Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning brings together a development dream team. With a universe created by renowned fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore and brought to life by both Elder Scrolls veteran Ken Rolston and Spawn’s creator Todd McFarlane, this RPG held a lot of promise. Was this a revolution, or did the initial promise fall flat? Well, it didn’t do either of those. This game holds a fairly safe middle ground, and ground that I hope they use to improve upon if this game ever receives another instalment.
From the beginning, we were wrong
The world of Amalur has been torn apart by 20 years of conflict. The human race and the fae used to live in harmony until the powerful Tuatha army invaded their land. The mortal army of Amalur stood no chance against the immortal army of the Tuatha, and the kingdom’s fate looked to be sealed. That was until you came along. You wake up with no idea of who you are, where you came from or where you are now, but everybody else seems to realise that you are the one who may be able to save them.
Unlike the other residents of Amalur, you are born without a pre-determined destiny or fate. As a result, you get to choose from four races and specialise your character across three ability trees. The ability trees are Might, Finesse and Sorcery, which translate into the usual RPG classes of Warrior, Rogue and Sorcerer. You are never forced to specialise in any of the trees and it is extremely easy to tailor your character to suit your play style. If you feel like your character specification is wrong, you can visit a fateweaver; for a small fee, they will reset your stats so that you can re-spec all over again. This can be done as many times as you like, although the cost will increase each time.
You also have a selection of nine skills and it originally seems like you’ll have to forgo some of the skills to be able to specialise in others. However, with the help of trainers and skill books, it is actually possible to have surplus skill points, so this was never a concern of mine.
We have been invaded?
Despite the invasion, the world of Amalur looks to have survived amazingly well. The bright colours and exaggerated features bring RPGs such as Fable to mind. Realism is not on the agenda here and is replaced by a sense of wonder at the world around you. Unfortunately, as lush as the world appears to be, it gets to the point where one dungeon looks exactly like another as layouts are repeated again and again.
The same can also be said for the non-playable characters. Their simplified features seem at odds with the detail usually afforded in McFarlane’s artwork. With a limited list of features from which to choose, you’ll start to get a sense of déjà vu when you meet new characters further into your quest. The voice acting doesn’t help either. Although your character is speechless, everybody else has a range of British accents spoken by people who I doubt very much are British. I cringed every time that a word was mispronounced.
The story is told through character interaction – there are very few cut scenes. Leaving spoilers aside there is very little about the story that will surprise you, but with the lack of emotion shown by most characters, there’s a chance that you’ll find yourself not caring anyway. The same tone of voice is used both when giving quests out and ‘rejoicing’ over its successful completion. The dialogue is also repetitive and even the most diehard RPG fans will eventually find themselves listening to the quest text and little else. It’s a real shame because there is a story that these characters are desperate to tell, they just don’t know how to tell it.
Being the hero
Quests are divided into four categories. The main storyline and side quests don’t need explaining. The faction quests see you pledge allegiance to one of a number of bands of people, each with their own mini-storyline to explore. Finally, the tasks are repetitive side quests where you can take as much or as little out of them as you wish. There are more side quests than you care to imagine and these are how the developers encourage you to explore the world of Amalur. Even though I’ve spent nearly 85 hours with the game, I would estimate that I’ve only completed approximately 60% of the available side quests.
The majority of the quests involve killing monsters or fetching items – they reminded me of Borderlands in their structure. The difference between the two games, though, is that there is some element of choice to a few (not many) of the quests. There’s no morality system and your choices will not affect the outcome of the game; the story has already been decided for you. The only impacts that your choices will make are on your own conscience and the rewards that you will get for the quest completion.
Failing a quest is actually hard to do, even on the hardest difficulty. If you die in a fight, you’ll return to your last save point and try again. If you miss an item in a dungeon, you can just run through the caves over and over until you find it. I was grateful for the few quests that meant that I had to absorb information and make a decision instead of repeating it in parrot fashion, as this actually brought a chance of failure.
Bringing the fight
The combat is the most satisfying part of the game. The hack and slash style sees you press X for your primary weapon and Y for your secondary weapon. You dodge by pressing B and parry with LT. Advancing up the ability trees allows you to unlock special combo moves to use with each type of weapon. Holding RT enables your abilities, which are mapped to the four face buttons. Defeating an enemy gifts you strands of fate, which are collected in your fate meter. Once this meter is full, you can activate your fateshift.
The fateshift often means the difference between an impossible fight and a very easy fight. Holding down the LT and RT will activate this mode, which slows down your enemies while increasing the impact of your attacks. Once an enemy is downed, their fate starts to unravel as you go on to kill the rest of the group. Pressing A near to a downed enemy will end the fateshift and send you into a quick time event, granting you a huge XP boost upon completion.
The one downside to battles is the use of the background music. While you won’t notice this throughout the majority of the game, tense battles will often see you reaching for the volume button as the music becomes an extremely loud distraction. Generally though, the huge sense of satisfaction felt after a big fight will drown out any misgivings.
If you’re like me and you’re attracted to glowing treasure chests like a child is to the newest toy, you’ll love this game. Chests, hidden caches and underwater whirlpools are littered throughout the land and filling your inventory can be very easy to do. Selling all of your loot will lead to more gold than you’re ever going to need. I don’t mend my own equipment anymore. I take it to a blacksmith because doing this is easier than finding repair kits, and it isn’t as if I can’t afford it. A single trip through a dungeon easily replenishes any gold spent on repairs.
Any final words?
I don’t think that I’m aware of any RPG without glitches of some kind and this one is no different. I’ve seen bodies disappear when I get too close, my character disappear when conversing with another character, and objects that still glowed after I had finished looting them. Both the in-game map and signs in various towns will advertise trades that don’t exist in that location. I’ve also seen characters referred to by the wrong name and whose appearance doesn’t match their quest description. I’m also extremely grateful for my tendency to keep two save files on the go as I had to lose two hours of progress when a quest glitched on me. Despite this, I keep returning to Amalur time and time again to get my daily fix.
One last thing: follow the developer’s recommendation and install the game to your hard drive. Loading screens that are only one or two seconds long get eliminated completely when the game is installed. Longer load screens have several seconds shaved off their time. It really does make a noticeable difference.
Miss; Bad voice acting and few customisation options for character appearance. This makes several characters look identical and completely emotionless.
Needed; More diverse quests. Too many were fetch quests or hired kills – more with puzzles to solve would be ideal.
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