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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Like the greatest fantasy worlds in video games, Kingdoms of Amalur relies heavily on tradition and familiarity to craft its Nordic-inspired world. From the lush Dalentarth kingdom to the wastelands of Alabastra, Amalur is a blend of both old and new. The structure of the world and the beauty with which it was created is a feat that should not go unnoticed, but unfortunately, that’s where it also suffers its greatest flaws. The world is familiar, and therefore unoriginal. Being that it’s so reliant on nostalgia, characters and events within feel generic. Elves are renamed to mask the cliché, but observant players will see right passed the curtain. Despite its pretense, there is still fun to be had in Amalur. A seamless, choreographed sense of combat and tremendous flexibility in character growth ranks this game with some of the best in the genre in terms of mechanics.

The story begins with a fair twist: you’re dead. It’s not until the ancient gnomish contraption aptly named the Well of Souls brings you back to life that the real journey begins. No longer bound by fate, you have the ability to change the destinies of others, and therefore, have become a target of many who seek to take advantage of this unprecedented gift. Amalur is a land of great history. It’s fitting, then, that New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore was tasked with creating and flushing out that history. Unfortunately, much of the game’s text feels more at home in some kind of tour guide or commemorative plaque. It’s all very dry and preachy. Conversations are presented in two ways: the familiar dialogue wheel, and the more traditional list of choices. The problem is the disparity between the two. The wheel serves as more direct, personal choices to many situations, and while the game has no real morality system, many decisions feel like they should affect something.

An idyllic little town. Where have you seen that before?

The list, on the other hand, is utterly useless. These choices consist merely of options that force the NPC to begin rambling about certain places or people that may or may not even be related to the current objective. They’re more like asides then necessities. This would be fine if what they had to say was even remotely interesting, but because the world is so stilted, learning more about a particular character doesn’t feel as exciting as you might think. There’s no secret you might hear about someone that will shed greater light on their personality, no remarkable revelation. Instead, it feels more like a lecture then a conversation.

On the other hand, the game does have a certain charm about some of its storytelling, but these come in the form of Lorestones, ancient magical pillars scattered across the world that recite folktales and songs of yore about the history of Amalur. Many of them are pleasant to listen to and add some flavor to the otherwise bland history. You’ll also receive permanent boosts to stats if you manage to find a whole set of Lorestones for an area.

Thankfully, combat and progression save this game from true mediocrity. Amalur’s smooth, action-oriented combat system allows for easy access into battle but tremendous room to improve and excel. Two weapon slots allow you to mix and match any type of weapon and switch between them instantly, and a variety of combat spells and abilities let you chain together physical attacks with magic or otherwise with seamless transitions. When combat is at its best, it feels exceptionally cinematic and choreographed, like some of the best fight scenes of recent memory. However, when it’s at its worst, it can feel a little button-mashy. It can become quite easy to overlook the complexity of the mechanics if you don’t take the time to explore them. Further, the loose, free-floating camera does more harm than good. Its perspective is often too close to see everything on the battlefield, and in dire situations, it can prove more difficult to conquer than any enemy.

Get used to the camera being this close.

Reckoning mode adds some cinematic flair to combat while also providing a tangible boost to exp gain. As you pummel away on your foes, you’ll earn fate points. Fill up the appropriate bar and you’ll have access to Reckoning mode, a feature that slows down everything in the environment except you and increases your damage exponentially. The biggest benefit of this mode isn’t the ability to quickly dispatch a horde of foes, but rather, once you deplete an enemy’s HP bar in Reckoning mode, their fates will become untangled. This is just fancy wording to say they’re dazed. Before the fate meter runs out, run up to a dazed opponent and press the appropriate button to toggle a very exciting kill animation that prompts a short quick time event to fill up a circular gauge. Depending on how much of the gauge is filled before time runs out, you’ll earn either 25, 50, 75, or 100% bonus experience from all of the untangled enemies.

When you’re not running around enacting mass genocide on the Boggart populace, you’re probably partaking in one of the game’s several crafting professions: alchemy, sagecrafting, or blacksmithing. Each of these skills can be increased every time you level up, among other things like lockpicking and persuasion. However, completing some of these skills seems fruitless in the end because of a few minor limitations. Blacksmithing, for instance, allows you to salvage your gear for parts which you can then in turn use to make new equipment. As you level up the skill, you’re able to salvage some of the rarer equipment in the game. However, even as a max level blacksmith, you still can’t salvage the top two tiers of equipment (color-coded as purple and gold, for those familiar with the MMO style of itemization). Persuasion is similarly held back with full knowledge of the skill, as you’ll still only ever see at most a 95% success rate on certain dialogue options. And believe me, that 5% chance to fail? It can happen. Trust me.

