Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning GDC 2011 PreviewBy Eric Eckstein - Posted Mar 07, 2011
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Preview
After our first look at Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, it's clear that legendary pitcher Curt Schilling is realizing the dream team he's assembled for his first at-bat in the games space. The crew behind developer 38 Studios is top-notch: Todd McFarlane, the award-winning creator of Spawn as executive art director, best-selling author R.A. Salvatore as its executive creator of worlds, and the expertise from former Bethesda Game Studios creatives led by lead designer, Ken Rolston, the lead on the most recent Elder Scrolls titles, Morrowind and Oblivion. From aesthetics and style to substance and story, each person selected perfectly to suit a specific need on Reckoning.
But mighty development teams have fallen, even with the best people and resources in place, so it's promising that early progress on Reckoning is so far, so good. The world crafted for KoA looks sharp as any modern day video game should, but none of it is accidental design or haphazardly placed. For example, a set of ancient ruins in Reckoning aren't there merely as geographical eye candy, but are part of the lore if someone takes the time to discover and read a set of in-game books, chat with a local NPC or engage in quests within the environment. So too are burrows, villages, and the various caves/dungeons that encompass the land. Everything has a story around it, delivering the best that Salvatore has to offer for the Amalur world.
It's this world that needs to be protected, and what's important to the design team is to create a home worth fighting for. Salvatore has been adamant about that principle, it being one of the most important ways to align the player at home with the hero inside the game. With that, a great level of importance has been put into making Amalur feel real, beautiful and worth saving. The story is still being held back for a later date, but the only story beat we did witness was the opening of the game which has the player awaken, seemingly reborn, amidst a pile of discarded corpses inside the Well of Souls. And no, Indiana Jones was nowhere to be seen.
Reckoning itself is a third person action/adventure RPG, charging players with hack/slash/"magicking" their way through an epic tale. Through button timing and combo triggers, players will wipe out baddies, including channeling epic "fate shift" kills which are finishing moves carried out in true McFarlane over-the-top fashion. While the importance of "fate shifting" was left shrouded in mystery, the developers went into great detail on how Reckoning's action combat will work. Using a single button for each weapon or magical attack, players can engage in very fluid combat, allowing attack chains combined with weapon swapping at will. For example, one moment you can be stabbing with your fast sword and the next swinging a mighty hammer or firing off a lightning-based spell. No need to equip, re-equip in-battle; you'll simply set up your arsenal of war and go into the fight armed to the teeth.
Like in most RPGs, you will choose your race, with familiar racial bonuses (i.e., +5 to lockpicking), what you look like, ally with a particular deity which grants increased health, mana, critical hit damage, etc. but there is no class selection in Reckoning. Instead, 38 Studios lets players choose their skills based on their play style, a recipe that often has negative effects for players who spread their talents far and wide vs. specializing in one branch. That's where its Destiny system comes in, letting jack of all trades have a decent run alongside those who focus in one particular skill set. There's still a fair amount unknown with that system, but 38 seems to believe they have the know-how to take a classless system and have it suit players of all types.
Naturally, each style will play differently with those focusing on melee getting up close and personal, evading monsters with an acrobatic roll, while magic-users can act as a "glass cannon," raining spell-infused death from afar. If that's not your style, be a warrior mage, swinging an imbued magical staff at enemies while teleporting in behind them. We saw a few combat sequences with both class types, and the emphasis is definitely on real-time action. In most RPGs, the game pauses to let players tag enemies for spell attacks, but in Reckoning, the player issues them in real time. For example, in one battle, the player uses their "Mark of Flame" ability to tag monsters in real-time and then detonate them later as "living bombs." Expect lots of different types of attacks from wielding fiery chakrams (think Xena) to calling in mega Meteor area of effect attacks.
What's most interesting is how Reckoning takes the best parts of modern day RPGs (Dragon Age, Diablo and Fable) to craft a familiar, yet deep and exciting game world. Players can leverage "sagecrafting" to slot gems into equipment to bestow bonuses like flaming swords, gather dynamically generated loot, or chain magical and physical attacks seamlessly. In addition, the world isn't leveled, so players are free to roam wherever and will simply be turned back by tougher foes. Non-combat skills such as alchemy and blacksmithing reward gamers that take the time to craft and exploration will allow a deeper understanding of the world's lore and include its own surprises and perils. In one particular example, running off the beaten path led us to a snake-like Naga-esque creature called a Banshee, which would spit up goblin-esque Murgens; a beast we may never have met otherwise.
With its eschewing of old school RPG conventions, Reckoning is blending two worlds, the richness of a PC-based RPG tale coupled with the twitch-based mechanics of console titles. That's no easy feat though, so time will tell whether this accomplished group of game designers and storytellers can make the magic happen. But if current indicators are any hint, Reckoning should be a force to be… err… I'm not going to say it. But you get the picture.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2012.