Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was really a big deal, since it was 38-Studios’ first game and had many big names attached to the project. The director was Mark Nelson (previously a designer for Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls IV, and its expansion: Shivering Isles), art was done by Todd McFarlane (a supporting artist for Marvel and the creator of Spawn), designer Ken Rolston was joining in (who also worked on Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV), the game was co-written by R. A. Salvatore (writer of Forgotten Realm- and The New Jedi Order-novels) and the music was composed by many including Grant Kirkhope (known for plenty of Rare-titles including Killer Instinct, Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark). This sounds like a dream team, but Amalur ended up being 38-Studios only game before bankruptcy, which is a shame as from what it provides, it could have had a bright future.
Only you can change the fate of our world
After creating your character, you start of dead and are tossed into a pile of corpses. Luckily, you arise from your eternal slumber and find yourself in more than you bargained for, with the building you woke up in being under attack. As you try to find out who you are and what is going on, you are discovered by a wise elder, Agarth. Being a fateweaver, he can see the fates tapestry for every man, with the exception of you. Through this, he concludes that it must be because you have the power to change destiny, which you will prove plenty of times. With this power discovered, you are set on your quest to save the world from damnation, while altering the fate of those you meet on your journey.
The story has an interesting concept where fate is an existing part of the world, with only you having the power to change it and it also plays into the gameplay, creating a neat connection. There are a lot of interesting thoughts surrounding you being, in a sense, a form of a demi-god and are responsible for this world’s outcome, but despite the small and cute stories that deal with tragedies, the plot is really uninteresting and never becomes engaging. This is really due to the story being a traditional good vs evil-setup with no flavor text and the progression boils down to find this man to learn more before you are guided to the next plot-convenient character. It wasn’t until the final part I remembered what was going on and that I had to save the world, due the entire journey being forgettable once you leave the intro.
None of the sidequests have long or complicated setups either and you are never personally connected to anyone. The characters can be charming at least, as no side-quests are below mediocre. One quest deals with a cursed wolf walking around as a man, some involve love-issues, and some just characters just wish to find their traveling companion. They are short and have no form of lasting appeal, but at least it is nice to provide a conclusion to their problems as you can understand and feel for their struggles. Though some could be more interesting, like in the quest where spiders attack a town due to them invading their area, tait feels shallow and siding with the 8-legged creatures is considered the evil path to take. I would say it needs more lore and insight, though reading through books and listening to bizarre stones for more background, does not really help other than providing more flavor text.
Story Score: 5/10
You fight the way you want to
Since you are unbound by fate, this also means you can easily choose not just your look, race and gender before the game starts, but also how you fight in this Action-RPG. You have 3 ways to upgrade your character through might-, finesse- and sorcery-abilities. Think of them as warrior-, rogue- and mage- skill trees, however, these abilities you choose won’t just affect the passive and active skills you can use, but also what weapons and armor you can wear and what you are able to do with them. You can focus on one of these skill-trees or combine them at your choosing, giving you a lot of ways to play and no combination feels useless. Maybe you want to be a warrior wielding weapons up-close and afar, hit hard with a hammer while causing a giant explosion, or go stealth with magic at disposal? All and more combinations are available, and I love Kingdoms of Amalur for the diverse options it presents.
Since choosing your style of play will also change your fate, you will get Tarot-cards that gives you new skills depending on what skill-tree you focused on. For example, focusing on the mage and might, will give you a teleportation-dodge and gain more stat-points in strengths and magic, though going all magic will give your dodges an elemental effect and more stat-upgrades fitting for a mage. This gives the combat an incredible amount of depth, while still being easy to pick up and play.
The combat is in real-time, with customizable button-layouts for weapons and/or magical abilities to be used on the fly. Both the controller- and the mouse and keyboard-setup feels great, though the analog-stick is better for those going in with physical attacks and dodges, while the numeric hotkeys on the keyboard will be the better choice for a magic-user. The free-roaming combat and attacks being designated to the closest enemy or wherever you hold the control-stick/wasd towards make the combat fluent and easy to get a hold on, even with plenty of enemies on the screen. Using your abilities is smooth and fast as well, though since each attack is assigned to a button, it uses pauses between button-presses or holding it in to make different actions. This makes the combat simple enough to get a hang on, but complicated enough to be engaging due to the number of options and how it all is depended on the presses. Even the shield, can be used to quickly deflect an opponent’s attack at the right time, leaving them stunned.
While the refilling mana-bar and traditional health-bar might be self-explanatory, you also have a bar that can be maxed out by fighting enemies. At full, you can choose to activate it, whereupon you will go into “reckoning-mode” which will make everything go in slow-mo, you will be dealing more damage, and your character can perform a big finisher-move to gain bonus-exp. The only negative part is that, while the enemies are varied in attacks, abilities, and defenses, they are usually a cake-walk and not really a bother at all due to how diverse you can become. The same can be said for the boss fights, but at least they have fun quick time events for finishing them off, that can yield bonus XP, and the combat is incredibly fun in itself.
