Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review

We are in such a brutal market today that AAA games require such large budgets to make that publishers are hesitant to take risks on too many new IPs. In the past few years EA has been one of the publishers which has reverted back to franchises it knows works and those that they have taken a gamble on haven't become smash hits like they hoped. Coming in the next month are SSX and FIFA Street, two games which took off last generation and haven't seen the limelight for a number of years. Despite this, the fan base is there and it is seen as less of a risk compared to a brand new game. That is why so much pressure is on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to jump into the brutal market of 2012 and make an impact against RPG's such as Skyrim which are arguably the best of all time. It seems like a mammoth task, but just like the freedom available in this game, Kingdoms of Amalur had the power to change it's own fate and become a smash hit. I believe it has achieved that.


When I put loaded up Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for the first time I had to take a look at the box to make sure that I didn't accidentally receive a copy of Fable. The world is huge and full of towns which are separated by large explorable expanses, all in the cartoony style which is best attributed to the Fable franchise. The world has a bit of everything in it, from lush forests full of trees covered in cobwebs towering over your character to large desert expanses or dark caverns full of enemies that are just waiting for a decent fight. All of this is done to match the magical setting of the world, focusing on creating a magical lore in the world rather than opting for realism like Skyrim. Despite what people say about the Fable series, it is one of my favourite franchises and I appreciated a similar art direction in the world of Amalur.

Unlike Fable, this game is not dominated by humans and features a variety of races. Apart from humans which can belong to one of a few various clans, there are also fae (fate weavers), gnomes, mystical races such as the Dokkalfar and the main nemesis race against all who you interact with on your adventures, the Tuatha. Apart from these, you will come across a host of enemies and other creatures in side quests such as werewolves who all add to the diversity of Amalur. Each race has an unique relationship with other races and together creates a nice weave of bonds and alliances between various groups.

The musical score behind this game won't leave you humming along to it after you play. It does do a nice job of setting the scene for various locations and situations of battles. From an audio standpoint the one thing that really stands out in my eyes is the fantastic standard and volume of voice acting. Every single person in the game that you talk to has something interesting and unique to say from other characters. From main characters to those with side quests, even random villagers who have a couple lines of information are all unique and no repetition is anywhere to be seen. When undertaking quests you have options which will alter what answers you receive. There is also an option to ask additional questions to characters and they will explain the world to you, filling in information about locations or the history of Amalur. This is a great way to not shove it down the throat of people who don't want droves of text, but make it available for those who need that background knowledge.


While I have to stress that this is nothing like Fable in terms of gameplay, I must bring up another thing which has transferred over. Fable was one of the first games which really brought home the fact that everything you did in the world had an effect, whether positive or negative was up to you. It didn't completely deliver on its purpose, meanwhile Kingdoms of Amalur couldn't be closer to the truth.

The game begins with two gnomes moving a dead body to be disposed of, you then decide what type of character you are and soon learn that you are in fact not dead at all. The gnome Fomorous Hugues has successfully managed to resurrect you at the Well of Souls, a feat he hadn't achieved before with correct results. Then all of a sudden your meeting is disrupted by an attack by the Tuatha and you must escape. Shortly after you meet Agarth, a fateweaver who can see everyones fate. Fate is what holds the universe together and everyone has a designed fate which will happen to them. The thing is that your character has no fate, an unheard of prospect in Amalur and that your actions are changing the fates of other people. This has drastic effects on the world and it seems to even the simplest of actions can deliver major results to unknown characters. This is a god like power which you have to get to the bottom of.

Whether you use this power for good or evil is up to you. Many choices will present themselves across the large landscape of Amalur, which you can explore as much or as little as you wish. Sub-quests are a large part of the game and just travelling from one main quest to another you will come across people who have tasks for you. It is easy to get sidetracked in the lore of the world, as many aspects of Amalur entice many travellers to explore every nook and cranny of the interesting land. The world is large and all areas are connected which is excellent for movement, unless you feel lazy and wish to fast travel to all previously found areas. This is a game where grinding through side tasks isn't a requirement but rather an option which you will see incentive to complete.

Kingdoms of Amalur is a RPG and of course there are all the stat collection which comes with items and levelling up. You can acquire new skills, level up your weapons abilities and choose who own destiny (each of which has its own special perks) in easy to use menus. You have a large variety of stealth, might, range and magic weapons to choose from in two weapon slots as well as magic attacks and various armour and clothing to choose from to protect yourself. Items range from books and picks to loot chests to health and mana potions which can all easily be equipped so you can access them in battle. They have made it a very simple process that have enough depth for RPG pros but the layout won't over awe newcomers.

The story and RPG elements aside, the shining light in Amalur is the awesome combat system which proves that role playing games don't need to suffer in order to have size and story. You have a heap of different weapons at your disposal, ranging from mages which unleash magical attacks to great swords that present devastating power in exchange for the speed of say, a dagger. You can also roll out of the way or choose to stand your ground, successfully parrying attacks or even pulling out your shield and protecting yourself in dangerous moments. The controls are super responsive and I felt confident that I would be able to roll out of harms way if it so required, which it often did in situations where you were greatly outnumbered. The great thing is that since you have no fate, you aren't restricted to a particular play style. You could go into a battle wielding a sword and hammer but find that these aren't very effective, so on the fly you can switch out your weapons and start hammering magic attacks with your mage. The levelling system means that you can choose to put all your points into a certain play style, but the freeness of the game allows you to go to a fate weaver and pay a fee to reset these points, allowing them to be placed into other categories if you don't feel like it suits you. This is absolutely spectacular and is leap years above the competition, setting the bar high for all future RPGs in how combat should be made.


Every now and then a new IP is brought onto the scene which is spectacular and warrants all the praise it can get. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is that game, bringing an ultimate sense of freedom never before seen and combat which truly means business. Not everyone is going to get truly involved in the storyline, many may be out of their depth with the amount of lore and information present in Amalur, but the main plot of you have the power to change peoples fate is such a strong one. I felt like a god knowing that my actions had true consequences to people in the world. Combat in the game is so much fun, its more of what we would expect in an action game rather than a RPG which is amazing. Little things in this game could do with some smoothing out, but overall this is a top title which warrants future adventures back to Amalur hopefully.

Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9.5/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10