Like walking into World of Warcraft meets Skyrim.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of the biggest games of 2012, according to EA, but after the legacy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it was always going to risk slipping under the radar.
Following such a massive release was always going to be a risky maneuver, but February has turned out to be the perfect time to launch Reckoning. It comes just soon enough after Skyrim that RPG fans are ready for a new quest, while not being too far away that the legions of adventurers have forgotten their newfound passion.
What Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Got Right
Intricate plot device - RPGs are renowned for their storytelling ability, but more often than not are sub-par. The main narrative behind Skyrim wasn’t all that exciting; it was made interesting by the hundreds of niche side quests that crafted a unique experience for each player.
Reckoning is different. The plot, penned by bestselling author R.A. Salvatore, is core to the experience. Everyone believes in fate and a predetermined destiny in the majestic world of Amalur. Everyone except you, the one character without a predetermined fate, and in-turn the ability to control your own destiny. After cheating death, or more accurately being resurrected, your character is free to be whoever he (or she) wants to be.
The narrative itself won’t have you on the edge of your seat for 50 hours, but it’s a fantastic plot device crafted around conventions carefully lifted from nearly every successful game in the genre. You’ll recognise the influence of Elder Scrolls veteran Ken Rolston immediately, and be forgiven for thinking it’s a Bethesda game, Fable or even World of Warcraft. Reckoning is its own adventure, but has followed the lead of successful rivals.
Combat System - The combat in Reckoning is fantastic. Surprisingly fantastic. RPGs generally have a steep learning curve, as players discover what works best for them after being inundated with possibilities. While that still happens to an extent, they all work well.
Each weapon noticeably controls and damages differently; it’s not just the same thing with a different coat of paint or statistic devised to fool the player. The real time battles feel lifted out of a genuine action game, not a standard RPG-action hybrid.
You’re fully able to customise your character and tailor him to your changing needs and tactics throughout the game. One of the biggest mistakes action orientated RPGs make is locking you into a class too early. With its unique slant on destiny, Reckoning has the perfect excuse to let you chop and change who you want to be as you progress from beginning to end.
MMORPG World - The vast and vibrant world of Amalur is intimidating. Each location is unique and there’s so much to explore that it’s hard to know where to begin. It looks fantastic, especially when you emerge from the first dungeon. The map itself looks like something straight out of an MMO. It’s not an open world map as such, but more a series of interconnected areas. They are each different and unique, but it isn’t like roaming a massive map, where every nook and cranny must be explored.
The art style is reminiscent of World of Warcraft and looks great, for the most part. Environments are colourful and vibrant, where they should be, and each area genuinely feels unique.
A wealth of content - As the master of your own fate, you’re left to your own devices in Reckoning. You’re always heading in the right direction, but how you get there is anyone’s guess. There are plenty of side quests to increase your XP and gain highly sort after loot. The abundance of side quests offer more than enough opportunities to gain XP, but Skryim players should be aware than enemies and objectives aren’t indicative of your current level. Players will breeze through the main quest or come to a grinding halt, depending on their level.
Fantastic first effort - It’s hard to look past the fact that Reckoning is the first in what could be a long-running series. It’s lacking the originally required to really captivate an audience, but other than that, it’s hard to fault. The combat is as good as it gets in the genre, and the expected glitches are few and far between. It was clearly made with deep pockets, buying a writer and director of creed, and was money well spent.
What Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Got Wrong
You must become a blacksmith - I’ve never been into crafting and customising items religiously, but it is a necessity in Kingdoms of Amalur. You’re screwed if you don’t level up your blacksmith traits, as the ability to repair and improve weapons is essential. This won’t be a big deal for most players, but will require a change of tact from those who have previously ignored weapon crafting.
Bland characters - Despite boasting an MMO-like map, the world of Amalur isn’t as alive and thriving as it could have been. It’s more about fierce battles than conversing with generic locals. The inhabitants have some interesting things to say, but they feel disconnected to everything you’re doing. It’s like talking to your grandpa: the stories could be interesting if the mood were right, but aren’t relevant to what’s happening now.
Furthmore, the character models are out of place within the otherwise impressive art design. The backgrounds and environments look great, but the characters just don’t match them. Some are jagged and rough around the edges, while lip-syncing is completely off.
Repetition - Reckoning may have a wealth of content, but before too long, you’ll realise that it’s much the same. Go to place X to find item Y or kill Mr A for a reward from Mr B. There are certainly some more obscure quests out there, but the bulk of them revolve around similar ideas. Like most massive action-RPGs, it suffers a little from “follow the waypoint” syndrome, but then again, that’s what the target audience does best.
The Final Verdict
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of those titles that will get a mention when the game of the year chat starts, but is released too early to be a serious contender. The comparisons between Reckoning and Skyrim are obvious, but the differences are more prevalent than you’d think. Reckoning shows how combat should be done in an action-RPG, without detracting from other aspects of the gameplay. While it gets repetitive and doesn’t quite entice players to explore the world like Skyrim, it’s a massive adventure that fans of the genre will love to get lost in.
By Ben Salter
We played the Xbox 360 version for review.