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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 and Albion.
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… anything, really.
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.
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 long. Easily.
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.
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, climactic experiences.
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 stealth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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