Review: Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an RPG love-child that combines a story envisioned by R. A. Salvatore, artwork conceived by Todd McFarlane, a musical score crafted by Grant Kirkhope and a combat system designed by Joe Quadara. How could it go wrong?
- Worth The Time?You will get lost in the world and enjoy every second of it.
- Things LovedThe combat is amazing, the world is vibrant and colourful, the story has depth and there is lots to do all over the place, the underlying RPG mechanics are sound and feel right.
- Things HatedThe textures are bland, the characters are uninspiring and boring and the voice-acting is god-awful.
- RecommendationIf you enjoy RPGs then you should have already bought this.
- Name: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: 38 Studios | Big Huge Games
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R 515 (BT Games)
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
The billing has certainly been great for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (from here on, simply Reckoning) in the months building up to its release. Talk of the star names heading up production for the game had many expecting either something amazing or a complete failure because of the tendency of all-star teams to let their egos get in the way.
Reckoning itself is a crazy amalgamation of various esoteric gaming styles and underlying mechanics but it comes together very cohesively, forming a solid experience that does true justice to the names in the credits.
Let’s begin with the story for the game, a natural starting point for any discussion based on a role-playing game.
There is one.
Saying any more than that would honestly spoil the experience, but I will try and explain what I can with as little revelation as possible. The world of Reckoning revolves around the fates of inhabitants, with many living out their lives having already seen their demise and accepting it. You however, have no fate. Well, you did until you died…
The game starts off with you lying on a pile of bodies, the disposal site for what is called the Well of Souls; an experimental device that successfully brings you back from the dead, fully recreated in both body and mind. This then creates truly one of the most inventive and resourceful game mechanics ever to be seen in an RPG.
Basically, because you were dead once and have now been ‘resurrected’ you have no fate. Having no fate means that every breath you take affects the fates of those around you. After all, you would never have been around those people if you stayed dead. To that extent, you are able to manipulate the fates of others, something that gives you almost godlike status in your mortal body. And you are revered as such in the game, with any who know of your re-existence hammering the point home in case you didn’t already realise it.
Your lack of a fate does more than just dictate the fates of others, though.
Because you are fateless does not mean that you are immortal. Indeed you go down about as easily as anyone else, in fact easier in some cases (more on that later). However your lack of a fate means that you are the only one who can save the world from some evil guy who turned against his people and… yeah, yeah, I know. It’s a bit clichéd in parts, but it is every bit as enthralling and entertaining as the very best of RPG stories, I assure you.
Do note though that you will spend the first ten hours or so completely lost and confused, with regards to the main story. Just give the game some time and you will eventually begin to appreciate it. This is mostly due to the renaming of a lot of standard conventional species and races such as Dokkalfar (probably because good ol’ Salvatore got bored of calling them Dark Elves) but also because characters in the game are about as entertaining as an office fan.
Keeping things confusing for a moment, during character creation you are allowed either of four distinct races: Almain, Dokkalfar, Ljosalfar and Varani… What? Okay fine. Basically in order then: Civilised humans, dark elves, light elves and nomadic humans. Upon picking a race you are asked to then choose what is basically a religion, with various deities on offer. You may then customise your character’s appearance as per regular character creation in any RPG setup.
Building your character works a little differently in Reckoning. Your character starts off as essentially a blank slate with three fields to specialise in, namely Might, Finesse and Sorcery. Think of these as your typical Warrior, Rogue and Mage fields of specialisation, only this game doesn’t restrict you to a specific field. Once you invest enough points in a specific field or combination of fields, you unlock Destinies, which are basically classes in the game. So if you have a high Finesse skill you pick Destinies that give you Thief / Archer type bonuses as per regular Rogue classes, or if you pick a mixture of say, Might and Sorcery, you get Destinies with bonuses that allow for a Battlemage class. Or you could be a Jack of All Trades and do all three if you’re so entitled.
The level of customisation per specialisation field is pretty detailed as well, meaning loads of room for variation and a very specialised character.
The best thing about Reckoning’s underlying RPG mechanics? Remember how we said you have no fate, as per the story? Well because of that, you are allowed to, at any time, reset all of your skills and become a blank slate again, and it fits perfectly into the story of the game. So say you get tired of tanking ALL the things and want to instead sneak around with daggers; you simply visit the relevant person and get your skills reset for a small fee.
The world of Reckoning is a vibrant and colourful one. It’s almost cartoon-like in execution but the artistic style is very effective at how it portrays the tone of the game. Having played it on console, I have to admit that the texture quality left a little to be desired, but that is easily excused when you consider how visceral, clean and simply pretty the game looks, as well as the fact that before it was a singleplayer RPG, Reckoning was built to be an MMO. And it certainly feels like one at times, with the sprawling landscapes and huge open world that covers five continents, each as varied as the next and then some.
The game world is suitably large and well-populated either with random creatures, bandits, civilians or various factions. There are towns and encampments all over the place as well as plenty of dungeons to dive into, if you so desire. The various areas are not rendered in one go like a certain Elder Scrolls series of games, rather divided by loading screens that don’t even take that long anyway so are completely painless. The towns themselves are filled with all sorts of characters including various merchants as expected of your typical RPG. Each town also has a slew of quest-givers and its very own quest-line.
In fact if there is nothing else that will distract you from the main story, the sheer amount of side quests most certainly will. These range from the odd fetch-quest to full on quest-lines that take hours to get through. There are also various factions in the game that offer up quests and each have their own quest-lines and rewards upon completion that range from armour sets and unique weapons to houses and discounts at various merchants.
