Within months of each other, two powerhouse roleplaying games were released. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series likely picked up Skyrim immediately. I know I did. The second game that I picked up on the opening day was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The only two games I purchased in the last year. Well, having completed both games I thought now would be a good time to impart some wisdom to those that maybe haven’t played either, or have only played one. Both games offer a daunting amount of stuff to do, but which one is more worth your time?
To give you some context… I’ve completed 50+ hours in both games for the Playstation 3. I’m at about 75-80% of trophies/accomplishments. In KoA:R, I’ve finished every faction questline, while in Skyrim I haven’t done the thieves or Brotherhood (to try and keep my heroic and self-moderated morality in check).
Now… I’m going to take several factors and put the two games side by side to see how they compare. I’m not going to give a “Play x not y“ decision, but rather show you the pros and cons of both.
Both games allow you a lot of options in terms of aesthetics. However, Skyrim has the definite advantage in terms of gameplay and actual functional differences. With a whole host of races that you can choose, it’s not only visual but there are concrete ways that make them different. Maybe you want to breathe underwater, see in the dark, have distinct spells at your disposal… All possible. Even within races, the ability to change appearance is staggering. In KoA:R, you’re offered four races that really don’t play any differently. The only differences are minor stat boosts that won’t even matter after a few levels.
Both games have a system in place where you don’t have to choose a “class” (warrior, rogue, mage) at the beginning. We’ll cover that next.
It’s been awhile since a game hasn’t forced you into choosing what class you’d like to play as. I can understand why, as it’s probably a much simpler game to design if you’re pigeon-holed into a class from the beginning.
In Skyrim’s system, you level up in skills as you use them. If you want to be a mage, you just do spells. If you want to use a sword, just using it will level up your weapon skills. The tricky thing is that after a certain point, you can’t really change. As the enemies have leveled up, you can’t expect to fight them off with your unleveled fireball spell. Also, there were some serious loopholes that allowed you to max out a skill early in the game. I applaud the idea, and in general, it worked out really well. It was intuitive for non-RPG players, I think.
In contrast, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is much more of a gamer’s game. It does require some thought when leveling up, but it doesn’t force you to choose. Rather, it lets you choose skills and abilities from all three trees. So if I were a warrior but I just wanted to have an amazing ice spell, I could do that. Where this class system gets interesting is something called Destinies. As you put points in these classes, new destinies are unlocked. If I were playing pure warrior, the destinies might include bonuses in armor and damage. The coolest thing is that mixing classes unlocks unique destinies. I played mage/rogue and the destinies changed my normal “roll” action (to evade) and replaced it with a teleport that left poisonous smoke, which is unique to this combination. If you play all 3 classes, you get skills to use any weapon in the game. It’s a cool feature that allows you to mix and match. You can also reallocate these points to try out new skills/destinies whenever you want (for gold).
In Skyrim, you follow a very traditional story. You’re an unimportant person. Then suddenly, you’re the most important person in the world. There’s an evil force you must stop. Your character has zero history, so that you (the player) can fill in the gaps with whatever your imagination can come up with. It’s fairly cliche.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning definitely shares some traits. There is an evil force in the world and you must stop it. Instead of starting you off as a clean slate, there is a history that your character slowly learns. See, you were alive and then you died. And when the game starts, you have just been brought back to life. Throughout the game, you find out who you used to be. It reminds me a bit of Planescape: Torment, which did a similar twist.
