town, Amalur feels open and ripe for exploration. Though be warned trekking off with no plan can be deadly even with all your magic and weapons. Visually the environments are top-notch, however I can’t say the same for the people and various monsters that populate Amalur. Character models are quite simplistic and just not up to the same level as the environments. The environments show off some neat environmental features as your traverse around the world. Some parts of the world respond to your magic essences and glow and grow, a la Avatar. Some of the forests are inhabited by various Sprites and other small fairy like creatures that will dart around in the air. For the most part the game runs really smooth, it has some pop-in and the frame rate drops at times when you’re in intense battles. However compared to other games that have such an expansive world, the world of Amalur is quite polished.
The story of Reckoning is told in a few ways, some times you’ll be treated to nice looking CGI cut scene, but most of the time it’s dialogue between you and one other NPC. While I do like this as it keeps the visual flow of the game constant, the conversations you have are totally one-sided and has brought me to the conclusion that my character is a mute. While I know I’ve been spoiled with the cut scenes of Star Wars the Old Republic, at least some general reactions to the NPC from my character would have been a nice touch. At times he will point and try to make some sort of non-verbal communication, but they are so basic, out-of-place and repetitive that it makes the cut-scenes looks a little silly. One thing that is nice though, is that the dialogue is quite detailed, and the conversations are broken down nicely. When you first talk to a quest giver they go through the quest dialogue then you have the option to go off on the quest, or you can go into further conversation about the world, quest, other characters in the story, et cetera. It give those who want to really learn the lore of Amalur that option, or if you want to just get back to the action you can.
The strongest part of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the games gameplay. Many RPGs over the years have touted they are “action RPGs” but most times that means they just give you big guns or big swords. Amalur has an almost arcade style to it, and the mix of weapons and magic really felt like God of War. As your story unfolds you’ll have tons of weapons and armor to gear your character however you like. On top of the gear you will also be learning various magic abilities to take down your foes. A battle in the land of Amalur can unfold in many different ways, it might begin with you landing some ranged attacks with your secondary weapon perhaps a scepter, and then as your enemies approach you might start unleashing your magic powers, once they are close you’ll want to start slashing with your primary weapon which might be a sword or staff, all the while using your shield to counter attacks. And once the threat is leveled you’ll be quite satisfied with the action you just witnessed. Oh and if you don’t want all the action just equip your dagger crouch into stealth mode and take out the enemies silently. The choices are endless.
Like many magic based games, you have a health and mana meter, but Reckoning also sports a Fate Energy meter. As you kill enemies you’ll fill with fate energy, once the bar is full you can go into Reckoning Mode which gives you extreme amounts of power and allows you to perform some stunning special attacks, including some brutal finishers.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is all about destiny and fate, the gameplay changes based on the path and choices you choose. As you work up the three ability trees; Finesse, Sorcery, and Might, you’ll get different abilities and powers that allow you to go into combat the way you like. What is really neat though, is that those of us that like to be a hybrid aren’t left out. As your abilities grow you can then alter and change your destiny. For instance I’m working up my Might and Sorcery abilities, since I like magic but also want to deal lots of damage. Once I spend enough Ability points I’ll be able to unlock the Battlemage destiny giving me strong melee power, and the ability to take magical damage and use that energy to retaliate.
Since you start as a clean slate at anytime you can visit one of the worlds many Fateweavers, these characters have the power to wipe your destiny and fate. This does come at a steep price but it allows you to rebuild your abilities and skills. To make things real interesting at times your actions might lead to a “twists of fate” where you’ll receive a special permanent bonus.
Having all these choices are great and it’s easy to say that you’ll be in the world of Amalur for hundreds of hours. While the story is unfolding for me at a quick pace, there are multiple factions in the game each with their own side story, plus TONS of side quests, and a lot of exploration. All the time that your story is unfolding you also can work on crafting skills such as blacksmithing, alchemy and sagecrafting. All three have a simplistic yet enjoyable system. Alchemy allow you to gather reagents then mix and match to create potions, while sagecrafting allows you to mix shards to create gems that can enchant your gear. Again you have lots of neat options in crafting, from trying to find the right combinations to the simple and fun custom naming of crafted armor and weapons, and you bet my first sword was named, the Sword of A Thousand Truths.
I won’t lie, I was a bit leery going into my adventure in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I’ve been burned by other games claiming to be action RPGs, but Reckoning has brought my faith back to the genre. The mix of melee and magic blends extremely well when battling through Amalur, and for those that love the lore of a fantasy land far away, you’ll be pleasantly entertained. The game isn’t perfect, it does have a few graphical shortcomings, the biggest being the character models, and at times wonky camera movement. And while the story itself is quite interesting, the lack of interaction and emotion on your characters part is somewhat disappointing. Also we would have welcomed the addition of co-op with open arms. The world of Amalur is so big and filled with so many enemies that it would have been a blast exploring it with a friend.
But the bottom-line is, if you are looking for a new epic story, intense action gameplay or a world to explore with your customizable character, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning offers it all. If your afraid of the RPG genre, don’t be, this game is a perfect blend of God of War meets Skyrim, and will appeal to both the fans of action games and RPGs.
A copy of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for PS3 was provided to us for this review from EA.