Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Hands-On Preview - E3 2011By Eric Eckstein - Posted May 26, 2011
In our last Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning preview, we got our first look at 38 Studios' action/RPG, but there were a lot of questions: How interactive was this world? What was the Destiny system? How will quests play out? What is the Fate Shift meter? And most important of all: how does it play? Thankfully, a recent hands-on session with Reckoning shed a lot of light on all of these questions.
If you’re unsure what the game is aiming to be, check out our Reckoning preview for an update, but suffice it to say that the game is a combination of Fable-esque combat and Dragon Age-derived dialog/quests in a Skyrim-inspired open world. Yes, big shoes to fill, but it’s working. My KoA demo began in the city of Rathir, the dark elves capital, and the last bastion of defense against the tuatha. The city has been under siege for 10 years, and as a port city, it is critical to the war effort. In this particular instance, it’s also a quest hub, full of NPCs to retrieve quests from or chances for the player to trade or craft items. It’s also a place to steal crap, allowing players to pickpocket people at will. Similar to Oblivion, there’s an indicator gauging if you’re being watched as well as a percentage roll behind-the-covers to see if you succeed. In this demo, we are nabbed robbing a civilian, and end up confronted by the city guard, who offers us three options: Go to jail, pay a fine, or resist arrest. Being as we’re in the midst of a capital city, it’s probably best to just pay the fine, however if we had chose to go to jail, players incur an XP penalty and have further options beyond waiting out their sentence. One can opt to fight the jailer to break out or pickpocket the key, which would be fitting considering how you landed in the joint in the first place.
It’s our first exposure to the choices you make in Reckoning, but certainly not the last. When speaking to a quest giver, we’re presented with a familiar dialog wheel allowing us to get more color on the quest at hand, to accept or decline the quest, or even engage in specific actions. For example, when offered money upon completion of a quest, I was able to attempt a dialog option to be paid up front, a racial specific skill, and one with only a 20 percent chance of success. If all that bores you, the dialog system is designed to provide the next steps front and center so that casual players or those not invested in the story can move onto their next task easy peasy.
While Reckoning is clearly being designed as an action game, it’s not skimping at all on the RPG elements. Players will encounter forges, where they can salvage weapons they find in the field into parts. These grips, hilts, etc. can be used to create all new weapons; the better the parts, the better the weapon. And whatever you make, you’ll easily be able to determine as Reckoning boasts a "What you have is what you see" philosophy, i.e., you’ll see glowing frost on ice daggers or licks of flames from a fire-based sword.
From the way you unlock fast travel options or stop to gather herbs, the familiarity of creative designer Ken Rolston’s Morrowind and Oblivion becomes that much more obvious, however the game itself plays like an Elder Scrolls title designed to prioritize action over sim. In the Xbox 360 demo I played, the combat mechanics were very simple one button presses: primary weapon on X and secondary on Y. Blocking at the right time is a successful parry that opens up other attack opportunities, and landing enough combos will open a Fate Shift kill boost, which multiplies your XP after mashing a particular button.
To be critical, there were some things I didn’t like with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and a few still unanswered questions. The world itself seems divided into small zones, so instead of adventuring in the wild, it’s more like traveling between levels a la Dragon Age II. A technical limitation, I’m sure, but loading screens are always one of the first things to knock on the immersion level. While it looks good graphically, it doesn’t have the same attention to detail seen in a game like Skyrim, though to be fair Reckoning isn’t slated to come out until Q1 2012, so that can certainly change. And I know it seems blasphemous, but I’m also still wondering if R.A. Salvatore’s story can really draw me into this all-new fantasy world, as whether the game sports a narrative as robust as The Witcher 2 or as lame duck as Dragon Age 2 remains to be seen.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be available on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 in 2012.