The Supporting World
Skyrim has had five games to build up their world. It includes some cool races that are fairly unique but it hasn’t done much to really innovate the genre. Its world has remained fairly typical fantasy though. Elves are elves. Trolls are trolls. Dragons are dragons. And even dwarves, who are behind the scenes, are still portrayed the same as usual. It’s an incredible world to live in though. It seems grounded in reality, even though it’s high fantasy. You can live and just… be. Each town has a plethora of shops and every non-player character has a unique story and things to say.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a much fresher take on the genre. The world itself isn’t as readily accessible since it’s a little more foreign, but I definitely appreciate the creativity. Most creatures are new creations or ones found rarely in fantasy. Yeah, there are wolves and trolls, but there are also two-headed giants named Ettins and huge giants with scimitars with a very Arabian Nights flair to them. Even common elves are revamped to become “The Fae,” which includes several houses, each one distinctly different. The House of Ballads is a group of elves that reenact old fae stories constantly, for instance.
The main villain in KoA:R is also a little more interesting, though it takes too long for this villain to even become an issue. The side quests are too addictive and you kind of forget about the main threat, as there’s zero sense of urgency. Once you find and battle the head honcho, it’s incredibly cool. In general, the bosses are much more impressive than Skyrim’s. Dragons are overabundant in Skyrim and they’re actually too easy. The final battle is fairly bland and the ending to the story is underwhelming. In KoA:R, the final battle is cinematic and mixes your usual battle style with some unique battle mechanics special to that enemy. The ending cinematic also ties things up nicely as opposed to Skyrim’s. Both games allow you to continue playing, but KoA:R lets you know that it’s okay to be done playing, if you want to be done.
In the end, I definitely prefer Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It’s fresh, it’s new, and it’s more interesting. When I think about that franchise’s fifth game, I imagine greatness. Skyrim has had the advantage but I worry that their story has become cliche (when you think about Oblivion, the story shares an eerie amount of similarities to Skyrim).
Skyrim has very traditional factions, such as the warrior/thieves/mage guild and then the Dark Brotherhood. You also choose a side in an ongoing civil war, which kind of counts like a faction as well. Like I said earlier, I didn’t play the thieves guild or the Brotherhood. My character wasn’t equipped to be a thief and I was trying to stay to the moral high ground so I didn’t do the Dark Brotherhood quests.
My favorite faction questline was the Companions (the warrior guild). I don’t think it’s a spoiler at this point, but this quest actually helps you to become a werewolf. That’s a cool spin and it was probably the most creative of the guilds. If we’re counting the civil war line, I enjoyed that one a lot as well. The ending of that questline felt more like an ending than the actual mainquest finale. It’s a shame that people may not finish the civil war questline but only do the mainquest because they’re really missing the best ending.
In Kingdoms of Amalur, we have the three standard guilds, plus three more than focus on different “houses” within the fae. One is the House of Ballads, where you reenact different folk stories in fae culture. It was super interesting and gave a good introductory look into the fae. The House of Sorrows quest is much darker (the name tells you that much) and focuses on a fae who’s gone rogue basically and is waging war on his brothers and sisters. The House of Valor was a downloadable addition that came with my new game, but it doesn’t really affect any story facets. It’s basically an “arena” storyline where you rise to prominence as an arena fighter. It was fun and challenging but not integral to the story.
I actually really enjoyed the thieve’s guild (the Travelers) as it involved a surprising amount of suspense and mystery. All of the fae guilds were super interesting as well, just because they were unknown territory.
Skyrim has the advantage of having a huge arsenal of abilities. The fact that even just the umbrella of magic-using abilities branches into whole new categories… shows you that there are a thousand different skills to use. Even just the umbrella of Conjuration has like five different things you can conjure, three types of weapons you can summon, and all sorts of other goodies. There’s a lot you can do.
But it all feels the same. When you summon an ice atronoch, it functions similarly to the storm atronoch. Shooting lightning, fire, ice… Combat feels stale. Even without a comparison, I wasn’t impressed.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning plays like an action game. It’s fast, fluid, and depends on your ability to use combos. The amount of moves you can do is a thousand times less though. You really only have enough moves to assign to your four controller buttons. I didn’t have a problem with having too many abilities I wanted to use. Even though there’s less to use, I didn’t get tired of it. I think it’s refreshing that you can whip around and change direction in combat and use combos to hit multiple enemies. In Skyrim, you often just face one enemy. That’s rarely the case with KoA:R.
