Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: Big Huge Games, 38 Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts

In the wake of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, many will compare it to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and for good reason: the game’s executive designer is Ken Rolsten, the man behind the previous two Elder Scrolls titles. Because of this, many of their underlying systems are identical. Amalur’s focus on delivering fast-paced combat scenarios helps it standout, with the added benefit of making Skyrim’s combat look downright silly in comparison. However, by concentrating so heavily on this one aspect, it forgets why people play open-world role-playing games in the first place – to escape into a captivating world, where exploration, narrative, and lore are seamlessly interwoven.

Amalur begins with your hero’s mysterious resurrection with a world-changing distinction – an absence of fate. In a world reliant on Fateweavers, or accurate fortunetellers, your actions have the potential to greatly affect the world around you. Having said that, do not expect an experience similar to Fable or Mass Effect where your in-game decisions do have an impact on the world; this attribute has everything to do with Amalur’s combat and little to do with the narrative.

There are three classes within Amalur – Might, Sorcery, and Finesse. Each class sports complex upgrading trees that enhance your hero’s battle prowess (Skyrim’s menus made leveling up a celestial delight, whereas Amalur’s unintuitive interface creates a less gratifying congratulations). To ease the barrier for entry while simultaneously encouraging experimentation, investing in skills is not permanent. Fateweavers can undo all of your allotted points for a nominal fee. Amalur makes the most out of this conceit by incorporating a huge variety of weapons – longswords, greatswords, hammers, daggers, faeblades, chakrams (lethal Frisbees), archery, scepters, staffs, and staves. Because you can equip two at a time, it may take a while for you to find a combination that suits your play style. The game encourages any and all paths you wish to explore, even if that means dabbling in all three classes. Compared to most other RPG’s, this acceptance to player freedom makes their already rigid leveling systems more restrictive.

For the first few hours, battles are surprisingly involved, especially for an RPG, to the point where it directly competes with action games like God of War. Dodging, blocking, and parrying all must be incorporated into your repertoire of maneuvers if you want to survive. There is even a meter that, when full, allows you to enter Reckoning mode, which lets you decimate everything near you for a short period of time. But when most of the game is comprised of these skirmishes, mastery of the mechanics is inevitable. Perceived challenge comes in the form of more on-screen foes, but this results in a lot of blocking rather than increased difficulty. The flexible systems that govern the combat do provide tremendous variety, but when that variety is self-imposed to counteract the tedium, the entire concept of building a character that fits your play style dissipates.

The ease of combat makes other systems built around it superfluous. Intricate blacksmithing, sagecraft, and alchemy systems are included to let players create and enhance their armor and weaponry through items collected from treasure chests, plants, and defeated enemies. Indulging in these activities spoils the already waning combat system and their inclusion feel obligatory rather than necessary, additions for the sake of it rather than meaningfully integrated.

The same can be said for the world of Amalur too. Amalur is a huge, filled with dungeons, treasure chests, factions (think guilds from the Elder Scrolls games), cities, and races, but these aspects never come together in a way that properly captivate. The characters that populate the main quest act as vessels for plot progression without giving them a chance to show memorable personality traits or emotions; you ask questions, they give answers. Enemy designs differ wildly from one another, from styles that range from silly to dark, which prevents Amalur from becoming a cohesive, believable world. Quests rarely deviate from the pedantic ‘go to the waypoint and kill enemies’ structure accompanied by terribly bland narratives. As you chase quest waypoints, the mini-map shows an excessive amount of information (hidden treasure chests and rooms, enemy positions, quest-givers, shops, etc.) that constantly competes with the world itself to capture your attention. Amalur is a world crafted out of requirement, not of passion.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an immensely ambitious game, and the fact that I did not encounter a single bug or glitch throughout my play sessions suggests tremendous talent. But it is also a game that does not know how to play to its strengths. So much thoughtful effort went into creating the most customizable combat system to ever grace a role-playing game of this nature. Everything else, from a narrative that needlessly explains why your hero brings change to a huge world designed out of necessity, proves entirely forgettable. Ultimately, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckonging is an action/RPG masquerading as an RPG with action elements.

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11 Comments

  1. BallistikBen

     /  February 16, 2012

    You are uninformed. Your “review” is pathetic. Obviously your preference is skyrim. Skyrim and KoA are nothing alike. Also, your grammar and punctuation reflect what you are. An uninformed pathetic amateur game reviewer. You suck. Go kill yourself to regain the honor lost to your family when you posted this “review.”

    Reply
  2. Thanks for your enlightening criticism.

    Reply
  3. It’s Amalur, not Amular.

    Come on, son.

    Reply
  4. Solidsnake

     /  February 16, 2012

    You contradicted yourself a few times. I hope you get better at writing reviews.

    Reply
    • Where did I contradict myself?

      I too wish to get better at writing reviews, but I can’t quite tell if you’re insinuating that my reviews aren’t good. Nevertheless, thanks for reading.

      Reply
  5. Very Insightful review. Though I haven’t played the full game myself, from watching other players’ videos of their playthoughs matches your analysis of KoA.

    And what’s with all the hate? This is a review, a player’s point of view. Just state you disagree and move on!

    Reply
  6. The thing about the crafting is that the higher level items you can make literally break any resemblance to a difficulty. Luckily its optional and so far I haven’t bothered with it because of that reason. Unfortunately both Skyrim and Reckoning suffer from have a cast of unremarkable characters.

    Reply
  7. Actually, it does seem like you are referring to Skyrim a bit too often, but I, too, think Amalur is basically the direction Fable should have taken 2 games ago, mixed with elements from Elder Scrolls – the lore, the crafting, the exploration. It really is an amalgam of those two games in my mind and done rather nicely. You do illustrate the key weak points of the game and I agree that it doesn’t bother to play to its strengths. RA Salvatore is known for interesting plots and memorable characters – so it’s odd that this game does feel a bit lifeless and forced repetitively. I do think I would score it slightly higher as I think it’s a very well done game, but you are pointing out most of the weaknesses very well.

    Reply

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