The combat in the game is best described as a mixture of hack-‘n-slash and action fighting, akin to Darksiders, Dante’s Inferno or even Devil May Cry. Lots of D things, basically. You are a hyper-lethal vector, a force to be reckoned with… see what I did there? Your character is very combat-adept, having been a warrior before death and therefore capable of wielding pretty much anything. And there really is a lot to wield, from your typical longswords, bows, daggers (complete with stealth-kills) and hammers to some more exotic weapon types such as faeblades and chakrams. Expect to do a lot of fighting in this game as it more or less throws enemies at you wherever possible.
If I had to describe the style of combat in this game in a single word, I would call it “sexy”.
Each weapon has a chain of attacks and all of them are extremely pleasing to the eye, allowing you to feel suitably badass as you slice up your enemies. However, unless you’re playing on Easy, don’t expect to simply mash a button and get away with it. No, you will have to make ample use of both your block and dodge buttons in order to avoid damage and then deal some out, as well as making effective use of whatever special abilities you’ve unlocked such as a Scorpion-like pulling hook or ground-erupting spikes.
If things get really hairy you can activate what’s called Reckoning mode, which slows down time and increases the damage you deal while decreasing the damage you take. While in this mode, as you weaken enemies their fates begin to unravel. At your choosing, you may opt to manually end the mode by pressing the necessary button prompt on-screen and finishing off your enemies, absorbing their fate energy for a healthy experience bonus and instant pwnage. If Reckoning mode ends before you have done so, your enemies regain some of their lost health and you get no bonus experience for defeating them. It’s a neat system that works well as a complimentary ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card rather than a game-breaking exploit or something that will never be used because your character is so much more powerful than everything else.
Being a game that plays out in the third person, it’s great to see the focus on the combat system and the work that’s been put in to make battles feel memorable and enjoyable. Enemy types are varied and have different weaknesses and resistances as you would expect, forcing you to think strategically rather than hacking away, rewarding the tactical player in the long run.
If you ever get tired of fighting, which you won’t, there are also various other things you can do in the game.
Reckoning is actually one of the few games where all of the other aspects of the game are actually encouraged. Aspects such as Sagecrafting, Blacksmithing and Alchemy. Rather than spending your money exclusively at merchants or simply finding items in dungeons and on quests, you will come to rely on all of these additions in order to succeed at the game.
Blacksmithing is your usual story of crafting weapons and armour using materials you find, however you could also salvage them from weapons and armour that you pick up, by destroying those weapons and armour for their parts. A big part of your combat survival in-game will revolve around your ability to either match up armour sets or craft your own kick-ass armour instead.
Alchemy involves the creation of potions using reagents that you pick up along your travels or purchase at an alchemist. You may also experiment with various reagents to discover new recipes, if you’re not too keen on buying up all the recipes offered to you. Creating potions is another huge aspect of the game that if done right, would yield exponential returns to your character.
Sagecrafting involves the creation of gems using gem shards picked up in chests or looted off dead bodies along your travels. These gems can then be socketed into armour and weapons for various bonuses, some of which are extremely strong. While I didn’t do too much of sagecrafting myself, I managed to fluke a rare gem that gave me crazy lifesteal, so it’s always something worth dallying in at the very least.
If there is a criticism to be made of the game, it is the shoddy character interaction that is present throughout. While there are some memorable characters to meet through your quests, the great majority of characters are monotone for the most part and are synched horribly, making it feel as though you’re watching one of those really old, dubbed kung-fu movies. It’s a minor gripe, made even more minor by the fact that most conversations are optional, but any true RPG player would go through all the conversations anyway, making it impossible to ignore.
Along with the bad voice-acting comes the sheer confusion that you will feel sometimes. The game pretty much throws you into the deep end right from the start, making references to and pointing out features of a world that you have only just discovered as the player, even if your in-game character has been there before. You will spend many hours hopelessly lost or confused as to exactly what you’re doing, but once you are more accustomed to the world that is presented to you, it gets a whole lot better.
The musical score itself is amazing, and fits right into place like the perfect puzzle piece at pretty much every point in the game. It never feels incorrect and always gets you in the mood for whatever it is that you are about to witness. Even if the character interaction makes you cringe, once everyone shuts up and your mute player character is alone with the world, you begin to feel the serenity of it all, almost encouraging you to only engage in conversations when absolutely necessary.
Again, combat comes to the fore with battles sounding about as good as they look. Each weapon has a very distinct sound that would let even a blind person know what weapon you’re currently using, as well as special abilities that sound as epic as they feel.
It seems that in all my conversations about this game, comparisons to titles such as Fable and Skyrim were inevitable. Indeed, the game does feel like a better — actual RPG — version of Fable. Indeed, it has a huge open world and quest-lines like in Skyrim. But to compare this game to either is to do it a huge disservice.
Reckoning is something unique all on its own and while it borrows heavily from other games (not necessarily RPGs either) it succeeds in crafting a niche that it fills very well. There really is no other RPG around that looks, plays or feels like Reckoning does. And that’s saying something.
It’s unfortunate that Reckoning was released now, a month before Mass Effect 3; probably the most anticipated RPG of the year. Many gamers are busy saving up for their N7 Collectors Editions and so will give this a skip, and that is honestly a crying shame because Reckoning more than earns its place alongside Mass Effect 3 and indeed other RPGs as a true entertainment-value, triple-A offering.
Give it a try. Thank me later.
A quick note that the game comes with release day DLC that is free to retail purchasers but requires an online pass for anyone else. The lack of an online pass effectively gates off seven additional quests, and this in an entirely singleplayer offering…