Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on PC and Sony PlayStation 3
Bringing a new IP to market is becoming an increasingly risky business decision, ploughing millions of dollars into something that *might* sell isn’t something big publishers are queuing up to do. This is now more and more evident each year as we see annual iteration after annual iteration of past greats raking in (in some cases) billions of dollars. To be fair to the money men, why would they want to take the risk when they can just change the player roster on something like Madden and make a hell of a lot of money? Well, to EA’s credit they have invested heavily here along with developers Big Huge Games and 38 Studios to smash their way into the much loved RPG genre with Reckoning:Kingdoms of Amalur. No expense has been spared as they bring in some heavy hitters such as fantasy novelist R.A. Savlatore, acclaimed animator Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and seasoned RPG veteran Ken Rolston (Morrowind & Oblivion) in an attempt to create a new franchise in a market which is becoming ever more popular and in turn, lucrative.
You begin your journey lying on a cold slab being wheeled to your grave by two gentle little fellows - fate has dealt you some unforgiving cards and it’s the end of line. Fate is an integral part of the narrative within Reckoning, it shapes the world and its inhabitants. Every living thing within Reckoning has a pre-determined fate and the fate weavers are skilled at viewing what fate has in store. Every gnome, elf and human is bound to a cycle of life and death, it is only the magical Fae race that adds resurrection on to that life cycle...until now.
It is not very long before you discover that you are not a slave to fate like the rest of the inhabitants of this magical world. Fate weavers will look at you and see nothing, you are indeed the fate less one. A neat game mechanic which weaves (see what I did there) its way nicely into the narrative..it’s all about choice and you are the master of your own fate, in turn the fate of the Kingdoms of Amalur.
The game wastes absolutely no time introducing you to the various play styles at your disposal and encourages you to experiment . Might, sorcery and finesse are at your disposal and don’t force you down a specific route, mix and match to suit your play style. Fate cards offer performance bonuses and are applied to your character through the neat and simple game interface. As you progress through the (levelling) skill tree it becomes clear that there are a plethora of options available allowing you to customise your character not only to suit a play style but also to any given game situation. Encountering a quest you can’t quite conquer? Simply visit a fateweaver, hand over a bit of coin and completely reset all character upgrades (and fate cards). This is an excellent game mechanic which is more than welcomed in the crowded RPG market. No more will you find yourself maxed out as a sneaky cheeky rogue thrust in to a toe to toe boss fight with a man mountain who can take more damage than anything you have ever previously faced. Do not begin the game again! Quickly re-spec your skill tree, pour all bonuses into the right class (Might in this example) thus enabling you to do immense damage toe to toe and you are set.
The skill tree itself is extremely diverse - confusing at first due to the wealth of options available but as you begin to understand the way in which the game allows you to mould your character to the nth degree it quickly becomes a joy levelling up. The ability to mix and match might, finesse and sorcery allows for some truly spectacular character setups - the empowerment is easily one of the main selling points of the title. The excitement at being able to level up and tweak your character that little bit further is fun at the best of times and the team behind Reckoning clearly understand this.
RPG fantasy wise there is nothing all that new here, it has all been done before but the developers play on the fact that people love this sort of adventure and the main criticism levelled towards games of this type is the poor combat. Even the much loved and critically raved about Skyrim is let down primarily by the usual wavy first person combat with its odd hit detection and distinct lack of flair. Reckoning does not set out to re-write the RPG handbook (some have likened it to an MMORPG) here but what it does do is take everything that has come before (we are talking kitchen sink here) and add to it a style of combat much loved in action adventure games. Imagine World of Warcraft had a fling with God of War while Skyrim was watching and you would end up with Reckoning. Reckoning presents us with some of the most advanced hack and slash gameplay ever to grace an RPG, hell as a hack and slash game forging a linear path it would be a game worth playing.
The combat for the most part is an absolute joy, they really nailed it and it’s a testament to the team behind this aspect of the game. The player has a wealth of options at their disposal including expert hand to hand combat, stealth executions, ranged weaponry, lots of magic to choose from and so many class crossing combos even Kratos wouldn’t be able to hold back a big grin. Effortlessly fusing responsive, often explosive hand to hand combat with a mixture of both ranged and area of effect magic never gets old and throw in some devastating ranged combat if you want it to be it’s a button basher’s dream.
