Publisher: 38 Studios, Electronic Arts
Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
Release Date: 2/7/2012
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Time Played: 25 Hours
Concept and Execution:
When you combine the minds of Ken Rolston (The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), Todd McFarlane (Spawn), and acclaimed author R.A. Salvatore, you get an immersive fantasy world. Featuring rich environments, diverse cultures, and a seemingly endless amount of quests, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the first project developed jointly between 38 Studios and Big Huge Games and is an impressive debut release.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an open-world RPG set in the high fantasy world of Amalur. Players create their own character and have the opportunity to select one of four races. The Almain are a religious humanoid race that are prone to war and skilled in crafting and persuasion, and are somewhat primitive in nature. The Varani are slightly more civilized than the Almain; while similar in appearance, they are mostly comprised of pirates, mercenaries and merchants; their skills focus on mercantile and picking locks. Liosalfar are equivalent to the fantasy genre’s High Elves; they are an arrogant race who believe it is their job to judge and regulate the activities of the other races in Amalur. Dokkalfar are Kingdoms of Amalur‘s equivalent of Dark Elves, renowned as scholars of magic and masters of subtlety. As with most open-world RPGs, you are given the ability to customize your character as you see fit. The character creation system has no major flaws, yet lacks the in-depth customization available in most other games in the genre. For those who desire aesthetically-pleasing characters, tweaking the details necessary to attain a specific look can be a tiring process. In an RPG of such a massive scale that requires me to constantly see myself as my avatar for the duration of the game, limitations on character creation are absolutely detrimental.
The story begins with the character – supposedly dead – seen disposed of down a chute and onto a pile of corpses. After a short time, the character awakens and makes his or her way out of the corpses and into a massive cavern undergoing excavation and investigation by a group of gnomes. My journey through the caverns introduced me to the features in Kingdoms of Amalur. I was fond of the developers’ method of introducing the game’s core elements. Rather than putting me through one long, boring tutorial, the story progressed in a fast-paced setting that introduced me to various abilities one-by-one. For instance, when faced with monsters standing on a chasm opposite me, my temporary gnome companion instructed me to grab a nearby bow. Upon picking up the bow, a pop-up box appeared that gave me a short statement on how to use my new weapon. The tutorial ended with me arriving in a laboratory and speaking with a gnomish researcher who claimed to have brought my character back from the dead. As my character began to question his research, the laboratory was infiltrated by the violent Tuatha, a group of religious fanatics set on conquering the kingdoms throughout Amalur as a method for pleasing their god. The gnome quickly ushered me from the laboratory and instructed me to meet with an acquaintance of his.
Upon leaving the laboratory, you are thrust into the beautiful overworld of Amalur. From there, you are free to wander and explore the world as you see fit. I personally spent a short time picking locks and killing herds of antelope before continuing my quest. When I finally reached my contact, I found him to be under attack by various monsters. After warding the creatures off, the man introduced himself as a Fateweaver. Similar to a fortune teller, the Fateweaver is able to look at the threads of fate that surround you and discern your future. As he attempts to read your fate, he seems perplexed and informs you that you have no fate, and thus, are not bound by it as other living creatures are, leaving you to forge your own destiny. I found this to be a horribly forced way to introduce the destiny class system (more on that in the Mechanics section). By identifying the character as the only individual in the world not bound by fate, therefore, being the only person able to change the world, I felt that one of the main components of the story was dull due to this generic “chosen one” cliché.
Much like other open-world RPGs, the game is filled with countless side quests that allow your character to assist villagers, join factions, or explore dungeons. The main quest does prove interesting, but never gained my full attention. I had far too much fun doing menial tasks like turning a human back into a wolf or finding an old apothecary’s missing potion. This is not to say the main quest did not offer a compelling story, but it did not command the amount of attention needed to force me to keep going. I find that in open-world RPGs, where the main narrative is not always the focal point, the variety and ingenuity that goes into the hundreds of side quests is equally important. The presence of so many options assists in the immersion factor that open-world RPGs strive for. I may not be as interested in stopping a destructive race as I am finding hidden treasure, joining a faction, or investigating an urban legend.
Concept and Execution Grade: 20/25
Entertaining and rewarding gameplay is where Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning shines. Players are able to put points into one of three skill trees every time they level up. One tree focuses on finesse, used primarily by rogues and is focused on skills with daggers, bows, and stealth. The might tree is dedicated to a series of warrior skills, designed to improve their abilities with two-handed swords, hammers, and provides massive bonuses to defense. The mage’s sorcery tree offers bonuses to magic power and magic regeneration as well as enhancing magical weapons such as sceptres, staves, and chakrams.
The class system in Kingdoms of Amalur is similar to the tiered class system of some pen-and-paper RPGs. After encountering the Fateweaver, you are allowed to select one of three core classes: the rogue, mage, or fighter. As you progress in the game, you will be able to unlock higher tiers of classes based on your skill point distribution. For instance, if you put all of your skill points in the finesse tree, you will progress down a category of classes based on the rogue archetype; you will start as a rogue, become a scout, hunter, ranger, assassin, and eventually a nightblade. What makes Amalur unique are the rewards earned from distribution across various trees. If you decide that you wish to specialize in rogue and mage abilities, you will gain access to a completely different set of classes focused on combining the finesse of a rogue and the sorcery of a mage. I chose this route and found the combination of the rogue’s speed and the mage’s magical damage to be a devastating force. You are able to place points throughout all three trees and unlock the jack-of-all-trades classes, but as you may suspect, your proficiency in any one tree will not be as high as if you were to focus exclusively on it.
