Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning: The Kotaku Review

The lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III and IV, a New York Times bestselling fantasy author, and one of comics' most notable creators walk into a development studio to create an action role-playing game based on an entirely original fantasy world. Stop me if you've heard this one.

Former major league baseball pitcher Curt Schilling assembled the dream team of RPG designer Ken Rolston, author R.A. Salvatore, and Spawn's Todd McFarlane to breathe life into his new fantasy world. Now that dream team is finally up at bat, swinging for the far fences with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

The game begins with the main character awakening after a long period of not being alive. Their mind wiped clean by the trauma of resurrection they venture out into the world as a clean slate, discovering this strange new world and bringing the player along for the ride. World-threatening events occur. Levels are gained. Equipment is earned. The forces of evil are in for a bumpy ride.

With a triple play of a pedigree powering the endeavour, it could be one of the finest action role-playing games ever created, or it could be a complete mess. Let's find out together.

Loved

Massively Singleplayer: 38 Studios originally began developing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game akin to World of Warcraft or EverQuest. When the company acquired Big Huge Games in 2009 the project was transformed into a single-player action RPG, but the foundation of a much larger game world remains intact. The game's five sprawling regions are packed with random enemy encounters, quest-bestowing non-player characters, bustling cities, tiny hamlets, and untold treasures just waiting for an adventurer to stumble across them. Reportedly it took developers armed with intimate knowledge of the game's mechanics and secrets more than 200 hours to complete every quest in the game during testing. It took me nearly 25 hours to complete the main quest alone. Judging by the number of quest available exclamation points I passed up during my play trough, I'd say that's a safe estimate.

As a reviewer tasked with completing the core story in a set amount of time, the massive scope of Reckoning nearly had me in tears, the action role-playing fanatic inside me hopping up and down excitedly all the while.

WHY: It's an extremely well-crafted action role-playing experience with all the bells and whistles fans of the genre crave and countless hours of quality hack-and-slash entertainment in a fully realised new fantasy world.

KINGDOMS OF AMALUR: RECKONING

Developer: 38 Studios / Big Huge Games Platforms: PC / PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 (Version played) Released: February 7 (US), February 10 (Europe) Type of game: Action role-playing on an epic scale.

What I played: Cleared the main quest line in 25 hours on normal difficulty, spent an additional 5-10 hours playing through side quests, fooling about with crafting, and mixing up my character build.

My Two Favourite Things

  • The freedom to create the character I want to play and kill things my way
  • More content than any single-player game deserves.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • Who are these people, and why should I care?
  • My equipment breaking.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "It's a massively multiplayer online game without all those damn people!" -Mike Fahey
  • "I will never have enough time to experience all Reckoning has to offer!" -Mike Fahey
  • "Dammit, I broke my pants." -Mike Fahey

Spinning Yarns: Powered by the pen of fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning weaves together countless stories into a rich and compelling history. The core adventure introduces us to a world in the thrall of fate, its denizens content to be swept up in the currents of destiny, powerless to change its raging course. The player serves as a catalyst for change, mysteriously reborn and free from fate's cruel bonds. Their awakening is the pebble in a stagnant pond, sending ripples of change throughout the land. It's a cut above standard fantasy adventure fare.

While the central story sets the foundation for a fine action role-playing game, it's the tales told in the game's countless side quests that define the setting, adding colour and detail to what otherwise might have been another generic fantasy world. I hesitate to refer to them as optional; these tiny adventures are as essential to enjoying the experience as the main event. If you don't experience the political intrigue, romantic entanglements, sinister magics, and the odd bit of whimsy lurking in the periphery of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning then you aren't getting the most out of the game.

Build Your Own Adventurer: In keeping with the theme of forging your own fate, Reckoning doesn't constrain the player to one single character class. You aren't a mage, rogue, or warrior unless that's what you want to be. Every level the players is given points to put into powers spread across three disciplines: Might, Finesse and Sorcery. Where points are placed determine which Destinies (classes) are available. Put all of your points into the Finesse tree and you'll unlock progressively more powerful rogue destinies, each conferring new bonuses to your character. Split points evenly and you'll unlock hybrid Destinies. It's a system that gives the player complete freedom to develop their Amalur representative as they see fit, a heady amount of freedom that's thematically sound to boot.

