Check back at 1:00pm PT for a gameplay livestream of Kingdoms of Amalur with the reviewers for GamesRadar and PlayStation the Official Magazine.
When kings will be born, how they’ll die, who they’ll right
and who they’ll wrong, whether or not the chef’s pastries will be burnt or come
out sufficiently flaky – it’s all predetermined in the world of Amalur, a land
where fate is cold, hard fact. Everyone’s fate is written in stone, and they’re
destined to follow it to a T. Except you. As the “Fateless One” (a name only
rivaled by “The Dragonborn” of Skyrim when it comes to coolness), you have the
power to reshape Amalur and fight an evil that threatens to destroy the world.
Shocking, right? An RPG where the fate of the world rests in
your hands. Luckily, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is more than an RPG cliché,
and proves that there’s plenty of room in the action RPG genre outside of Tamriel
It's the fate of the world
Above: You start off the game extremely dead
Yes. The world is at stake. There’s a war going on between
the mortals of Amalur and the immortal Fae, which, as you can expect, isn’t
going well for the mortals.
After being killed in battle you’re resurrected by a
mysterious contraption called the Well of Souls, which is destroyed almost
immediately after your revival. Your memory is erased. The gnome that
resurrected you has disappeared. You have no idea what is going on. Even
stranger, Fateweavers – gifted individuals who can read the threads of fate and
accurately predict your future – can’t see a thing. Turns out that since
your pre-destined book of destined fate or whatever was closed upon your death, you’re free
from its binds, and you’re the first person in Amalur who is truly free to do…
Which is great, because the Fae are on track to wreck up
everything. Even though they’re usually peaceful and benevolent, they’ve recently
been riled up by Gadflow, an evil maniac with motives that expand well beyond
wiping out all mortal life. And there’s more bad news: Gadflow isn’t fated to
be slain by any mortals. Lucky for the world, your character doesn’t really
care all that much about fate. It’s an awesome premise, and one that plays into
the story very well.
Around the world in 40 hours
We finished the main campaign in just over 40 hours of play.
That, alone, is an impressively long game, but we’re going to be completely
honest: we skipped a lot of side quests, and didn't complete all of the different Faction's quests. Those 40-plus hours
were spent doing a smattering of missions in each town on our way through the
core storyline, and we passed dozens and dozens of yellow exclamation points (denoting
new quests) in each area. And there were a lot of areas.
Every town we visited was filled with NPCs eager to toss
some coin our way to clear out a cave, take down some trolls, or to find their
lost item. After a while, we had to just ignore them so that we’d actually have
a chance to finish the game in time for review. If we did them all – or even
attempted to do them all – we could see the game lasting two to three times as
There was another reason we started avoiding side quests
after completing the first few, though: they weren’t always interesting. Some
were narrative-driven adventures that expanded the lore of Amalur, teaching us
more about the world while we hunted down treasure or fought beasts. Others
were by-the-books MMORPG quests, which got old fairly fast. Kill 10 rats for
no reason? Go interact with this rock pile? Nah. We’re good. Thankfully, the
game’s strong combat and rewarding loot system make it so even the most mundane
quests were still enjoyable, even if they just never felt all that necessary.
Above: Everyone here has a job for you
As we became more involved in the different Faction quests,
our overall mission became somewhat muddled. We’d go off the map for a few hours,
killing rats and finding rings for random townspeople, and by the time we’d get
back on track, we’d already forgotten about Badfwhatever and the war that’s
supposedly going on. The world simply doesn’t look or feel as war-torn as it
should, and many of the side-missions and Faction quests don’t really involve
the world being enveloped in an all-out war.
Predestined to beat people up
Thankfully, even the most monotonous quests were made
enjoyable thanks to Reckoning’s combat, which is leaps and bounds beyond what
the genre normally presents. Action RPGs often drop the ball when it actually
comes to the “action” part. It’s understandable – trying to wrap a deep RPG
system into a fast-paced game is hard, and it’s much easier to simply create a
turn-based game that feels action oriented than to actually make it a true
action game. Reckoning doesn’t succumb to this, instead presenting combat that’s
more akin to God of War’s than a traditional RPG. We’d dart around the
battlefield, rolling from place to place and using multiple weapons and magical
abilities in every battle, and when we faced bosses, they were massive,
Above: Learn about the combat and see how fast and frantic it can be
Each weapon feels different, and every class gets access to
a number of magical abilities, making combat continuously interesting. As a
Warrior we’d throw a magical harpoon towards an enemy to pull them in close,
bash them back away with a hammer, and then switch to our bow to finish off the
enemy from afar. Larger enemies we’d need to block and roll around to fight,
while we’d use a different strategy entirely for large group battles. It always
felt fun, and it always felt fresh.
Beyond being action-packed, it’s also fairly tactical. Blocking
isn’t instantaneous, and can’t be used mid-attack. This means running into
every battle and spamming attacks spells doom. It’s still not as realistic as complex
as a game like Dark Souls, which treats combat as realistic as possible, but
it’s definitely more careful than a game like God of War.