The fast-paced combat system is very satisfying and forces the player to adapt seamlessly to their situations by utilizing ranged, melee, and magical attacks. Less time is spent in the menus and more time fighting as players are able to equip a primary and secondary weapon, as well as set magic attacks in advance. After chaining attacks and killing enough enemies, you also gain the ability to enter reckoning mode, where time slows around you and your damage output is increased. During this time, your enemies will not die, but enter an incapacitated state when you nearly deplete their health. Once your reckoning bar empties, you enter a brief cutscene that requires you to press a specific button. By mashing this button fast enough, you have the ability to increase the experience gained from the enemies surrounding you by 100%. Once the cinematic completes, all of the incapacitated enemies will topple over dead and your increased experience is granted. While the attacks in reckoning mode are always exciting to watch, in the standard difficulty mode, it sometimes makes encounters far easier than they should be.
Weapon selection in Amalur is extremely important. Each weapon has its own unique way of handling opponents and can be enhanced by placing skill points in traits that improve the weapon’s abilities. Weapons such as daggers are designed for rapid damage to a single target, chakrams are magic-imbued discs that are able to rapidly attack enemies at range and faeblades are curved blades capable of clearing out masses of enemies; you also have access to staves, sceptres, longswords and greatswords. I really enjoyed how Amalur uses this specialized system. Games that simply give me increased stats for weapons never make me feel as though I am becoming more and more skilled with the weapon, just stronger at doing the same basic moves. The ability to place skill points in improving a weapon and then seeing the combat animations and effects of these new moves is rewarding and warrants praise.
Mechanics Grade: 25/25
Kingdoms of Amalur‘s concept art was far more interesting than the in-game environments. While most areas are beautifully designed, the game engine simply does not allow for an immersive visual experience. The graphics are very similar to Fable 2, and don’t stack up against current games in the genre such as Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas. While the game does have a progressing clock, the environments never changed to reflect the time of day. Any game that features an evolving world should be expected to have a day/night cycle in place, and the absence of it made the world sometimes seem static and boring. NPCs function in a similar manner, with most of them never leaving their place in the world; if they did, it was only to travel a short distance. At times, this make the game feel like a single-player MMORPG experience, which is about as dull as it sounds.
While the environment’s graphics are lackluster, the combat animations are some of the best I have seen in a game. Players have the ability to customize their weapons with various attributes and the game reflects the changes visually. For instance, by enchanting chakrams with fire, you are able to toss burning discs during the fight and laugh maniacally at your enemies as they burn away. The visuals for each new ability you learn are always unique and appealing, which excited me every time I unlocked a new move for a weapon. With such a rewarding combat experience, it is needless to say that not only was I fine with confrontation, but actively sought it out.
The musical score for Kingdoms of Amalur features likeable music, but nothing brilliant or entertaining enough to convince me to buy the soundtrack. The title screen offers a wonderful composition that will get any player in the mood to play, but after that point, the game seems to put compositions in random places. For instance, I heard a song playing as I entered a forest temple that sounded as though it was entirely inspired by the Harry Potter score; I was waiting for Hogwarts to appear around the corner. The battle music also does not reflect the adrenaline rush that the visuals portray. Voice acting in the game is fair, but the dialogue is excellent. I rarely ran into characters muttering repeat phrases or saying things that seemed out-of-place or awkward.
Atmosphere Grade: 20/25
I have to admit, I frequently found myself wanting to do one more quest in Kingdoms of Amalur. The game intelligently broke up the quests into very manageable segments, so I never felt as though I was about to embark on an unending journey. This was beneficial in not only keeping me interested in playing (and not becoming frustrated with being stuck in a dungeon for hours upon hours), but it allowed me to familiarize myself with the game’s many unique characters. The stories given to each of the quests were always well thought out, and I never felt that I was doing a simple errand, nor was I ever tasked with a simple clean-up operation that involved killing a variable amount of enemies.
For the completionist, Kingdoms of Amalur features a ton of artifacts known as lorestones scattered throughout the world. By collecting a certain amount of lorestones per area, you gain a permanent stat bonus to your character based on the stones you found. While not all RPG fanatics are players with the collector mindset, anyone who is looking to improve their character will certainly find themselves scrambling throughout the world in search of these rare items.
Among the class system, appealing combat, and endless quests, Kingdoms of Amalur is certainly an addicting game for any RPG fan. Additionally, players of various action games such as God of War or Dynasty Warriors will appreciate the engaging fights and enjoy the challenge they pose. While certainly not a masterpiece, Kingdoms of Amalur is an excellent debut title for 38 Games. I am very excited to not only see their future content, but what other developers do with some of the excellent features 38 Games has introduced to the industry in Kingdoms of Amalur.
Entertainment Value Grade: 23.5/25
Overall Rating 88.5% (B+)