Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I’m about 25 hours into the game and thought I’d give some initial thoughts, for anyone out there interested.
The basics. This is an action-RPG which allows you to create a hero/heroine and then customize them to be any variation between mage/fighter/rogue classes. The story is fairly commonplace, where a dark power in the east rises up to destroy the world and our protagonist is somehow the key to it all, even though they’re completely oblivious.
Plot / Story
The main story. Acclaimed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore created the story here and I was kind of expecting more. It is fairly cliche, though still very enjoyable. There were a few sidequests that I was intrigued by, but the main quests were pretty standard. I do have to say though, that things pick up at about 20 hours in. Now, I’ve been doing a lot, so you could get to this point much quicker if you just blaze through the main quests. But after spending 20 hours, I started thinking about how little I knew about the main conflict. People are always talking “ooh darkness” but I had only even seen a glimpse of the main baddie once. The evil didn’t really permeate the world as much as I had hoped.
The factions. This game boasts six factions that you can join. There’s one for each of the three classes, plus two fae (like badass fairies) and then an arena faction you can join. These are really engaging and fairly unique to each other. Their duration and scope are much different as well. The House of Ballads is a group of fae whose lives revolve around literally reliving old stories of their ancestors. I completed these quests in just a few hours. However, the Warsworn (the faction for warriors) is still going on and has dragged me all across the globe. It’s nice actually. It gives you a reason to explore, even if you don’t want the main quest.
Other side quests. Most of my 20-something hours has been spent doing completely random quests. “I’d like you to kill 20 monsters, can you do that for me?” OF COURSE I CAN! And then I leap into battle. It’s easy to jump into this game for just an hour or two because there will always be random things that you can accomplish. The stories in the side quests can be a little repetitive but when you’re talking hundreds of different quests, it’s obvious that there will be some repeating patterns (bring me x of y or kill x monsters).
RPG / Combat Mechanics
What classifies this as an RPG? A lot of games come out that are penned as roleplaying games. For instance, Rise of the Argonauts (which I actually kind of enjoyed) was an “action RPG” because it allowed you to choose upgrades and some plot points. That’s not really playing a role. You don’t get to be Jason. However, in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, you are essentially creating your character and changing the world around you. There aren’t many choices to be made in terms of plot, but your character will be drastically different than any of your friends. It’s not quite as RPG as I had hoped however. There’s also an option during conversations that means “SELECT THIS TO PROGRESS THE STORY” and so it becomes extremely routine to just select the top option. I appreciated in Dragon Age: Origins that some options only came up to you after navigating the discussion a certain way. Reckoning basically tells you what to select and it’s rare that you’d select a prompt just to hear what they’d say.
You can choose a race, gender, traits, skills, abilities… It can almost be an overwhelming amount of choice. But the game rewards you for trying new things with an innovative “destiny” feature. I’m playing half rogue (with daggers) and half mage. Because of these choices, I’ve unlocked a destiny called Warlock. Usually, you can roll out of danger during combat to avoid attacks. With this Warlock destiny, I now teleport (my mage power) but the air around me is now poisonous smoke (rogue power). So it truly brings together factors from your play style and changes the way combat works. I haven’t tried other combinations but I’d imagine it works in similar ways. You can even choose to use all three classes (with some rewards including knowing how to wield every type of weapon in the game, as opposed to having to choose which ones you can use).
What makes this an action game? To me, this is much more of an action game. The combat is fun and fast and feels very fluid. In most standard RPGs, combat isn’t set up to feel fast. This brings the best of both worlds to the table, as you get to create your character and have fun playing as them. There are equivalents of combos that are unlocked as you progress, so combat is always evolving as you gain new abilities. Combat is being praised across the board from critics and fans alike.
Non-Combat Skills… There is a variety of non-combat skills your character can learn and I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to the Blacksmithing skill. In other RPGs, you’ve been able to create things sure, but you usually sold them. In this game, for most of my 20+ hours, I was using weapons that I had created because they were better than ones I found or could buy. You could customize the pieces so you had a dagger that gave you more life and dealt lightning damage. You can salvage any gear you don’t want to use, so you end up with the plethora of pieces to choose from when creating your brand new gear. You can also name your gear! That is really cool and something that should have been thought of a long time ago. Just wanted to make sure to point out how cool the blacksmithing skill was. That’s all.
Style. The style is unique, as it goes for more colorful and vibrant and exaggerated, as opposed to going for that real gritty look. It’s a nice change of pace however. I, for one, appreciate the colors and the distinctive look. It’s been compared to the Fable series and I wouldn’t disagree (I also wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a bad thing).
Quality. Now, I love the style. But the implementation has been lacking in several aspects. The facial animations are weak and the lipsync to the audio is downright horrible sometimes (though the voice acting isn’t bad). Also, characters often have visible cracks or overlapping textures that seem almost amateur. I can appreciate the style but the way it turns out isn’t always great. The main character that you create is usually spot-on and you can tell they spent a lot of time on that, but all of the non-player characters you run into can range from “amazing” to “Windows 95 quality.”
So what’s good?
I’m 20+ hours in and I’m having a blast, so they’ve done a lot of things right. Combat is fun and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. The leveling system is complex enough to give you a lot of choice but simple to navigate. The world is fairly beautiful and the enemies are varied enough to keep you on your toes. The quest started off a little slow but the main quest and factions have gotten progressively more engaging as you get further in.
What’s not so good?
The visuals can really take you out of the experience, but it usually only occurs in conversations with other characters. The combat visuals have been pretty amazing. The story also takes some time to kick in. The overwhelming amount of sidequests can mean that the player doesn’t really get hooked into the main quest and some players might give up the game before they get to the real meat.
I’m having a blast. That’s the point right? This isn’t the perfect game but for the first game in a possible franchise, this is a great place to start. They’ve undoubtedly learned a lot about what hasn’t worked but they have all the right ingredients for a stellar follow-up. Is it “better than Skyrim?” No. It’s much more shallow of a world. But the combat knocks Skyrim out of the water. And I’m actually excited to play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, whereas Skyrim felt like a chore at this point in the game. So if I were offered these two games, I would choose to play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
My two cents.