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Review

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review (PS3, Xbox 360)

Tempting fate.

Ever since its announcement there has been a capacious amount of buzz surrounding Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and not just because 38 Studios founder, Curt Schilling, happens to be a retired baseball hero. Having acquired Big Huge Games (Rise of Nations) and employing the talents of best-selling novelist R.A Salvatore and artist Todd McFarlane, Reckoning isn’t carrying just one high profile on its shoulders either.

As if expectations for the new IP weren’t demanding enough, there is already talk of a possible sequel, 38 Studios is currently working on an MMO set in the Amalur universe too.  There’s plenty riding on the success of this soon-to-be fantasy franchise, but has the first instalment gotten off on the right foot?

The premise on which Amalur’s lore is based on is an intriguing one to say the least. In Salvatore’s fantasy universe there is a divide between the imperishable Fae and the mortal races, commonly referred to as “Children of Dust.” Despite this animosity the two have co-existed for centuries, their lives dictated by Fate – a metaphorical spectre that shapes their destinies and cannot be undone.

Where mortals may die, the Fae live out their prescribed existence before being returned to “the Great Circle” only to return with a change of the seasons. Amalur’s problems begin with the rise of Gadflow, the game’s lead antagonist who seizes the throne of the Winter Court by deception. With his new found power he seeks to eradicate the mortal races.


Casting spells and pulling off combos will contribute towards a Fate gage. When full, players can delve into a Reckoning, a brief moment of increased stats, which can be ended with devastating Fateshift.
Elsewhere in the kingdoms you, the player, awake to find yourself bathing in a pit of rotting flesh. Struggling your way free and exploring your surrounding you discover that the Gnomes have been working to create their own process of revivification, the Well of Souls, and you just happen to be their first success.

With Gadflow’s “Tuatha” army rising in the East, you set out on a quest to protect the Childern of Dust from their would-be destructor, also looking to explore the circumstances of your death.

The opening chapter of Reckoning will have you hooked, wanting to pursue the end goal as you would in most story-driven games. However, about an hour into the experience, the stabilisers are torn from beneath you, tossing you in a beguiling, seemingly endless open world.

Amalur’s map is broken into five regions, each one with a smattering of camps, settlements, and fortresses punctuated with the occasional village or city hub; each hot spot (and the roads between) is literally swarming with optional side-quests. If you’re a seasoned MMO veteran it probably won’t phase you, though no doubt most players will snap up every assignment within reach. So deep and varied are these side-quests that I somehow managed to wander from the main quest-line, returning five hours later, realising that I had lost the narrative thread entirely.

You see, although Reckoning may weave a fine, complex tapestry of background lore, it’s inexcusable threadbare in the most important areas. Aside from drunken Fateweaver, Agarth, and your mysterious, scantily clad acquaintance, Alyn Shir, there are no other worthwhile or immersing characters; a shock really as Amalur is teeming with hundreds of NPCs. You could say that Reckoning suffers from Homefront-syndrome; the build-up and premise are superb, but the game itself portrays a simple A to B adventure.

It’s a textbook MMO structure, as characterised by the bland exchanges of dialogue that regurgitate names of concepts, events and characters you likely won’t know or care about. Ironically enough BioWare, the contemporary masters of RPG characterization, have recently found success in binding the MMO genre to a persistent narrative core in The Old Republic, something 38 Studios have failed at despite the action RPG genre be more maluable.

That’s not to say that Reckoning’s lore can’t be enjoyed, it’s just presented in a way that lacks cinematic drive and offers little to the overall experience. The complaints may seem dragged out, and to some extent, a tad bit unfair on a new IP, but considering that 38 Studios is pinning all of its hopes on this rich fantasy universe to uphold a chain of possible sequels, it has to be addressed.

As far as gameplay goes, Reckoning puts the action in action-RPG, combining the expansive open world of an MMO with hack and slash gameplay akin to God of War. The four playable races may not offer any dramatic differences between them, but the class you select will ultimately dictate your play-style and the way you approach battles.

