The true testament of a good role-playing game comes in its ability to immerse players in a created world. That could be said as fact regarding basically every video game genre, but the listed one is arguably the saying’s best example. By allowing the gaming community to create their own likenesses or assume the role of destined heroes, the lengthy quests give ample time to bond and infuse personal character into in-game events. If developers fail to captivate their paying audience in this way, then a game’s success is usually limited. Thankfully, the teams at 38 Studios and Big Huge Games have succeeded with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a game that sinks its interesting hook into you at its quest’s onset and never lets go until your final digital objective is met.
In Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, players will find themselves immersed into a tale of fate and destiny. Waking up in a damp, dark and pungent cavern, their created character’s conscious state is full of mystery. Amnesia seems to be the culprit, being a sensible answer for why he or she cannot remember their past. However, it is quickly learned that you were the only resulting success of a gnomish experiment, which used a life giving well to create persons based on their former essence. All of this happened after you were slain, meaning that your most recent body and life state is technically life after death. Even though the discovered notes and a quick chat with a studious researcher answer a few questions, there are still quite a few left inside of a world which lays in the midst of a decade long war. Thus begins a lengthy and action-packed quest to not only find out what happened to you, but to also aid a land in chaos.
While other western role-playing games have allowed us to fuse our own fantastical dreams within our utilized heroes, Reckoning takes it a step further. This is where the aforementioned elements of fate and destiny come into play. In a world bestowed with non-playable characters known as fatewavers, the future can be seen. Though with your unusual affliction having erased your previously determined destiny, a blank slate has been created. Over the course of their campaign play through, players can use this to their advantage.
Depending on individual play styles, characters can become attuned to three unique destinies. Each of the available choices is standard RPG fare, featuring the option to become a warrior, a stealthy assassin or a magic-wielder. Mixing and matching is most definitely allowed, helping to create uniquely skilled heroes. All players’ skills and moves will be different as a result, providing a different experience for each person.
Although the above descriptors make mention of the RPG term quite often, this is definitely not your average genre fare. What becomes obvious after watching in-game footage is that its fast-paced combat system is more like something you would find in an action/adventure game. A myriad of different weapons are available for each destined class, including gigantic swords, elemental sceptres, accurate bows and assassinating daggers. Those are flanked by some rather unconventional tools like hammers, thrown elemental chakrams and traps. Experimenting to find your play style’s two best weapons is quite a bit of fun, especially since the designed combat system is so involved. It uses quick attack and defend mechanics, as well as important evasion moves, to give us something that we’ve never seen before. What’s great is the developers’ idea has come to fruition in a way that is both fun and interesting.
Using the all-powerful warrior destiny, I was able to power my way through this campaign, using vicious swords complemented by durable armor and a powerful shield. However that doesn’t mean you will do the same. Thanks to an unusual yet welcomed combat system and the well-crafted destiny system, finding an individual identity and play style is a heck of a good time. What’s great is it combines to work on three levels, allowing backstabbing stealth attacks to work well during quite a few infiltration quests. Using magic is also fast, fluid and straight-forward. All three build up fate energy which can then be channeled into the creation of a slow-motion and beneficial realm, where players’ damage is multiplied and deadly fate shift finishers can be used to kill several enemies at once.
Regardless of which ‘class’ you end up using, keep in mind that all utilized items and weapons must be repaired. Thankfully, it’s usually quite affordable to do so, and broken weapons can be fixed, or salvaged to create new ones. A big part of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning involves foraging and creating, which loot fans will love. Different types of flowers can be picked in order to develop helpful potions, while elemental shards can be combined to create assisting gems for use in weapons or armor. Those who like to forage for themselves can choose to do so, by taking the time to hunt for these items. Then again, hunting may be an overly strong word to use considering that most are very easy to find in plentiful assortments. While potions and gems follow recipes for best results, player named weaponry and armor can also be created at blacksmith benches. In my experience, making a powerful sword early on was helpful, but discovered weapons overpowered anything I could create later on.
Despite its structural changes, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning still employs a standard quest system which is not unlike what we’ve seen in the past. It includes four different types of objective-based adventures. First off, there are tasks which ask the player to pick-up certain items throughout the dangerous world, whether it be lost books or something else. Next are side quests, which encompass quite a few different types, but have a heavy focus on fetch quests (which unfortunately becomes a bit dull after a while). After that, the list shows faction missions and main campaign quests.
Your main objectives have been mentioned previously, of course, but it’s important to keep in mind that the other three types of objectives happen to form the largest part of the experience. The main story portion of this title has its moments and is quite interesting, but there aren’t an incredible amount of related missions. Where the game creates its length is in all of the surrounding things to do, which help make you ready for the more important missions.
Each role-playing title has its fantastical races, complete with individual lore. That statement also applies here, with relation to the aforementioned factions list, which includes the House of Sorrows, The Warsworn and three others. All five of them have their own quest lines, with an average length of between one to two hours each. You start off as an interested pledge of said house, tasked with completing a minor objective or trial for them. Once that is completed, another mission will follow and so on. With the player’s help, each faction can either return to its former glory or become cleansed of a blight. Having a concrete final task with lots at stake really makes your work feel like it was worthwhile, with a resounding effect on specific game world inhabitants. In fact, these quests encompass some of the best that this experience has to offer. They’re more than just a way to get a nice silver trophy or a certain amount of achievement points.
