Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
From the pen of a best-selling author and the mind of a multiple Game of the Year winner; EA and Big Huge Games welcomes you to the world of Amalur in an RPG that wants to change the way players experience the RPG. In a world where Bethesda’s dragon-slaying behemoth reigns supreme, is there space, or time, for another RPG?
New IP’s are always subject to intense scrutiny and nowhere is this scrutiny more intense than in the fantasy RPG genre. Would-be warriors, mages, thieves and assassins know exactly what they want and they aren’t exactly shy in asking for it. Kingdoms of Amalur begins in a deceptively conventional fashion. After a introductory cut-scene, that has more than a little of the Lord of the Rings about it, players have the choice of four races and a host of options to customise their hero’s appearance. None of these exactly break the mould; in fact, neither does the first 15 minutes or so of play.
All that changes once players escape the Well of Souls and begin to explore Amalur. No where is this more keenly felt than in the graphics department. The first 15 minutes or so are grainy, drab and uninspiring graphically but all this changes once players have free-reign of exploration and it isn’t long before KoA delivers some stunningly original locations and genuinely breath taking set pieces with special mentions going to the Crying Eyes of Sinsea, the waterfalls of Caer Byralim and city of Adessa.
The locations and set pieces are so awe inspiring thanks to an art style that is a little different from what many might have expected. After the stark beauty of Skyrim, the colourful and charming art-style is reminiscent of Fable and World of Warcraft which is a blessing and a curse. Whilst each of the races, NPCs, enemies and locations are beautifully rendered, they lack the unique identities that make the Elder Scrolls games so compelling. But in a world that is as stunning as Amalur, it’s easy to forgive a little copy and pasting. The real strength of Amalur’s art-style is how well it lends itself to the various magical and environmental effects on show. Chain lightning, fire and ice crackle and scorch while beams of light cascade through forest canopies, meadows sway in the breeze and bodies of water shimmer. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of it all, and that’s before you sink your teeth into the story.
It’s been hard to get away from the fact that RA Salvatore, author of the Neverwinter Saga, is responsible for the story that underpins Kingdoms of Amalur. So, what do you get when you bring a best-selling fantasy author on board? The short answer is a great central storyline with a few generic side quests. The central storyline is quintessential fantasy, you play as a seemingly insignificant man/women/elf who, following a mysterious death, has been revived courtesy of the Well of Souls resulting in said man/women/elf being removed from the weave of fate. All this is set against a backdrop of a war with the Tuatha, a variant of the immortal Fae, who are bent on the destruction of the younger races and you in particular.
As the story progresses you find yourself answering the question of how you met your end and why the usually peacefully, if decidedly cold, Fae suddenly developed a penchant for war. The central story is compelling and very intriguing, the fact that you are essentially playing two interwoven central stories is testament to Salvatore’s excellent writing and how brilliantly Big Huge Games have made the world Salvatore has created a reality. What stands out most though, is how vividly and vibrantly the various voice actors have been able to bring the prose to life. Unlike other RPG’s KoA has a massive range of voice actors who provide a huge degree of variation in the delivery of conversations ensuring they are always fresh and never suffering from the ‘sweet role syndrome’ that has made conversations in Skyrim infamous. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the side, or faction, quests.
While they are all great stories, and excellent fun to play, they lack creativity and attention to detail that makes the main storyline such a joy. Here Ken Rolston’s influence is evident as, for better or worse, many of the faction quests remarkably similar to the guild quests of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The Scholia Arcana, Forsworn and Travellers questlines all feel like they have been lifted directly from Cyrodiil, which is a real shame as the characters you encounter on these quests are excellently voiced and portray a real sense of importance for their respective factions.
It’s not all bad news though, the faction quests that are centred around the Fae, these being the House of Sorrows and House of Ballads, are inventive, imaginative and excellently executed. These quest impress most because they unravel some of the mysteries of the Fae and the role they play in Amalur, oh they also dish out some of the best loot in the game too which as we all know is the most important part of a good RPG!
It is the crown jewel in an excellent combat system that rewards players equally for being destructive, subtle or downright sneaky in equal measure and one that is enhanced to no end by the extensive customisation on offer.
Storylines, art-styles and voice-acting aside, anyone who paid attention to KoA’s development will know that it’s real crowning jewel is how it approaches combat. If you’ve played any RPG you will know that combat feels oddly disconnected, strange for a genre that largely relies on melee combat. KoA is different though, everything from the slashing of swords to the impact of magic feels meaty and has a real thickness to it. Like most things in Reckoning, the combat is a hybrid of styles combining the fluidity of Dungeon Siege with quick-time events that are common in the God of War series. It’s a system that works brilliantly, allowing players to swap between melee combat and magic with ease allowing for combo’s that grace any beat-em-up. Customisation plays its part too as players can customise their character to be suit the way that they want to deal death to the vast array of enemies that inhabit the varied land of Amalur.
What is more impressive is how well the game manages the difficulty curve. Players will enjoy cutting their teeth on boggarts or bandits, with relative ease, in order to get a handle on what is a very fluid combat system. When the more powerful enemies appear, how well managed the difficulty curve is becomes apparent. There’s never a time where players will feel outclassed or outmatched, and even when things get a little hectic there’s always Reckoning Mode to fall back on. This slow-motion, super-powered window of opportunity changes your character from world altering hero to fate shattering doom bringer. Attacks are significantly more powerful and you become all but invulnerable able to dominate huge groups of enemies, finishing them with the devastating fate shift ability that sees players forcefully and violently remove enemies from the flow of fate.
Customisation is a buzz word with RPG’s. Unfortunately not every RPG manages customisation very well often locking players into single classes with pre-defined stats, weapons and armour that can’t be changed. KoA is different in this respect and it’s thanks entirely to the Destiny System. Big Huge Games customisation system offers players unprecedented freedom of choice when it comes to customising and developing characters. The actual customisation is the standard affair with points to spread out over the three skill trees (might, finesse and sorcery) and the option to choose a destiny that enhances stats and offers rewards.
It’s the fact that players aren’t tied down to these decisions that makes the Destiny System so impressive, at any time players can pay a fateweaver, mystics who are located throughout Amalur, to unbind the choices made and redistribute the accrued points accordingly. Along with this, players are free to choose their destiny at any time by simply choosing from the list of unlocked destinies that offer various passive skill boosts from increased damage and health, to being able to teleport over a short distance. The Destiny System offers players a freedom that is unmatched in any other RPG.
Players are no longer bound to the role of mage, warrior or thief (for the record, my character was a warrior-mage that liked to pickpocket), they can be any of these roles at any time with the simple click of a few buttons. It’s a excellent system that may bring a little change the traditional RPG formula, but more importantly it is a feature that enhances KoA greatly making it much more accessible and playable than any other RPG currently available.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a triumph and a very rare example of a new IP hitting the ground running. It is a colourful, charming and evocative example of what an RPG can be. Boasting an excellent combat system and near endless customisation in an easy and accessible manner, it’s an RPG for veterans and newcomers alike. Yes, it has its problems but they are so minor that they fade away against the raft of excellent features Reckoning has to offer and with some freshly released DLC it’s a great time to pick up an excellent RPG.