Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Preview
I felt like an idiot. I had just walked for forty minutes down into the Portola neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s not a bad walk because it was a sunny cool day, but I was kind of busy. A four-hour gaming session to play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was awaiting me. I walked up to the venue and realized nothing was going on.
I had come to the event a week early.
Ugh. It’s times like this that makes your average gaming journalist feel more stupid than normal. So a week later I trooped down to Portola once more and settled myself down into Kingdoms of Amalur: Rekconing.
The whole history of Reckoning is silly to me. I feel like some dudes got together and decided to make a fantasy RPG, only those dudes are baseball’s Curt Schilling, Todd McFarlane, and R.A. Salvatore. It’s a heavy line-up of names, yet even after E3 and PAX, I couldn’t shake that this title is nothing more than a generic role playing fantasy game.
That’s the problem with fantasy games. Throw in an elf, some sparkly effects, add magic, and boom: you’ve got a fantasy game. It’s too easy to make a potentially promising game into something wholly generic. That said, I’ve been proven wrong before. The whole Elder Scrolls franchise is built on generic fantasy, so if developer 38 Studios and Big Huge Games have something to surprise, this would be the event to do it.
And, four paragraphs in, I’m happy to say that Reckoning is an original, interesting, and damn fun game. Sure, visually it might seem generic, but I found it to be absolutely colorful and bold, with fantastic character animations and modeling. The game looks like a better version of World of Warcraft, if that can make sense or seem appropriate. I think it does, and it helps that the quest system is very MMO inspired.
That’s getting ahead of ourselves. At this point in my adventure in Reckoning, I had just settled down to play at a preordained point in the game. I was told it was sometime about halfway to a third of the way through the game. My character, a warlock with poison and elemental skills (and a skeleton summon to boot), is a special person. The world of Reckoning is attuned to the idea of fate--most everyone knows the power of fate and how it impacts their lives. The player character is special; having died their mortal death, they were reborn as someone who can potentially change fate. For a world where fate is defined, the fact that someone can break fate is an important thing indeed.
Thus, the player is a pretty important person. We’ve found ourselves at the Mel Senshir fortress, where soldiers have been locked in battle for ten years with the Tuatha elves, a race of evil elves who, through the knowledge of fate, knows they will ultimately win this decade-long war. Unfortunately for them, you can change fate narrative to something new.
This is a main story quest, and while the team of representatives from publisher EA and Big Huge Games indicated there were many other side quests I could just run off and join, I decided to move forward with this story. Evoking the Lord of the Rings, I guided my character through the depths of Mel Senshir, knocking down siege towers, fighting enemies, unlocking various chests (with a minigame to keep it interesting), and finding a smithing table. There are a lot of things going on for a story mission.
Moving forward, I was given a slight introduction to some characters, most notably General Tilera, a female elf who seems like she’s trying to redeem herself for some past transgressions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to glean too much from her, as an enemy general attacked us. He was much harder than the standard enemies, and he killed me the first time, sending me back farther than I would have liked--save often. Thankfully, the next time I fought him, I used the “Reckoning” ability, quickly slaughtering him as easily as a normal foe.
Having defeated him, I was tasked with defeating a massive Cyclops residing over the battle. It would shoot eye beams at me, but after running around the keep to get a better viewpoint, I was able to defeat him. It wasn’t without some sacrifices, as named characters died in this battle, but the defeat of this beast resulted in the changing of fate.
It was from here that the world opened up for me. Heading out to a nearby forest, I was tasked with aligning with the House of Sorrows Winter Elves, who themselves are in battle with the Tuatha. There was a lot to do, including running around, finding lost scouts, performing minor boss fights, sneaking into lairs, and rescuing lost elves. The game functions like an MMO with its mission structure, granting players new quests to perform left and right. I had completed some of these before my time ended, and had only scratched the surface of the games narrative.
As far as the plot goes, I think it’s compelling and interesting, more than a generic fantasy setting, and the game looks great. It’s not dark, but there is blood, and the whole thing seems to fall squarely between and aesthetic of Darksiders, WoW, and Dragon Age.
What actually excites me more is the character system. Players are granted three trees to funnel their points into as they level up, as well as a general skill tree that grants abilities like lock picking. The three trees are Finesse, Magic, and Might, with each one granting passive and active abilities. That said, how you spread your skills across all three trees is very important. Character destinies are class types that grant extra bonuses if you reach them, but if you want to be a high level shadowrouge with magic and rouge abilities, you’ll need to funnel a certain amount of points into the Finesse and Magic skill trees. Thankfully, the game is able to convey a potentially complex level system in a fairly clear way, and if you mess up, a respec is a quick, if financially costly, fee away.
All in all, it’s a surprisingly deep system that is flexible and powerful enough to respect how a player might want to play. It looks like something people will really enjoy defining to their play style.
That said, combat is both simple and complex. Each character’s “destiny” class grants them specific weapons, with each of the three trees holding domain over three different weapon types. For example, Finesse classes can use feyblades and daggers, while magic classes can use staffs and chakrams. The thing is, players can wield two weapon types at once, so a player building up their Finesse and Might tree can switch between daggers and hammers, for example, or a player all magic can use both a staff and a set of chakrams. While the weapons don’t transition well into combos, they work well in keeping the variety up, especially once you start playing around with elemental weapons.
Special moves are like many console role-playing games with an action focus. Hold the R trigger, and a menu of four spells/attacks will pop up. They use MP, which I never had an issue of using up, but they have cooldowns to take into account. I’m a little disappointed that players only have access to four attacks at any given time, but they can be switched out. Finally, there are the “Reckoning” abilities. By press both triggers, the player will use up all of their “fate” meter--a purple meter that fills up when doing attacks. When entering Reckoning, the world goes purple and slows down, letting the player quickly kill any foes, including bosses. There is a risk/reward system here, as the more enemies you kill, the more XP you will get, but you only have a certain amount of time before the meter empties, and it takes a substantial amount of time to refill.
After all is said, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is obviously a solid and highly polished RPG. I see a lot of different elements pulled from other games, but in this case it seems to be a good thing. The game has a lot of love being poured into it, and it’s obviously going to be something players will enjoy. Coming out this February, players only have a few months to wait to reckon with Reckoning.