These skills are separate from your actual combat growth, which is where the real meat of the game resides. Between the three talent trees (Sorcery, Finesse, and Might), you can mix and match your character’s preference any way you see fit. You’ll earn 3 points to do so every level, so spend them wisely. Do you want to go for a straight increase in weapon proficiency, or perhaps focus more on the actual combat abilities and passive defenses? It’s all up to you to decide. The biggest benefit of either combining styles or going for a pure role is the destiny system. This interesting little twist on “class” provides extensive bonuses to your character depending on how you spend your points. There is a destiny for almost every imaginable combination. The one downside of the whole system is the lack of choice in weapon types. A bit more variety would have been nice, especially since many enemies and NPCs are running around with spears and axes, the likes of which you can’t equip.

Besides combat, the bulk of any role-playing game is, of course, the quests. You’ll find plenty to do in the world of Amalur, but after a dozen or so hours, may lose the drive to do them. Quests are aplenty, and each new town is littered with a handful of NPCs waiting to have their missing child found or for you to go out and slay some ferocious monster. Quests come in three forms: tasks, which are typically repeatable objectives with no end, and for as long as you keep finding and returning the desired items, you’ll be rewarded; Faction objectives, which are a long series of events for a particular group or organization that ultimately results in a specific armor set for any one of the three character archetypes, and permanent stat bonuses; and traditional quests, which come in the typical variety.

One of many quest hubs in the game.

While some quests are quick and provide sufficient rewards, many of the more drawn-out quests will obviously take some time and exploration. It’s a shame, then, that most of these are incredibly tedious and boring. It ultimately turns into a grand game of run around in circles, kill a few enemies, and come back. The faction quests provide the most tangible benefits, as they’ll reward you with special armor sets that provide bonuses for however many pieces of the set you’re wearing, as well as something called a Twist of Fate. This is simply a permanent increase to a stat or combat parameter such as a reduction in spell cost, or an increase in a certain type of weapon damage.

Amalur is a beautiful looking world, it’s just a shame that it’s all been said and done before. There’s variety in the landscape, but it’s nothing one wouldn’t expect in such a fantasy setting. That’s the problem, there’s no surprise, no shock and awe. It all looks very nice, but it’s like looking at a painting of a piece of fruit. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Todd McFarlane’s usual touch can be seen in the enemy design, which are genuinely exciting and interesting, but that’s as far as it goes. Characters are particularly stale, and the environments are there simply to provide a backdrop. The story and quests do little to expose any interesting context to your surroundings, so at best you’ll have to settle for the cryptic and haunting folktales of the Lorestones to learn more about this world. Further, the music is good, but falls prey to the same trap of being too familiar. Enchanting melodies in the Fae lands give you a sense of freedom and natural bliss, while uproarious drum beats provide a rush of adrenaline. It’s not bad, by any means. It’s just predictable.

Todd McFarlane’s usual, grotesque touch.

Amalur’s combat is what sets this otherwise average fantasy tale of war and power apart from the rest of the pack. Its freedom to customize your character in any way you see fit while not being confined to a hasty decision at the onset of the game allows for tremendous flexibility in your growth throughout the adventure, while also assuring that you’ll never grow too content with your current settings. Tired of fighting with a sword? Switch over to magic. It’s that simple. This forward-thinking approach to gameplay is something that is certainly going to be looked at for the future of RPGs. Disappointingly, though, everything else about this game is stuck in the past.

Graphics:

The environments and colors portray a beautiful world, but it’s all too similar to the stock typical fantasy setting.

Gameplay:

Far and away the premier aspect of the game: the combat is fresh and fast-paced, but deceptively complex. Take the time to learn the finer points of battle and you’ll see how truly cinematic the action can be.

Sound:

Like the world itself and the characters that reside therein, the music is just as familiar. Voice acting serves up well enough against contemporary RPGs, but the music leaves much to be desired.

Lasting Appeal:

You’ll certainly find hundreds of hours’ worth of content here should you put your mind to the task. Quests are aplenty, provided you don’t grow tired of them too soon.

The Verdict:

The powerhouse trio of a best-selling author, famous artist, and exceptional game designer ultimately results in just an average – but fun – game.

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