Besides gaining ability-points by leveling up, you can also gain skill-points from leveling up or by getting trained for a fee in other attributes that are separated from the three skill-trees mentioned. These are alchemy, blacksmithing, Detect Hidden, dispelling, lockpicking, mercantile, persuasion, sagecraft, and stealth. You can’t, however, upgrade every skill, since there is a limit to both ability-points and skill points, so you have to choose and pick. These abilities can help out a lot in your journey and may even vary outcomes for the side-quests, so pick with caution or be ready to pay a good fee to reset your setup. In fact, lockpicking or dispelling a chest takes you to a fun minigame, and leveling up any of the non-combat skills can lead to new ways to play the game, such as making interesting armor, creating a bunch of potions, or being unseen by fiends in the world.
The quests themselves, however, are uninteresting and are more about asking you to go to certain places or kill enemies. They might include some choices and provide entertaining dungeons, but what you actually do inside these setups, varies little. The same can be said for the guilds you can join, and the entire game in general. The world is thankfully huge and has a lot of secrets to be discovered, providing a lot to exploration, with each discovery of a new area providing XP. In fact, doing anything significant like lockpicking a chest, persuading a person, or simply killing enemies will provide more XP, giving you a nice boost for any accomplishment.
Kingdoms of Amalur can get repetitive due to the lack of variation in the quests and enemies, but with such a great combat system that is the main focus and by providing tons of ways to play, you will always have a blast in this gigantic world. It is also light on the tedium you see in many RPGs, without grinding being forced upon you and you can set items you don’t like to junk, making it easy to throw or sell them all at ones. It is a game that really knows how to provide a good flow, both in progression and combat.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
A typical medieval-fantasy
The world bursts with colors and is quite visually pleasing with a good variety of landscapes and cities, with clear inspirations taken from our real world, such as cherry-blossoms and oval trees in the richer areas, while the mines remind me more of The Grand Canyon. However, all areas feel quite traditional due to the thematic natural settings, and since they borrow a lot from familiar locations, Kingdoms of Amalur lacks any clear memorable style or unique places. The worlds can also feel quite empty, with only the occasional dungeons or human constructions breaking up the rather empty environment. The monster that inhabitants the land are borrowed from other fantasy-worlds, most noticeably DnD with even kobolds being present, though while charming, it also feels simply traditional and uncreative.
This lack of any clear style can also be seen in the character-design that is quite stiff and dull. At least, it is not to the point of Elder Scrolls’ poor quality, and the cartoony art style makes colors and effects pop. It is also technically beautiful, and it does boast a high fantasy-style well, with imaginative and impressive animations for attacks and spells. The Havok-engine is also utilized and I love how it makes every fight engaging and powerful, with ragdoll-physics being provided. It is simply the lack of anything memorable or personal that hinders the game’s visuals. This also goes for the customizable attires, which definitely could have used more creativity to personalize your hero/villain.
The orchestrated and symphonic soundtrack gives the game a good tone, fitting the medieval fantasy-vibe the game goes for, but comes of as forgettable due to a lack of any noticeable notes or variation in instruments. It is still atmospheric and pleasant, so it gets the job done. One huge annoyance is that the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds get mixed up and overlap each other, without even being the same track, creating a strange mash that is not pleasant to listen to. The game also presents a lot of silence in the game, which is rather odd, as the silence does not add to anything intense or effect, making me wonder if the game suddenly glitched on me. What is effective, is the vast amounts of sound-effects from swinging a hammer, casting electrical spells, dodging, or even the screams of your foes; all are immersive and effective. The voice-actors give characters clear personalities and are diverse enough to be intriguing, but I would have a hard time remembering who said what due to none giving a unique performance.
Presentation Score: 7/10
I haven’t explored this part!
Beating the game will take about 25-30 hours, but you can add at least 50-60 hours if you set out to do everything. It might not change up the game much, due to the lack of diverse quests, but the content is there and it is so fun to fight enemies and explore to make your character level up, acquire new skills, and become an all-out force to be reckoned with. There is also great replay-value in form of trying new character builds, and despite that the quests are not that interesting, you might find yourself doing them without even the intention of going for 100%, just because of the fighting mechanics themselves.
Extra Score: 8/10
Kingdoms of Amalur has such a great focus on what it does well and keeps the blood pumping. There is, however, little variation to the core game, the story is merely there, and I can’t say the game is memorable visually or auditory, but I had such a blast with the combat alone that I would recommend giving it a shot. Who knows, now that THQ has acquired the rights to this title, they could improve on its shortcomings with a sequel.