The Dance of the Blades: Astoundingly deep and intuitive, Reckoning's combat system allows magic, melee, and ranged attacks to be blended together in an seemingly effortless dance of death. While I'm not normally one to get behind melee combat based on time button presses (just let me mash them!), Reckoning's system is so finely honed that to tiny plastic circle on the controller felt more like an extension of my sword (or faeblade) arm, rather than an obstacle to overcome on the road to total enemy destruction. With special abilities and magic only a shoulder button away, I was a force to be reckoned with.

Dark Arts and Crafts: Forging and naming your own magical weapons and armour, brewing your own potions, and creating powerful enchantments to enhance your equipment; three more reasons why I'll be playing Reckoning long after this review has grown cold. A simple crafting system goes a long, long way.

Hated

A Distinct Lack of Personality: While Reckoning does an amazing job of investing me in its setting, the characters populating the world failed to leave any sort of lasting impression. Despite having completely immersed myself in the game for the better part of a week, I couldn't name one character in the game without having to look it up first. I'm not certain if it was the unattractive character models, the merely passable voice acting, or the characters simply being overshadowed by the grandeur of the world 38 Studios has created; they simply didn't click with me.

What's sad is I can pinpoint the areas where I was supposed to have some sort of emotional reaction. During a tragic / triumphant moment in the middle act of the main storyline I am certain the game wanted me to stand up and cheer, but I couldn't have cared less, and I'm the sort of guy that cries over children's cartoons. I am the movable emotional object, and Reckoning failed to get the job done.

A Pattern Emerges: Get quest. Travel to dungeon. Fight boss. Get next quest. While it might not be as readily evident to those playing the game at a more leisurely pace, Reckoning settles into a rhythm after the first dozen or so hours and sticks to it throughout the rest of the game. You'll fight your way to the dungeon entrance to open up the fast travel point, warp back to a city to repair your equipment and stock up on potions, and warp back to get the job done, over and over again. What begins as a grand adventure soon lapses into routine, which lessens the overall impact of the story, especially when it's pointed out to you. Sorry about that.

Flawed Designs: Cameras dynamically frame dramatic scenes from behind patches of grass. Lore stones littered about the world tell stories using voiceovers that continue to play during story dialog and monster encounters. Transitions between the game's few cinematic cut scenes and actual gameplay are jarring and often accompanied by strange graphical glitches. These annoying little bugs and questionable design decisions don't break the game, but they certainly detract from the experience.

Equipment Degradation: If you don't repair your equipment on a regular basis it will break, and you will probably die unless you've got a backup weapon in your inventory. I've never been a big fan of this sort of mechanic, and it seems particularly arbitrary in Reckoning, serving only to break up the action and remove massive amounts of cash from your character's wallet.

As the screenshots and videos of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning slowly began to trickle out, a fear grew in the pit of my stomach. A fear that these great talents were assembled to create to most generic action role-playing game of all time. As it stands they came dangerously close. Had the setting been slightly less fleshed-out, the characters slightly more wooden, you might be reading a very different review.

But the dream team came through in the end. The world is vast and varied, conveying a true sense of history through its design and the countless little tales lurking in every shadowed corner. The mechanics are sound and satisfying, marrying the tried and true with the risky and new to create something familiar yet different enough that it doesn't feel stale.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning doesn't come across as the beginning of a new franchise. Thanks to the combined talents of its development team — superstars and regular joes alike — it feels like the latest and greatest entry in a storied series. I can't wait to see what happens next.


Comments

    Looks like Champions of Norath in a Fable skin.

    Honestly... first thing I thought when playing the demo was "I liked it more back when it was called Fable on Xbox". I mean, it even looks the same, all washed out and blurry. Maybe just because I was playing the demo for free crap in ME3 (and having to wait an hour before I could quit it), but I wasn't super impressed...

    Compared to skyrim?

      I think that might be the real issues, While skyrim released in November of last year, I am still activly playing this game every chance I get.

      I tried the KoA:R demo and it just did'nt seem to add up... the smithing was fun enough, but I prefered the Skyrim method, combat was fine, but unreawarding. if skyrim was still 12 month away this game would, IMHO sell significantly better, however haivng played a better take on the action RPG i'm not too inclined to drop my cash on this

    This looks very action heavy, was thinking about getting it on PC but might grab it on Xbox now? Opinions?

      It'll look better, depending on your hardware and fiddling prowess, but I expect you'll end up playing it with a controlpad anyway so it'll play the same. I'd go for Xbox, myself.

    Ctr + F. "Darksiders". No results found.

    Disappointed.

      Ctrl-F. "Skyrim". No results found.