The game world is split up into four major areas, some of which are not accessible until closer to the game’s conclusion. As a result, a lot of your in-game time will be spent in the first area, which happens to be the largest and most developed. Its plains house a plethora of side quests, alongside faction and main quests. While it’s great that the world is so large, I couldn’t help but feel that some of its locations were under-used. Despite that notion, there are still hours to be spent inside of each different location, whether it’s the grassy plains, devastated jungle, sandy desert or blue ore cliffs. However, a large majority of the game does take place in the first mentioned area, which is a result of the game’s more built up design. There are more towns, halls, caves and cities.
Where the teams helmed by former Major League Baseball great Curt Schilling and best-selling author R.A. Salvatore have succeeded, is in creating a game which is lengthy, action-packed, interesting and immersive. Not to mention how long it potentially can be, considering how many individual side quests litter the map. After getting into the experience, its content gripped me for between thirty-seven and thirty-eight hours, which is the amount of time it took to complete the entire campaign, tons of side missions and all of the aforementioned faction quests.
When the credits rolled, my quest log showed close to 120 quests on the completed list, with about 30 secondary ones left over. Considering that those take anywhere from 5-30 minutes to complete (some have multiple goals), there’s still quite a bit of time left to go. Since I quite enjoyed Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, I will surely go back to it, in order to complete a lot of them. Along the way, more will surely become visible on the map, through shown exclamation marks. Needless to say, there’s a lot to to be found on this disc.
Although a lot of things were done very well, this release is not without its unfortunate faults. The most noticeable one relates to its camera, which suffers from the same issue that mars a lot of third-person action games: an inability to perfectly display the action at all times. Although it is user-controlled, there were times where my vantage point would become blocked by large enemies or environmental items. Sometimes, moving the right joystick wouldn’t help, which was especially frustrating when a low viewing angle was used. Why, you ask? While battling enemies in the open, the odd bit of sloped ground would seem to cause chaos for the camera. It would try to show me the battle from a slanted angle; something that would have been fine if the slant hadn’t made the camera go underneath the landscape a bit. That scenario happens to be the worst this problem became, but it was a hassle to cope with on quite a few occasions.
This next issue is something that some people may disagree with. Earlier on, I mentioned how there are a ton of side quests, but many of them focus on fetch quests. Well, that in itself is a bit of an issue, but there’s more to it. What became dull was the game’s overuse of caves and similar environments.
Since a large part of the game takes place in the world’s first major area, this design led to the exploration of cave after cave, all of which happened to use the same backdrops and design elements. Sure, they looked pretty nice, but treading through similar cavernous routes over and over again becomes stale after a while. This is something which persisted throughout the campaign, as a large majority of the game’s quests asked me to go into caves to either free someone or seek something specific.
What became much more noticeable as I progressed past the halfway mark were relatively minor technical issues. It started off with the odd moment of framerate slowdown during a heated encounter. However, that became more prevalent near the end of the game, where the world becomes a bit more dynamic with glowing blue crystals everywhere. Couple that with lots of magic wielding Tuatha (the large army you’re opposing in the war), and you have what seemed to make things a bit more rocky. There were a couple of times where the game froze for a moment during an attack. In addition, the odd visual glitch could be noticed throughout. Although these problems were annoying, they were not game breakers or terrible problems. Though, I certainly would have had more fun with the final part of the experience if I hadn’t encountered the slow down problem.
Anyone familiar with the work of famous artist Todd McFarlane, will enter this epic journey with high visual expectations. The great thing is his character design is noteworthy and impressive, with some very heinous and detailed monsters to slay, alongside some badass looking weapons/armor pieces. My favourite was the brownie, a creepy little beast, although discovered wood creatures also rank high on that list. Complementing those designs is a richly designed world with quite a bit of detail to offer. You’ll find that this adventure happens to be a lot more colourful than most role-playing games, which was certainly an appreciated sight. However, there were some texture issues, as well as the aforementioned visual glitches that would occasionally show up. I also wish that the user interface was less cluttered, as a gigantic experience bar takes up the bottom of the screen after each kill.
Flipping the presentation coin to its audio side, it’s tough to really find anything to complain about. Amalur‘s sound design is solid, as is the voice work, although some performances were better than others. My attacks always felt like they had extra oomph to them, and all battles were accompanied by an epic orchestral score. Add all of that onto sound effects that make the digital world feel alive, and you have a quality sounding experience. The sound team did well on all fronts.
Being a fan of most role-playing sub-genres, I was looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this game. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. Although Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has some issues, it’s still a very good game, and one which I enjoyed thoroughly. After a lengthy development process, the end result of Curt Schilling‘s dream project is a high quality adventure that role-playing fans are sure to enjoy. It borrows some elements from other major genre releases, but features quite a few of its own unique designs, creating something different. If you’ve had your eye on this one, and happen to be looking for a game that will take up a lot of your free time, then this is a highly recommended purchase.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which was supplied to us for review purposes.