The combat graphics are also really intense in KoA:R, making you feel like an incredible badass. In Skyrim, I felt like a small time hero. Even as I defeated Alduin, I was like “I’m not that cool.” Only the occasional dragon shout (mostly Unrelenting Force) made me feel powerful. In KoA:R though, I regularly felt awesome. The use of “finisher” quick-time events makes you zoom out and see your hero/heroine in action and it really cements the idea that your character can really take on the world.
Hands down, Kingdoms of Amalur has the better combat system but could definitely benefit from a more abundant amount of choices when it comes to moves and abilities.
This category is totally up to your preference. Skyrim has spawned entire albums of pictures taken from the in-game engine. It’s a gorgeous game because it looks like real life. You can watch the stars shift across the sky.
But there’s a part of me that wants the fantasy world to actually be a fantasy. Kingdoms of Amalur looks nothing like real life. The characters are out of proportion. The colors are vibrant. The geography doesn’t always make sense (a desert being just a stone’s throw away from the swampy marshlands) but it didn’t matter to me. I appreciated the different locales and the colors used. Each place was distinct and still interesting. Skyrim was essentially one place. It was always kind of green and kind of snowing (sometimes more of one than the other).
Skyrim is the more visually impressive game but I liked the world of Amalur as well, because it was something I wasn’t used to seeing. It reminds a lot of people of World of Warcraft or Fable and I wouldn’t disagree.
In Skyrim, you can walk anywhere. You can climb to every mountain you can see. That’s amazing.
In Kingdoms of Amalur, you are confined by walls. There are a few areas that are huge and open, but to get to other cities, it will inevitably force you down a hallway to get there.
Some people complain about Amalur being so confining, but I thought it was strangely liberating. I never once missed that I’m trying to climb a mountain by jumping and it’s not working out feeling. I didn’t miss it. The open world was usually more hindering that helpful. I know that I need to get to this place but is there a walkway somewhere? Maybe I’ll slip down the mountain and die again just so I can start over. It was frustrating for me.
Skyrim did have mounts which is really cool but luckily since the world was so easy to navigate in KoA:R, I never really missed that factor.
Skyrim has a boatload of loot. You can load your backpack with food, trash, weapons, hats, anything you could imagine. Most things weren’t worth picking up. And I never really got into crafting because you had to carry around all these supplies (which weighed a lot) and I never really got a grip on what you needed to make different things.
In Kingdoms of Amalur, your crafting pieces don’t count towards your equipment limit. That is a genius idea. You can also break down anything you find and use the pieces to make new things. For most of the game, I used custom weapons because they were more powerful and suited my character better than the weapons I found. This is the first game I’ve really felt like blacksmithing was a useful skill. You can also name your equipment that you create. That’s super cool, even though it’s such a simple addition.
I also never ran into “junk” in the same way in KoA:R. There was junk like… weapons I would never use. But I wasn’t ever faced with carrying around someone’s trash or burned books or anything. It also meant you didn’t have to look through every bookshelf in every house you walked into. You knew exactly where the good stuff was.
This may sound biased towards Kingdoms of Amalur but it’s only because I just finished the game and I ended up enjoying it more than Skyrim. But that’s just me. Skyrim is an amazing and beautiful game. It’s more like the real world. The fact that you can follow someone as they go about their lives is astounding. The fact that you can walk anywhere you can see is amazing.
But sometimes we want more fantasy than reality. In my case, I want escapism. I don’t want to be bound by the rules of reality so I enjoyed Kingdoms of Amalur. And you can love both. No one is saying you can’t. I’ll likely play through Skyrim again next, to explore being a thief and doing some of the darker side quests and making some different choices. When I want to escape though, I don’t doubt that I’ll pop in Kingdoms of Amalur.
So… I hope you try both. And maybe you’ll love them both… I did.