Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (KOAR), an action-oriented role-playing game with a pedigree so well-groomed that it seemed destined for success, was released last week. Coming from the minds of such illustrious creators as New York Times-bestselling author R.A. Salvatore, comic book creator Todd McFarlane and RPG-designer Ken Rolston, KOAR certainly has the ambition. But can it succeed?
For the most part, yes; its strengths are numerous and they’re strong enough to outweigh most of the problems.
The history of the game’s world of Amalur has been written out by R.A. Salvatore, for a full 10,000 years. KOAR takes place about two-thirds of the way through that history, so you can fully expect to explore more periods within Amalur in other games (or comics, novels, etc). And, since the deep history of Amalur has already been mapped out, players can expect to begin to uncover some of it as they work their way through the game, but there will be tantalizing hints of events, and people, that you may not fully uncover in this installment.
The RPG elements, while not as involved and intricate as other games, are well thought-out and allow for a huge variety of gameplay styles. The game has you picking between three attributes for your character. From Might (warriors) to Finesse (assassins) to Sorcery (mages), you can level up and choose amongst the various options available to each, unlocking more abilities as you gain levels.
In a refreshing twist, though, you are not limited to only one skill tree. You can pick and choose as you desire, and the game even offers rewards for certain combinations. Want to go all-out Might and play as a warrior? You’ll get a certain set of bonuses by doing so. Want to go half Might and half Sorcery? You’ll get special bonuses as a Battle-Mage. Other bonuses are available if you decide to mix Finesse and Sorcery, or even a combination of all three. This kind of freedom of choice is refreshing in a genre where, if you want to succeed, sometimes you are forced into a cookie-cutter playstyle.
The combat in KOAR is visceral and fun. Eschewing the multiple button presses of other action games and the lengthy menuing system of the RPG genre, KOAR streamlines its combat into a sleek and engaging package. Allowing you to equip two main weapons, and allowing you to switch between them at any time, the game keeps things simple by only using one button for each weapon. However, depending on how you use that button, various things will happen: holding down the button will charge up a massive attack while tapping it quickly will send your character on a flurry of attacks. This streamlined approach is duplicated in the magic system, which allows you to map four different abilities to your controller for easy access, with similar changes in results based upon how you use those buttons.
The art direction, while varied and colorful, seems inconsistent in places. For all the attention paid to making a graveyard look unique and in-line with the rest of the world, the various buildings all start to look the same after about 15 hours of playing. I also noticed, on the PS3 version I was sent, that there were graphical glitches at times, with my character’s head twitching during conversation cutscenes. Speaking of characters, the animation team needs to relook at their work during the dialogue sections; having a character blink and move his mouth with absolutely no facial expression is kinda eerie.
The camera in KOAR can be highly problematic at times, especially in combat when it doesn’t always swing around like it should. There were plenty of times that my character would be fighting with an enemy, only for the camera to suddenly be obscured by a tree or a rock. Or, during dialogue cutscenes the camera will suddenly change angle right into a rock or wooden door or shrub, completely obscuring my view of the conversation.
The dialogue is serviceable, but is hit or miss on the delivery by the voiceactors. A lot of the time it doesn’t make me feel anything for the characters, nor does it convey some of the expected sense of “epic-ness” from a gameworld with 10,000 years of history.
The story, at times, can seem overwhelming and confusing. Especially some of the early story parts, where you don’t have a lot of information to base decisions on and really have to just take things on faith. The story does a decent job of elaborating on the various Seelie and Unseelie Courts of the Fae, in a fair approximation of Scottish folklore, but it can get a bit confusing at times. One person who was watching me play had to keep asking questions about the “Court of Summer” and “Court of Winter” to try and keep things straight.
These few problems don’t hold Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning back too much, however, and I fully expect it to be in my PS3 for some time to come, as I work to complete all the little side quests and exploring that I didn’t do the first time through!