The combat completely drives the game and even after hours and hours of hacking & slashing does not get old. As you level up special moves unlock, sometimes tied to specific play styles or weaponry but always something fresh and new. The introduction of moves and combos laughs in the face of the stale wavy feedback free combat seen time and time again in RPG’s. RPG’s that are much loved it should be noted; games which mop up awards time after time with their huge open worlds and immersive gameplay. Reckoning has all these things but with the bonus of a combat system that allows for experimentation, customisation and the ability to make you feel like a total badass.
Whilst for the most part fantastic, the hand to hand action is let down a tad by the rather annoying camera. Using a 360 controller you will send an awful lot of your time repositioning your viewpoint as the camera has a bit of a mind of its own. It seems to struggle with the open ended nature of the world around you and this becomes very evident during the heat of battle. God forbid you decide to take on a group of over powered giants along with a pack of wolves on a set of stairs - the camera almost gives up in this scenario. It’s not horrible by any means but its not good when half an intense battle is taken up trying to move the thing so you can actually target a specific enemy to turn the tide of battle. In time it’s easily manageable but the game would benefit hugely from some camera tweaks, even some minor tweaks would make all the difference.
‘An RPG with the depth of Skyrim and the combat of God of War...yes please!’
All of this would be great in a game with sub par graphics and a drab world but luckily Reckoning presents a beautiful colourful world to explore. Characters are brought to life by Todd McFarlane, mixing the right amount of solid human characters with weird and wacky fantasy beasts. The voice acting is a tad ‘meh’ but supplemented beautifully by a sweeping orchestral soundtrack, perfectly suited to the bright and colourful world within. Reckoning is undoubtedly a pretty game containing a (borderline) fluorescent magical world full of interesting sights and sounds - an explorers dream and one of the prettiest 360 titles to date.
Clocking in at a respectable 25 hours in length the main story quest is supplemented by faction quests, often more interesting than the main quest and a frankly bonkers amount of side/misc quests. As with all RPG’s these days there is a huge amount to do within Reckoning. Some will flag up that the developers said prior to launch that if you were to do everything the full game is 200hrs and it’s not certain that this is 100% accurate unless we are including a new game+ in there. Either way, random marketing sound bites aside, the game presents you with an awful lot of questing and looting to enjoy for your money. There is so much to do in fact and you are thrust into the deep end early on and that it is actually one of the few negatives within the package. Sure western RPG’s are meant to be big and players demand bang for their buck but once you have completed your 600th fetch quest which has presented you with enough gold to buy the special magical lettuce you need to complete another quest which if completed grants you a spell you will never use (phew), it fast becomes a bit of an XP grind. It’s arguably just too much with too little variety and no strong narrative to keep your attention. Any quest will see you rack up your XP to a point which allows you to unlock a cool spell, a combo or a new special move but as your interest begins to wain you will more than likely abandon such distractions returning the main storyline or the often more interesting faction quests.
A LOT of standard rpg mechanics are evident including crafting, gem stones for weapons and armour along with the rather dull potion making. Add to this a hell of a lot of loot, buying and selling to legit and dodgy merchants alike. As the games moves from tutorial territory in to deep long questing it becomes clear that it’s a little bit different than the likes of the much loved Skyrim and actually feels more akin to a Torchlight or Diablo affair. Loot plays a huge part in the game in turn so does coin and almost all quests are geared towards obtaining one or both. As quests are thrown at you that looting bug sets in and there is little within the various quest lines to break this feeling. It’s easy to see this as a negative but it really shouldn’t be. Reckoning knows what it is, knows its audience and plays upon it time and time again.
Loot is plentiful and the merchants have plenty to offer a wary traveller. Expect to spend a considerable amount of time checking your inventory and tweaking your character. Loot is dropped continuously throughout the various quests, with varying levels of usefulness. The interface for a game like this is a core mechanic within the game and the simplistic, fuss free menu system used is Reckoning fits nicely. In particular the item comparison is straightforward enough for you to confidently swap gear and more importantly sell items without accidentally selling the best gear, gear which you just spent the last 2 hours obtaining through a particularly lengthy quest line.
Reckoning represents what is hopefully a change in attitude to the western RPG. Fusing game changing combat and providing hours upon hours of MMO style questing Kingdoms of Amalur:Reckoning is a more than compotent introduction for a new IP. Flawed but filling the gap nicely between Skyrim and Mass Effect 3, gamers can be content in having a constant flow of RPG goodness. Hopefully this is just the beginning for the franchise as it is off to a fine start.