      Ctrl-F. "UI". 11 Results. Match Case. 0 Results. Is the UI in the full version somehow not retarded then? Because crafting in the demo made me want to punch myself. Diablo 2 had a crafting system that flowed better.

        In my experience, crafting is always just so much wiki-powered busywork which I'd rather wasn't in the game so I didn't feel like I needed to be bothered with it.

    Loved

    That you can stick all the big names on it you like and hype it til kingdom come but it still gets dumped on from a mighty height by Skyrim (PENNED BY SOME GUY) and The Witcher 2 (PENNED BY SOME FOREIGN GUY) in almost every sense.

    Hated

    The fact this review is driven by the vast amount of advertising $$$ and reads straight from the PR blurb given out over and over and over for the last few months. There's not an original pixel in this and the story is so dumbed down it's painful. Certainly not a bad game but clawing for 'above average'.

      I'm still trying to work out why Skyrim is so beloved (and this coming from someone who put 100 hours of near-frustration into Skyrim). Combat shallower than Lindsay Lohan, inventory that made "getting back to town/s and selling your stuff" the longest part of the game, the most boring story and characters ever, lousy enemy AI... oh, but it was a GIGANTIC open world, filled with fetch and kill quests, and the graphics were nice, and it did have an addictive quality. So that's OK then.

      It's like at leastt 75% of the complaints I've seen attached to Amalur and to Dragon Age 2 and to Deus Ex would belong equally well to Skyrim, and yet people go on about how perfect Skyrim is. Drives me batty. I'm not going to buy Elder Scrolls VI because now I no better than to believe Bethesda will make a better game- they've got their addictive formula down and they'll just keep riding it.

        We all know you're going to buy the next Elder Scrolls. You know it too.

        Your argument falls down simply here - Amalur's story and characters are considerably more boring than Skyrim's. Now I'm not going to argue that Skyrim's are that good (they're not on par with say the Witcher) but Amalur is pretty dire. It's so totally like you know the doods sat down and said 'yo doods whatchu reckon tha Xbox massive gonna RPG all up in this?'.

        It's like the Poochie of RPG narrative but I'm not surprised since as an eleven year old I used to wince at Salvatore's 'writing' and he's not exactly improved in recent decades.

        "Put a Drizzt on it!"

        Thinking back to Skyrim and it suffered very much from the same problems that were mentioned in this review. Boring repetitive quest that are all the same (Skyrim slightly wins in that they were dynamically generated repetitive quests that are all the same :P ), the world was more interesting than the people in it and didn't really care about what was happening, horrible ui that fights the player at every turn, and bugs out the wazoo.

        You think Skyrim had any originality? You think Skyrims story wasn't horribly cliched and full of exceptionally bad writing and so dumbed down it would be a stretch to even call it two dimensional? Were we playing the same game? The same problems you accuse KoA:R of having Skyrim had in spades. This game at least has more indepth combat and crafting than Skyrim. The more "realistic" visuals of Skyrim being about the only thing more appealing about it than KoA:R.

          I'm guessing you missed the part where I pointed out that Skyrim's story and characters are no great shakes. However, in its favour Skyrim did not have months and months of 'ZOMG THE STORY WILL BE LIKE A TIMES BESTSELLER COS SALAVTORRETS WROTE IT!!' and from what I recall Skyrim didn't see a horde of *reviewers* falling over themselves to gurgle about how AWESUM Amalur's story is. My point is that Amalur is not a bad game at all. But all these reviews treating it like the second coming, especially when following months of heavy ad saturation, smack of $$$ reviewing - or even worse, hype-based reviewing.

    Eh requires origin think ill skip it. BF3 is bad enough on origin

      Or you could always use a little thing called Steam.

    My review: ".......Yeah, it's alright."

    I kind of liked the demo- visually it reminded me of WoW. I gave the gane the benefit of the doubt and bought a copy as I expect it will be a good time sink once I've had my fill of Skyrim.

    I guess my question that is totally unanswered by this review is
    If you hadn't played Witcher 2, Skyrim or KoA:R which would you pick ? and why ?
    If I had unlimited hours to play games I'm sure I'd give it a shot but well most of us don't.

    I no longer have an Xbox and I will likely pick up this game to fill the void that the Fable games left behind... But nothing will ever replace Skyrim, not even the next Elder Scrolls game. That'll get its own slot in my heart just like every Elder Scrolls game before it. (fanboy status confirmed)

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