As you progress through levels one to forty, three ability points will be awarded for each time you rank up. These can then be assigned to one of three trees: Might, Finesse, and Sorcery, which essentially amount to warrior, rogue, and mage. Each tree has 22 abilities on offer, some active and others passive, gradually becoming stronger as you invest more points. It’s a simple system that’s easy to get to grips with, allowing players to mix and match between the three trees. Ability points can also be undone and reassigned through Fateweavers, acting as a re-spec vendor.

Each of the game’s weapon types have similar move sets, though attributes such as speed and strength will favour some play-styles over others. For instance, rogue-builds won’t have much use for longswords of hammers; their typically low armour protection suits the use of stealth and ranged attacks, though as mentioned before there is the room to be creative; Reckoning allowing for a number of hybrid class combinations.

Two weapons can be equipped at any time, one primary, one secondary, each assigned to one of the two available face buttons. It sounds fairly bare-boned, and it can be at times, but the dual-weapon system leaves room for players to instantly switch stances and turn the table on their opponents. A little more depth is then added by the inclusion of four interchangeable combat abilities. The combat may not reach the heights of other well-established action adventure titles, but considering that Reckoning is also packing over 50 hours of content, it has been well realised.


Potions have a variety of purposes in Reckoning, from simply health/mana restoratives to elemental and ability-enhancing brews.
Another leaf taken from the ageing tome of MMO conventions is crafting. Scattered throughout Amalur are reagents, crystal shards and equipment which can be harvested from regular nodes, stripped from fallen enemies or plundered from treasure chests. Components can then be manually combined at work stations to produce potions, gems, and armour; the more points you assign to a skill, the better the end result.

Crafting never intrudes on the overall experience but for those looking to max out their hero, it’s near essential with many of the best weapons being player-made creations. It isn’t all artisan work however, skills such as detect hidden, dispel, stealth and lock-picking are all adopted when scouring the plains and caves of Reckoning.

Kingdoms of Amalur is far from ground-breaking when it comes to visual performance, matching up nicely with games such as Dragon Age 2. What it lacks in raw game engine power is counterbalanced with its unique art direction however, Amalur straddling the line between Azerothian and fairytale, with evident Celtic influences.

Both the five regions and the creatures which inhabit them demonstrate a fair degree of variety, and although the six main races are essentially re-hashes of the same humanoid archetype, enemies such as the Boggarts, Jottun, and Bolgan inject some unique elements and colour into Reckoning’s bestiary, enhanced by the game’s rich, vibrant colour palette.

Pros:

  • Well above 40 hours of content.
  • Character progression is non-intrusive.
  • Variety of skills to upgrade.
  • Successful binding of hack n’ slash, action RPG, and MMO genres.
  • Crafting is actually useful, adding depth to the already thorough loot system.
  • The foundational lore propping the game up is intriguing to say the least.

Cons:

  • Simple A to B plot made worse by one-dimensional, ultimately forgettable characters.
  • Borrows from the MMO genre a little too much.
  • Combat could still use a bit of work.

38 Studios has made a triumphant debut with Reckoning, but there is a long way to go before the Amalur IP reaches its full potential. The combination of an MMO open-world structure with hack n’ slash combat mechanics works well if a little patchy in places; weapons are in dire need of more combos, and the block/dodge system also lacks the finesse of its contemporaries.

These are issues that can easily be ironed out however, though the same can’t be said about the game’s underpinning lore. Sporadic in pace and quality of content, this is the area in which Reckoning borrows too heavily from its MMO ancestry and it really doesn’t pay off.

Score: 7/10

26 Comments
  1. anthro
    Member
    Since: Apr 2011

    Hmm, the first review on TSA that I don’t really agree with. I’m having an absolute blast with KoA; I’d argue that 40 hours is sever underestimate of the amount of content on offer, since I’m over 25 hours in and have only uncovered about a sixth of the world map. If you hammer through the main quest without exploring, then sure, you could probably complete it in 40 hours, but where’s the fun in that?

    I also find the lore, storyline and characters pretty decent, especially when comparing to other major RPGs out at the moment (*cough* Skyrim *cough*) – you haven’t mentioned anything about the various Factions either, which are pretty key to the game.

    Above all else, I just find the whole experience more enjoyable than any RPG I’ve played in the last five years or more. In fact the last really GOOD roleplayer I remember before this was Dragon Quest VIII, and that’s going back a long way now.

    Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 09:50.
    • Gamoc
      Member
      Since: Forever

      What? You think the lore in Amalur is more interesting that The Elder Scrolls lore?

      There have literally been books written about the Elder Scrolls. It’s like another world. It rivals Middle Earth.

      Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 11:49.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        He said he finds the lore pretty decent. He doesn’t mention anywhere that he actually thinks it’s better than TES.

        There is actually 10000 years worth of lore about the Kingdoms of Amalur already set in stone. Of course they can’t implement that much lore in a single game. I doubt TES lore was where it is now when they released their first game.

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 12:26.
      • Watchful
        Team TSA: Writer
        Since: Oct 2008

        “especially when comparing to other major RPGs out at the moment (*cough* Skyrim *cough*)”

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 12:40.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        So? It doesn’t say which of the two he thinks is better. Pretty decent does not mean better in my vocabulary. Unless he specifies how good or bad he actually thinks the lore of TES is there is no way to tell how he actually meant it.

        Let’s pretend I think the KoA lore is great but then I had to compare it to the lore of TES and that makes the KoA lore pretty decent because the TES lore might actually be so much better. (Not my real opinion since I haven’t played nearly enough of KoA and have yet to invest more than an hour in any of TES games…)

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 12:51.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        Oh just to make it clear. I know how he meant it but I’m just saying that he never actually outright claimed to find the KoA lore better than the TES lore… :P

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 12:52.
      • anthro
        Member
        Since: Apr 2011

        I was actually referring to the characters in Skyrim. I know the lore in the Elder Scrolls series is comprehensive and excellent, but the characterisation and individuals in Skyrim particularly are shallow and poorly voice acted.

        (There have been books written about ES Lore? That’s a bit sad, isn’t it?)

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 14:53.
    • Jim Hargreaves
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      Hey anthro,

      I actually wrote “well above 40 hours of content.” 32 hours was my end time, and considering that I sped through two of the five regions, there could be well in excess of 100 hours.

      I also mentioned that the lore is pretty decent too. It’s just the way that it’s fed into the game that warrants criticism, not to mention the one-dimensional characters. You’ll also notice that combat will drag towards the end of the game. The final region is literally one stretch of Tuatha battles with little variation.

      It’s a good game, but when it comes down to, KoA just falls short of the 8 mark.

      Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 15:13.
      • anthro
        Member
        Since: Apr 2011

        Thanks for the reply – I take your point about the way in which the lore is integrated, but I’d argue that a number of RPGs suffer from the same problem. Since this is the first game from a new IP, I’m pretty impressed with how well fleshed out it is.

        I’ll see how I get on with the rest of the game; I’ll have to hope you’re mistaken about the end game progression!

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 15:27.
    • theunknown345678
      Member
      Since: Feb 2012

      there really is 300 hours of game play

      Comment posted on 28/02/2012 at 13:46.
  2. KeRaSh
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    Well, Reckoning did start off as an MMO before they decided to turn it into a singleplayer game. The MMO based on this is still in the works but it explains why it fells so much like an MMO.

    I personally have to disagree with two of your three cons:

    I think the voice acting in Reckoning is pretty good. It makes the characters more likeable/memorable than the ones in the game that for many people set the bar for the western RPG genre.

    While the combat still needs some work, it’s so far ahead of other western RPGs that I think it’s unfair to list this as a con.

    I’ve put some hours into the game since I platinumed FFXIII-2 and so far I’m really enjoying it.

    Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 09:51.
    • Jim Hargreaves
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      As far as combat goes, it depends how far you’re into the game. KoA provides the tools for players to adopt just under a dozen weapons, but unless your playing the all-rounder character, you’ll likely stick with two or three, tops.

      Voice acting was good, without hopping over to Wikipedia I think I picked out a couple of voice actors including Claudia Black (Alyn Shir?) However the characters themselves, once they had revealed their purpose and direction, offered very little to the story.

      Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 15:20.
      • plutoniumdragon
        Member
        Since: Dec 2008

        I thought Alyn Shir sounded like Claudia as well, but is credited on Imdb as Abby Craden.

