Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Hands-On Preview -- A Lot Going on Under the Hood/HelmetBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 24, 2011
There are a lot of details to wade our way through with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Not that that is surprising of a vast action-RPG with Ken Rolston as its executive designer, the man who led development of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Nonetheless, with so much information about KoA: Reckoning now out in the wild, and with so much information clearly under wraps, there’s a lot to try and get our heads around before the game hits next February.
So if it’s all a bit overwhelming, before going any further I recommend first checking out our E3 preview for more on what it is like to navigate the game’s huge world and its many fantasy cities, and for more on how the combat feels. Meanwhile, our hands-off E3 preview focused on how you customize your hero through skill trees and the Destiny system. In this preview, I’ll concentrate on what I saw at Gamescom, namely a high-octane, high-drama quest that developers Big Huge Games and 38 Studios showed off and which shed some more light on the narrative themes of Amalur. I also got a brief hands-on with the mage class, which I’ll talk about in a bit.
The first quest features our hero as an elven-like assassin female whose dark studded armor, jet black hair, and chunky knee-high boots wouldn’t go amiss at a My Chemical Romance concert. The quest takes place in Odessa, the prosperous gnome kingdom. The towering walls of the city shine a glistening bronze on the educated citizens below. The whole place has a Byzantine feel.
Our assassin hero is in Odessa to track down a gnome templar called Octienne. I’m told that she’s had dealings with Octienne in the past, and he’s always come across as a bit dodgy. Of course, after he recently sent a small army of White Palm Assassins to kill her, I suspect we’re past the point of wondering if she’s on his BFF list. So the assassin has come to Odessa to get Octienne to spill the beans and give her the proof she needs to get the other templars to take action against him.
The assassin finds Octienne slouching in a dark corner of the Odessa library, and unsurprisingly he’s not pleased to see her. This brings up the game’s dialog system, and although it features a text wheel like the one in Mass Effect, there doesn’t appear to be any obvious splitting of good or evil branches. At least in this quest, it is just a few truncated dialog options, and the choices all seem to lead to an end which sees the gnome getting a wee bit violent. The choices you make in the world of KoA: Reckoning will sometimes have deeper ramifications, but not with every quest it seems.
Before the fight begins, though, Octienne drops the bomb when he reveals to the assassin that he knows about her past. In Reckoning, each character starts off with the same blank slate, having been resurrected from the dead by an elusive gnome sorcerer called Ventrinio. So our assassin, like any other character, has no knowledge of her past life or the events that led to her death, except for the name of Ventrinio and the fact that no-one has ever been resurrected before her.
So when Octienne threatens to return the assassin’s corpse to Ventrinio before slyly speculating how she met her first death as Ventrinio’s assistant, she is understandably desperate to know more. Octienne, however, isn’t playing ball, and the conversation abruptly ends there. The developers tell us that that while Amalur will, like Oblivion, be about questing as and when you please, the mystery of the hero’s past and how his or her resurrection came about will suffuse over the game from start to finish.
So it’s onto the fight, then, or at least onto the chase as Octienne has legged it, floating into the distance using gnome magic while the assassin runs after him. It quickly becomes clear that it’s all an elaborate trap, though, as some baddies sporting black cowls and sharp looking daggers literally come out of the woodwork as they burst open the crates they are hiding in.
The assassin is a rogue-like destiny, a mixture of quickly chained dagger attacks and ranged archer attacks. Players can change their destiny throughout KoA: Amalur by putting different points into different skill trees; the assassin is a high level 100 percent Finesse destiny, but putting some points into the Might or the Sorcery trees will unlock different destinies with different styles of combat.
During the fight I get to see a few of the assassin’s special attacks, including one that sends a line of 10 or so arrows into the torsos of her unwitting assailants. Each weapon has a special area-of-effect attack which is activated, like in Fable, by holding down the relevant button to charge then release. In the assassin’s case, this produced a raining shower of arrows. It could be aimed pre-release onto specific enemies and had a wide berth which could take out any nearby lingerers.
Each character can also go into Reckoning Mode, which can only be activated once you’ve collected enough Threads of Fate from killing enemies. We got a taste of how Reckoning Mode slows down time and lets you deal badass attacks in our E3 preview, but here I saw that it can also let you pull off some special attacks depending on the context. For example, the quest ended with the assassin finally catching up with Octienne only to then go into Reckoning mode and materialize a huge spiked hammer out of nowhere to thwack him like a baseball through a window. Not a bad way to get the job done. Incidentally, when I ask the on-hand developer about whether or not each Reckoning Mode has a different flavor for each destiny, he tells me that it was something they’d though about implementing but it was a bit too cumbersome to attempt so many different special modes.
To finish off my time with KoA: Reckoning I got some hands-on time with the mage, and it’s once the game is in my hands that I realize the Fable comparisons don’t quite do this action-RPG justice.
The one-button combat is there and area-of-effect attacks are similar, but where Fable made me feel overpowered, Reckoning wants me to be tactical, to put combos together, and to get out of the way of incoming attacks. While charging my frost staff to unleash an ice shower upon my enemies is always fun, I don’t get the time to really use it at first. Instead I’m forced to focus on chaining attacks with the staff and with my second weapon, a pair of circular blades, to make space for myself. There are combinations to be made between the two weapons, although in my brief hands-on I didn’t get much chance to really experiment.
The coolest touch, though, was attacking after successfully dodging – in the mage’s case niftily teleporting – out of the way of attacks. If I timed this right, I was rewarded with a huge attack with my blades which produced a gratifying wheel of orange light, or a similar shower of blue ice when I did it with the staff.
God of War it ain’t, but clearly the combat isn’t as simple as it first appeared. That’s the takeaway with KoA: Reckoning; some may say it looks like any other fantasy RPG, but the more we scratch beneath the surface, the more we see a game with seemingly comprehensive depth.