Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Hands-On Impressions -- The Difference is in the DetailsBy Heidi Kemps - Posted Dec 09, 2011
If you are reading this, there is a fairly good chance that you are currently ensconced in a big, open-world RPG about dragons or somesuch. You’re probably enjoying it, too! Heck, it’s so huge and expansive, it’s all you’ll be playing for a couple months! But man, are you ever going to be sad when it’s over.
But as it so turns out, you’re in luck. EA is releasing Big Huge Games’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning this February, just in time to catch RPG fans who’ve finally polished off The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. The first in what EA hopes will become a long-running series, Reckoning combines colorful, vibrant environments and art design, open-ended RPG gameplay, an in-depth character development system, and action-packed combat to create a new RPG experience.
Before we sat down for our hands-on preview session, the developers of Reckoning emphasized that everything in the game was, in their words, “hand-crafted,” meaning that every single little piece of map design, environmental detail, and NPC placement was done by an actual person with careful consideration. Many similar RPGs tend to generate dungeons and environments procedurally via computers, but the years of development invested in Reckoning has been spent entirely by human beings trying to craft the most engaging play experience possible. What you see as a result is a game with a unique vibrancy. It’s packed full of interesting little touches, from the fauna scampering about the land to the harvestable plants squirreled away in odd little corners.
What about the story and gameplay, though? As you can see from our world guide, Kingdoms of Amalur is chock-full of enough rich mythology for any fantasy fiend to dig ravenously into. For years, the varied races of Amalur – the Ljosalfar, the Varani, the Dokkalfar, and the Almain – have lived alongside the magical Fae. But when the leaders of the Winter Fae become lustful for power and fervently devoted to a destructive religious prophecy, the peace is shattered. The other races fight valiantly, but the Fae have one significant advantage: immortality. As you can imagine, this makes the conflict a teensy bit one-sided.
- NEWS: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning World Guide -- An Intro to Quests, Places, Races, People, Creatures, and Factions
When you begin the game, your crafted character wakes up atop a pile of corpses, mysteriously breathed back to life after dying previously. As it turns out, you are the only successful product of the Well of Souls, a device designed to fight the Fae by essentially granting the opposing races similar immortality. The Fae forces destroy the Well, but you escape to the world above to meet a Fateweaver – a mortal gifted with the ability to see a person’s fate as far as their death.
But he’s never seen anything like you before. As it turns out, you are completely fateless. That’s not a bad thing at all. It means you have the ability to craft and write your own history through the game’s complex skill trees. You can initially pick to be a Fighter, a Mage, or a Rogue, but as you build your skills and pick your proficiencies, you can eventually transform into a combination class with multiple skills. Your specs affect which weapons and skills you are most proficient with, and also influence which armors and adornments you can equip. Don’t like your current build? At any time, you can visit a Fateweaver and pay a fee to completely respec your character.
The developers are emphasizing the combat in Reckoning as a point that sets it apart from other RPGs on the market. Indeed, Reckoning’s combat feels more akin to an action game than a traditional RPG. You can have two different weapons equipped at once, choosing amongst the Sword, Greatsword, Hammer, Daggers, Fae Daggers, Staves, Sceptres, Bows, and Chakrams. These weapons are mapped to two different buttons, and as you invest points in various weapon abilities, you will gain bonus attack boosts and new attack combos for each weapon. Weapons are useful in a variety of ways: some, like the daggers, can be used for stealth instant-kills, staves and bows work well at a distance, and the chakrams and hammers can work well against enemy groups.
Players have a shield to block strikes as well as a quick dodge-roll maneuver to get out of sticky situations. Varied magical abilities, both offensive and defensive, can be accessed with the tap of a button, as can a stock of restorative and buff-granting items. The coolest and flashiest skill, however, is the titular “Reckoning” mode, which you can enter once you have filled up a special gauge in combat. Enemies move more slowly and your strikes are more damaging in Reckoning mode, and should you bring a foe to death’s door, you can perform a special kill that “severs the threads of fate” and rewards you with additional experience points.
Combat is fast-paced and constantly keeps you as much on your toes as a strict action game would, emphasizing positioning and timing just as much as strategy. The only problem I felt in combat was the lack of an ability to lock onto targets with the close-range melee weapons. As such, you automatically try to attack the closest enemy (or the enemy you’re moving towards), which might not really be what you want to do.
I was able to play both at the beginning and at a point near the middle of the game. Even just an hour into Reckoning, there were plentiful quests that promised to take me far off the beaten path to interact with NPCs and explore out-of-the-way locales. Dialogue choices were also common, with available responses ranging from exceptionally polite and noble to being a snarky jerk. I didn’t see any immediate consequences for being virtuous or being an outright douchebag, but since my play time was limited, it’s hard for me to speculate on the long-term effects of these responses.
The pre-created character I assumed the role of later in the game was going to assist in breaking a siege on an ancient elven fortress called Mel Senshir, which had been in an uneasy position against Tuatha Fae forces for a decade. This area showed off the advanced combat capabilities a more developed character could wield in combat, which included some pretty crazy magical spells of varied effects. It also introduced varied objectives throughout; at a few points we had to push down enemy ladders to stop the otherwise endless flow of Tuatha troops over the Mel Senshir fort walls.
The sequence ended with an epic battle against a high-ranking enemy named Lord Balor. And when we say “high ranking,” we mean “this thing towers over the armies and has an incredibly painful laser eye beam that turns everything in its path extra crispy.” Suffice to say, the boss fight was suitably epic, with careful pattern observation and striking at opportune times necessary to finally take down the cyclopean monstrosity.
Reckoning has a lot of interesting ideas and passionate development going for it, and it’s clearly working to establish a fantasy world that can be reaped as a franchise for years down the line. It has its work cut out for it, however: there’s no shortage of excellent, open-ended, Western fantasy RPGs on the market. Big Huge Games obviously hopes that the combat and the skill system will set its story apart from the pack, and from what I’ve played so far, there’s certainly promise. We’ll be able to see Amalur’s kingdoms in their full, completed glory this February.