Review by ExtremePhobia
While sporting minor flaws, Amalur is a beautiful world to explore
Being such a large, high quality game and new IP from a new studio (38 Studios/Big Huge Games), Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is something special in a game industry bogged down with nothing new to offer. There are lots of questions on everybody's mind. Just how unique is the world of Amalur? Is it fun and exciting? And for those of us who looked forward to KoA as not just a new game but as a beacon of hope, do we finally have the type of game that we want to encourage by spending money on? It's a very easy yes
IF you can leave your expectations at the door.
This game is somewhere between Fable, God of War, and the Elder Scrolls. Most of its gameplay mechanics have their basis elsewhere but their execution is near perfect. However, where this game excels is in its exploration. You will find that you want to continue playing to see the new sights and find out more about Amalur. It's a fun game with hundreds of hours of things to do.
The game is beautiful. It benefits from an interesting mix of Cell Shading and normal polygonal graphics. If you played the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword then you might be familiar with how artists can use cell shading to create a particular art style. In the case of Skyward Sword, it made the entire game look like an impressionist painting that could have come from a great mural.
In the case of Reckoning, the art style is rather unique. Rather than try to create a style that's already been done, the art team has created a dark fantasy feel. Imagine this as something between Warhammer online and World of Warcraft. What is created is a world hell bent on beauty. The tall trees all around you let in beams of light or house hidden treasures under their giant roots. The forests are filled with deep greens and dark browns. When you get to the plains, you are greeted with rolling hills with idyllic little villages. When weapons come out, the world becomes covered in bright red blood and the ground becomes charred by the fire of spells. Every aspect of the world is carefully designed to be asthetically diverse and pleasing. And while the game tries to lure you into going in the right direction, it seems more intent on giving you reason to pause on whatever quest you are on.
And that's before you realize the Tolkien level of detail. While you might be too busy to consciously notice all the art going on around, when the dust settles, it's not strange to notice the intricate designs on your giant enemies armor. On one occasion, I had a sword equipped when I walked into an Inn. Once I was inside, I had a close-up of my back and noticed that there was a multi-line inscription on my sword and this was just on a green text weapon (the most common non-junk items). There are rarer items still, right up to unique weapons and sets of armor with stories of their previous owner.
I feel like all this must have had a heavy hand from R.A. Salvatore because there are some spots where there is a much lower quality of presentation. The Main Quest is very interesting but most of that interest comes from trying to learn more about the world you are in than being invested in the actual story and characters. Most of the dialog is delivered well but the actual substance of the dialog can be underwhelming at times. The character development is limited simply to your contact with them bringing some kind of change in many instances. In one instance, you are told that one of the main characters in the storyline is already becoming a better person because of your presence and actions. The problem is that the character didn't seem like a particularly bad person to begin with. When the entire story has only six main characters, including you as the voiceless main character, this lack of character development is a little unfortunate.
Combat is easily first here because it is such a departure from normal RPG gameplay. The combat in Reckoning is action based and shows a lot of the qualities of an action game. What is particularly interesting is that it is a very simplified system in some ways while still be complex in others. You have an attack button for your primary weapon and for your secondary weapon, a dodge button and a run button. When you hold down your power button, it allows you to access four abilities mapped to the controller's face buttons. Hitting your primary weapon attack button will attack with that button. Most combat revolves around timing, positioning, and choices. Do you want to try and get close to take out the big target with a sword and then take out the little ones from range with a bow? Do you want to try and get one more spell off while that troll readies to charge you? And if you dodge too early, will the troll have time to adjust to the side a little to connect with you? (The answer is a painful yes)
You have some options on the timing of button presses to great special effects but in the long run, most superfluous variations of attacks don't exist. You don't have 10 different attacks that have different animations but essentially achieve the same end. Instead of having hundreds of combos with only ten different effects, you have 10 different combos that all do different things. That's the simplified version.
Where it becomes complex is when you start getting into the different weapons. You can't do everything with a staff that you can with a sword. Each character class has access to different weapons that each change the way you play for a total of 9 different weapon classes but you can only ever have two equipped at a time. For instance, you could play a mage with a Staff and a scepter. Staves are good for close range combat and deal significant magical damage in medium to close range while scepters use up your mana to create projectile attacks at long range. That's great, so you've got most ranges covered and can do a lot of damage. Or you could do scepters and Chakrams which are great for crowd control. This would protect from all sides and particularly from the front but you're in trouble if the enemy gets in close. Or perhaps you'd rather use a staff for close combat and a Bow for ranged combat so you don't use up your mana.
The combinations are endless and the best part as that you are never locked in. Say you do go with the crowd controlling Chakrams and the scepter but an enemy gets in close? There's nothing stopping you from pulling out a basic sword (some advanced weapons have requirements you might not meet) and wailing on the enemy. You'll probably do well, or perhaps you diversified a little more and you're actually pretty good with a sword too. Everything is balanced and everything is significant. You always have more than one way of dealing with a situation even if others are easier. Don't like that you've put your points into sneaking skills but now you are bored and just want to fight? Visit a local Fateweaver and, for a price, you can get every single point back in anything and you can redistribute them however you want. You can go from a pure melee to a pure mage and back if you want (no promises that you'll have the equipment for it!).
This brings me to my two main downsides with combat. The first is that you only have two weapons. Granted there are only so many buttons but I have a radial menu that I can access that, even on hard, I never use since potions are already hotkeyed to the D-Pad. Why won't it let me put weapons on the radial menu, even if it only let me change my secondary weapon or something? I feel like this is hugely unfortunate mainly because you otherwise have so much freedom to do as you want and the pace of combat is so much fun that it's sad to have to go back three deep into your inventory to change your weapon.
Kingdoms of Amalur is a fantastically beautiful game. It borrows heavily from multiple different sources while trying to freshen some things up a little and it is no worse for it. I honestly think the game deserves a higher score than I'm giving it but I give it a lower score now because it does have its flaws and for the people who focus on those types of things, you probably won't enjoy the game. However, for most people, those flaws should be insignificant and not hinder the enjoyment of the game.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (US, 02/07/12)
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