This is a busy week, and one of the reasons is the fantasy RPG, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a third person action game set in a fantastical world filled with elves, mages, trolls, and young men and women seeking out their destiny. Because that description could fit a myriad other games Reckoning aims to set itself apart from the crowd by putting an emphasis on combat, and the option to change your fate whenever you want (more on that later).
Reckoning has a few big names behind it, including Ken Rolston, lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III and IV, renowned fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, and Todd McFarlane, the creative mind behind Spawn. How does this game fare in a post-Skyrim world? Find out after the break. The Baby Factor: If Fable drove to a dark street corner one night after work, saw Skyrim shaking its stuff outside, and decided to pick it up so the two of them could have a quick fling in the car, Reckoning would be their offspring, assuming Skyrim poked the condom so it could get its baby daddy to take care of it.
I’d like to start things off by saying this game has really cool doors. It’s like they a group of designers sat in a meeting room and dedicated an entire day to making insanely neat doors. With that said, this is not a game about doors, so let’s move on.
It was a ballsy move releasing a fantasy RPG a few short months after Skyrim, when a majority of genre fans are either still lost in that massive game (it lasts forever, after all), or still have it fresh in their mind. Skyrim set the bar astronomically high back in November, but for the most part Reckoning maintains that high bar, and in some ways even manages to surpass it.
For starters, one of the first things you’ll notice is the game’s gorgeous, Fable-esque art style. Todd McFarlane worked on the art for this game, and it really shows. The first 15-20 minutes aren’t terribly interesting visually, but once you get outside and see the big, beautiful world that’s been painstakingly crafted and filled with tons of little details, it all becomes much easier to appreciate.
The enemies that inhabit Reckoning’s big open world end up being one of the game’s major strengths. There’s a great amount of variety in them, and more importantly, many of them require a different approach to take them out. Some are weak against physical or magic attacks, others require a more stealthy approach, etc. There’s more strategy to the combat, especially when you’re going up against a group of enemies that require different tactics to fight them.
As you’d expect, each class has a unique playstyle and if you realize your chosen class doesn’t suit the way you play, you can change your fate and essentially reset everything about your character. So if you get sick of being a stealthy Ranger, you can switch to a powerful Warrior, or a spell-casting Mage. I only had one serious issue with the combat, because overall it’s one of the best combat systems I’ve seen in an RPG. The only problem is it can be a little slow at times, so if you’re in the middle of an attack and you need to guard against an incoming fireball, you can’t. It can be a little unresponsive at times, but for the most part it’s pretty great.
One of the coolest things about the combat is your ability to Fateshift. Doing so temporarily bestows you with a lot of power so you can quickly finish off a group of enemies. Once you’ve incapped them you can perform a brutal execution that can grant you a serious experience bonus, and it’ll finish off the rest of the incapacitated foes. It looks insanely cool, and makes you feel like a total badass. What more could you possibly want?
When it comes to a fantasy RPG, there’s one area where the game really needs to excel, and that’s the story. For the most part, Reckoning’s story is interesting, but it’s rarely engrossing. I found myself skipping through many of the side quest dialogue, and skimming the text for the rest instead of waiting to hear the NPC read through it. It’s all a little too tame, and sometimes borders on the dull. After finishing dozens of side quests over my 25+ hours with the game, I had found only a few that were actually interesting.
To compliment the main story are the aforementioned side quests and optional Faction missions, which have you completing quests for each of the three main factions. You probably see where this is going, but for the slower readers, there are three classes and three factions, so completing quests for the faction that represents your chosen class can get you some seriously cool gear. It’s worth going through each of the faction quest lines anyway, because they tend to be far more interesting than the other side quests.
As you level up you’ll get to unlock and improve your skills too. You can choose to focus on a single skill tree or you can branch off and mix and match skills from any of the three skill trees. There aren’t too many skills to choose from, but the option to mix skills from different disciplines is a nice touch.
As you invest points into the skill trees you’ll unlock cards that correspond with your chosen disciplines. If you have a lot of points invested in the sorcery tree then you’ll unlock cards that improve your skills in that area. You can only have one card chosen at a time, but they can be switched out for the next tier when you unlock it, or if you decide to reset your stats you can start unlocking cards in another discipline as well. These go with the Twist of Fate cards you’ll receive for completing important quests that grant permanent stat bonuses to your character.
Reckoning has a lot going for it, but for every strength there’s something holding it back. The world you explore is beautiful and full of variety, even if some of the dungeons are recycled — it’s nowhere near the same level as Dragon Age II’s liberal recycling of levels, but it’s noticeable. The art style is gorgeous, but the characters are robotic and awkward; The combat is fantastic, but it can sometimes be unresponsive; The story is fresh and original, but rarely tries to really get your attention or try anything that hasn’t been done before. It’s a game about throwing fate out the window and choosing your destiny, but at the same time, Reckoning is can’t seem to break free from its own destiny: a fantasy RPG that never quite rises out of Skyrim’s shadow.
The Final Word: In the end, Reckoning is a great game, albeit one many of us have experienced several times before. The story is hit or miss, but the combat is fun and the loot is fantastic.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Kingdoms of Amalur, which was provided by the publisher.