Deciding when is the proper time to review an open-world RPG like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning can be tricky. Do you wait until you’ve finished the game? But if the point of the game is that there’s always something to do, can you ever really finish? Ultimately, I decided to do things in the same way I did my Skyrim review. That is to say, play enough of the game to understand most of the gameplay aspects as well as have a good idea where the plot is going. As of this review, I’m 55 hours in & my Dokkalfar is a level 28 Spellcoak (Finesse/Sorcery class) specializing in chakrams & fae blades. I’m about halfway through the main quest, finished the House of Ballads line, started on the Warsworn, Travelers & Scholia Arcana quests & explored a roughly half of the world. So I think I can give a fair review of the game.
The main plot thread of Amalur is that the world is at war with an immortal race known as the Tuatha. While previously peacefully coexisting with the younger mortal races, the Winter Fae have recently turned violent with the rising of a new king. This new king believes that his land will birth a new god. While the mortal races have banded together in war, it seemed like a futile effort against the continually reincarnating Tuatha. That is, until you die. Having been brought back to life by an experimental procedure, you are no longer bound by the Fate that determines everything else in the world. This means you can shape your own destiny, one that will hopefully unravel the plans of the mad king. Of course, Amalur is a large world, with many citizens & factions in need of aid.
Amalur is a very open game, & not just in terms of the world. Player freedom is the name of the game. Although each of the four races have certain starting bonuses, you can develop your skills however you’d like. Each time you increase a level you get to put one point in a Skill (passive traits such as Detect Hidden, Stealth & Dispel) & three points into you Abilities. There are three different Ability trees; Might, Finesse & Sorcery. They’re pretty self-explanatory. Might is your heavy damage class, specializing in close-quarters combat with swords & hammers. Finesse is the rogue class, using bows, daggers, fae blades & poison to bring enemies down. And Sorcery includes several magic spells as well as specializing in chakrams, scepters & staffs. The Ability tree is similar to what’s seen in Titan Quest. You also unlock different Destinies based on what abilities you choose. These are essentially just classes, but you unlock them through having a certain number of points in each tree. There are destinies for straight classes, dual-classes & mixed. These destinies also grant bonuses that become more powerful as you gain higher levels. For example, in my Finesse/Sorcery tier you eventually gain a Poison Blink ability, which replaces the dodge with a teleportation move that poisons enemies. Another important feature of the game is Reckoning Mode. As you defeat enemies, you collect their fate energy. Once this bar if full, you can enter Reckoning Mode, which slows down time & lets you deal more damage. At any time during this mode once you’ve defeated an enemy, you can fateshift them, producing a quick-time event that grants you extra experience.
Story: While I have to say that I really like the concept behind the game, it’s questionable how well it’s handled. In most RPG’s you’re the “chosen hero” who was foretold to come & yadda-yadda. But in Amalur, you’ve transcended fate. According to the story, you can mess with the fates of others. Defeating an enemy can save an ally who was supposed to die in that battle or you can help someone succeed in a task they were never supposed to. I love the idea, but ultimately it doesn’t feel that way in practice. Others have pointed out that it doesn’t feel like you’re changing fate. The game unfolds the same, just people act surprised when I succeed. The problem is, I don’t know how you could properly show something like interfering with fate within a game. But Amalur gets points for breaking the prophecy cycle. On the other hand, I don’t find the world that engaging. Aside from important recurring characters, most of the NPC’s have no personality. You can ask characters about different topics, but there’s no real reason to. In fact, unless it’s related to a quest or to shop, I never talk to anyone. But the quests are interesting & do give the different areas some personality. The faction quests are also interesting but the transitions between them seemed a bit jerky to me. So overall a good effort that despite falling a bit flat in places still keeps me interested. Score: 3
Gameplay: Aside from a few issues, I really love the mechanics of this game. Firstly, combat is fast & fluid. I like that you can have two weapons equipped at a time & that they both use different buttons in combat. However, I didn’t like that you can only have four active abilities mapped at a time. This is probably only an issue with the console versions, though. I also don’t like that there’s no way to interrupt an enemy’s combo once you’ve been hit. The leveling system is very intuitive & there are some unique abilities that I haven’t seen in other games. I’m somewhat less thrilled about the skills. Some of them seem next to useless. Alchemy, Sagecrafting, Mercantile & Blacksmith have been useless throughout my playthrough. Maybe it’s just because I feel compelled to pick up every piece of loot I can find & sell it, but you get so much money in the game that you’re better off just buying everything you need. Seriously, I have almost 2 million gold. The other skills are pretty good though. I especially like the Detect Hidden skill, which will highlight treasure, traps & other things on your map, & Persuasion, mainly because it shows you your percentage of success. I’m not crazy about the lockpick system, but that’s mainly because it can be hard to stop an attempt when you see you’re about to break the pick. Inventory is limited, but you can buy backpacks to increase the space & a lot of items stack, so it’s typically not an issue. You can always just fast travel & sell your excess. Speaking of travel, I like how all of your quests in an area are highlighted on the local map. Your current quest is highlighted in gold, but everything is shown. This is very helpful. So a mixed bag, but generally very good. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: The style of this game strikes me as somewhere between Fable & World of Warcraft. Each region has its own unique look & every area within those regions has a unique landscape. They range from thick forests full of spider webs, to sandy beaches to deserts. Sadly, the interiors don’t vary as much, resulting in most caves, ruins, etc. looking the same but with different floor plans. I did have a problem with the camera not showing how big the world actually is because it mostly focuses on the ground, missing some of the better scenery. NPC’s have a variety of appearances & I can’t recall seeing two people who look exactly the same. I also have to give the developers credit for creating some really unique monsters. Sure, you’ve got your standard giant rats & spiders, but a lot of the creatures I’ve never heard of before. I mean, what exactly is a boggart? It’s very refreshing. As far as sound goes, it’s alright. The music again reminds me of Fable, but I honestly didn’t pay it much attention. I do know it loops a lot & certain settings share the same music, so you’ll be hearing the same tracks whenever you’re in a cave. The voiceacting is okay as well. The acting itself is fine & although many characters have the same voice, it isn’t so often that I’m struck by it. Mostly it’s just recognizing that I’ve heard it before. Score: 4
Replayability: This is always tough in large RPG’s. Personally, I won’t play through this game again as a different character. I don’t see any need. There’s plenty to do with just a single character. Also, because you can pick what skills you want, there’s no reason to start over with a different style. You can just pay a Fateweaver to reassign your points. Also, there aren’t a lot of branching quest lines. Aside from picking the exact method of completion sometimes, most quests are straightforward, so I don’t see the need to try to do things differently. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Although it’s not perfect, I think Kingdoms of Amalur is an admirable first entry for a new game developer. Despite having some issues, the engaging combat & beautiful world make this a fun game to play. I hope to see future Amalur games.
Title: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Console: 360, PS3 & PC
Developers: 38 Studios & Big Huge Games
Publishers: 38 Studios & Electronic Arts Release Date: February 7, 2012