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 16:43.
      • Jim Hargreaves
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        Weird, sounds pretty much identical :S

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 16:54.
      • plutoniumdragon
        Member
        Since: Dec 2008

        Claudia narrates the trailers though, which caused a small argument over on the forums :)

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 17:13.
  3. Tarbun84
    Member
    Since: Feb 2012

    I agree with both the above. Think this game at least deserves an 8/10. Loving the story and the combat is fantastic.

    Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 09:55.
  4. giantwoman
    Member
    Since: Sep 2011

    I was going to wait for the price to drop before I dive in, think I’ll stick with that plan. Just need something to tide me over until Game of Thrones and’or Dragon Age 3…

    Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 10:45.
  5. plutoniumdragon
    Member
    Since: Dec 2008

    I’ve played this through to the end of the main quest and about 50 side missions and there are still lots of things to do.
    A bit undecided on the dialogue tbh, sometimes I found myself just reading the subtitles and skipping through quickly, other times it was interesting enough to listen to. Interesting choice of accents too, I thought :)
    I liked the combat mechanic, I played as a battlemage with chakrams and a sceptre, a bit underpowered to start with but most enjoyable when sufficiently levelled up. The levelling system for the enemies seems a bit hit and miss though and also appears to depend on location, (like Sacred,Silverfall et al) some seem far too easy, some are ridiculous (underlings with more hp and damage reduction than bosses).
    Graphics aren’t all that, but they are pretty and on my PC at least, (@1080p @max settings) there was no lag noticeable anywhere.
    I would say that if you get the PC version, play with a pad, the mouse/keyboard scheme is a bit awkward. I played using the Sixaxsis emulating a 360 controller.
    It does feel very generic though, when playing it you sometimes think you are playing something else because it’s something that’s been done the same way as that game, if fairness though there’s only so many ways you can do levelling or lock picking etc so it’s
    forgiveable. All in all I’d agree with 7/10, whilst there are things left to do, I’ve got a bit bored of it now…

    Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 10:50.
  6. Jones81
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    Have to say I also thought the review was a LITTLE harsh. Really enjoying the game, the combat is alot of fun and very satisfying, also think the story is actually pretty good and is keeping me entertained so far

    Als love the fact the characters, setting and art style have kind of innocent charm to them giving the game an endearing sort of appeal.

    Nice change from the seriousness of mass effect or the dark humour of Skyrim. Very colourfull game worl aswell which is nice.

    Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 13:56.
    • Jim Hargreaves
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      True, it’s below the average score for KoA, but considering the length of the game, I doubt everyone who reviewed saw it to the end.

      I’d be interested to see how some of the more vocal commenters rate the game after reaching its conclusion.

      Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 15:36.
      • MadBoJangles
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        I have completed the game, sunk 70+ hours into getting to level 40 and completing every sidequest I could find.

        About 5 or so missions away from the platinum (need the complete on Hard trophy) and expected it to score more than a 7 tbh.

        I agree about the lore not been integrated that well and that the combat/skill trees mean you tend to adopt just one playstyle (I went for Daggers/bow), but I thought there was plenty of quality content on the disk for the £40. More than the 40 hours mentioned above, easily.

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 17:51.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        I asked my brother how he’d rate the game. He played the game while I was still busy with FF and after 50ish hours and finishing the game he’d give the game a 8,5. As for combat getting stale towards the end:
        He said he’d rather have great combat system that gets stale towards the end than have a shitty combat
        system throughout a game (Skyrim).

        Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 18:22.
      • MadBoJangles
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        *update for anyone that cares*
        Platinumed :) Great game!

        Comment posted on 25/02/2012 at 20:03.
  7. skibadee
    Member
    Since: Oct 2009

    this is one of my favourite games at the moment.

    Comment posted on 24/02/2012 at 15:44.
  8. aerobes
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    Can’t really make my mind up on this. Sounds great but there’s just something I can’t identify holding me back a bit. I’m sure I’ll give it a go one day.

    Comment posted on 25/02/2012 at 16:54.
  9. Nylon_Angel
    Member
    Since: Jul 2010

    just rented this game and yes it is simple with all the quest being basically the same. But I am enjoying it quite a lot, so I am happy. Helps with the Skyrim withdrawal :)

    Comment posted on 24/04/2012 at 12:26.

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