Above: Throwing chakrams is so fun and so deadly
That changes when we initiate Reckoning mode, which is tied
to a Fate meter that builds up as we fight. In this mode we do significantly
enhanced damage and the enemies move slower, letting us make quick work of even
the largest groups of foes. We can finish it off with a final move on one of
the enemies, which executes a cinematic kill that lets us pound on the controller’s
buttons to get extra experience. The different executions are beautifully
brutal, and reward us for picking which battles we want to use them in to get
the most experience.
And that was when we focused specifically on the Warrior branch
of the class tree. There are three different class trees to work with: Warrior,
Finesse, and Mage, each with a full line-up worth of skills. But you’re not
forced into any one of these – in fact, the game rewards players that dabble in
two or all of the skill trees.
Above: Here we see a ninja kill the guy from The Witcher
Different Destiny cards are unlocked once different point
prerequisites are met, with certain abilities coming specifically to
multiclassed characters. Our Mage/Warrior hybrid gained enhanced damage, a
magical shield, and the ability to teleport around the battlefield after
putting enough points into each skill tree. It’s a great incentive to try new things, and we
found that we favored multiclass builds over playing the game too straight – by
mixing things up, our longsword-wielding Battle Mage could teleport behind
enemies, charge up a chakram throw, and then unleash it to decimate enemies
with spinning blades. We could also tie in Finesse to add in some stealth
damage, giving our triple-classed character amazing burst damage out of
What’s more, the game does a good job of differentiating between
“Skills” and “Abilities.” Crafting, persuasion, stealth, and detecting hidden
loot caches are all Abilities, drawing from a different pool than the other Skills,
and we’re awarded points to spend in both at each level. This might seem minor,
but it means we’re able to fully enjoy all of the elements of the game without
completely locking ourselves into them. We never had to choose if we wanted to
learn a cool new fireball spell or gain the ability to pick locks better, and
we’re happy the game never made us make that choice. And if we ever decided we
didn’t like the skills we chose, we could just get them reset by a Fateweaver, who
would return us to a clean slate again.
Above: Discover how the crafting and skill systems work together
The only issue we ended up having with the game’s skills was
that crafting, in general, wasn’t as rewarding as we would have liked. Loot is
important in Reckoning, and finding a new Set helmet or rare sword is something to
get excited about. Creating awesome items simply takes away from the
experience. We found that we’d constantly be disappointed with whatever awesome
new sword the boss dropped, because it was either worse than the one we had,
which is annoying, or because it was better than the one we'd spent so much time
crafting. It’s lose-lose, and we were happy to be able to go to a Fateweaver to
drop crafting entirely in favor of pumping up persuasion and other abilities.
Welcome to Amalur
But none of this matters if you don’t care about the actual
world of Amalur. Renowned fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, the game’s writer,
said it himself: "When you ask someone to save the world, you want to give
them a world worth saving." And a world worth saving it is. Salvatore
penned thousands of years of history for the world, inventing races, histories,
and interesting events to populate the game’s setting. He did a good job of it,
too, creating a world we cared about once we figured out what the hell was
going on. It’s not a wholly unique world, and it definitely borrows from other
popular fantasy literature, but it’s unique enough to feel fresh.
Above: That wolf monster is about to get sliced and diced
Look unique, on the other hand, it does not. Amalur has a
nice, bright, vivid style that’s starkly juxtaposed by the bloody combat. That
said, it just… looks like World of Warcraft. There’s seriously no other way to
describe it. The characters all look like Blizzard characters dropped into a
new world, and the graphics simply aren’t as strong as other games in the
genre. It’s not that big of an issue, but it’s definitely a shame that it
doesn’t perform as well visually as it does in every other aspect.
It’s also a little too linear due to the fact that the
characters are all stuck to the ground. Though Amalur is a very big place, it’s
nowhere near as 3D as a game like Skyrim, and our player was forever glued to
the ground without the ability to jump over even the smallest obstacles. This
definitely shrinks the world down a good deal, and makes it feel significantly
smaller than it actually is.
Above: Quick! Someone tell Blizzard that its monsters are escaping
Still, we’re happy that the game has created a world we
actually cared about full of unique characters and interesting monsters. Though
we didn’t fall in love with how the world looked or how we interacted with it,
we bought into the world itself – which is undeniably more important.
Is it better than...
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim? No. Not really. It does a lot of
things better, like combat and skills, but Skyrim’s world is simply more
enjoyable to explore. There also aren’t that many dragons in Amalur, so that
immediately knocks it down a few pegs.
Fable III? Yes. Fable III was a marked step back for the
series, dropping many of the elements we loved in the second game in favor of…
being a king or whatever. It seems to have lost its heart from II to III,
whereas Amalur’s is beating out of its chest. Amalur is also more focused, lacking many of the superfluous elements (again, being a king) in favor of keeping things tight.
Dragon Age II? Yes. Though we were adequately impressed with the first game, the sequel never managed to feel
sufficiently epic, and that’s a problem Reckoning never has. Reckoning is simply a more satisfying experience, with a better combat system that doesn't feel as confused or conflicted as Dragon Age II's, which landed in an awkward spot between action RPG
and traditional RPG.
For those who skipped
straight to the end
Amalur does a lot of things better than some of the best out
there. The combat is stronger than Skyrim’s by a long shot, and the world feels
more alive than games like Fable. It tells a good story well, and lays the
foundation for a series we hope to see more of in the future, fate be damned.