Genre: Role Playing Developer: Publisher: Classification: TBC Release Date: 31st Dec 2012 Platforms:
Average of 4 Ratings
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It's a bit droll to begin a review of a fantasy video game by asking you to picture The Lord of the Rings, but I feel I have to. When reading/watching the LOTR series, what did you feel was your favourite bit? Was it the epic battles? The in-depth game world, steeped with inter-racial and inter-factional politics? Or was it the numerous scenes where people walked places?
Regardless of where you fit in in the Fantasy fan spectrum, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will have something to cater to your needs. If you fit into the third category though - you love watching people walk places - you will think you've hit the jackpot.
At some point along the road which leads to 'epic-sized world' the team working on KOA:R forgot that running for half an hour to get somewhere simply isn't fun. This entire problem is exacerbated by the introduction of invisible walls, which make running down a mountain no fun at all.
So it was around the 35 hour mark that I found the experience of running from one place to another clouding all the things I enjoyed about the game. I found I was able to predict how the next mission would play out too. Run for five minutes. Blow a wind chime/whistle/destroy some crystals. Fight monsters which spawn. Repeat.
Conceptually it's designed to give you a chance to explore the game world. As you run between these places you'll notice a variety of yellow exclamation marks - now the universal sign for 'available quest' - on your minimap/hovering above the man in front of you. It's a philosophy borrowed from another game - World of Warcraft - and anyone familiar with the world of Azeroth will find themselves drawing more than a few similarities with Blizzard's Massively Multiplayer.
Quests in World of Warcraft are highlighted and important for a reason. In an MMO the story isn't as terribly important as the XP you get from completing a quest. So the ability to mindlessly run up to an exclamation mark, find out quickly what your task is (kill 6 billion boars) and then be about your mission is important.
Where this doesn't work in KOAR is in two areas. Firstly - the exclamation mark is a clear connection to World of Warcraft, diminishing the importance of quests in my mind. Which isn't a good thing when you're attempting to create a strong, narrative driven fantasy adventure.
Secondly - too often these quests wind up simply being bullshit MMO-alikes. Run here. Kill the Fetch. Return for a trinket and some gold. Do another quest. Any MMO veteran in-the-know will run into an area, grab all the relevant quests (probably skipping through the expository dialogue as they do) and then run out into the world, not returning to town until they need to hand-in quests or sell their copious amounts of loot.
What this results in is a sense of elation when you come across a quest chain as driven as the main quest - the bad thing is that this is less a testament to the strength of the narrative in these quest and more a nod to the weakness in the others. Worse still - if you get into the 'skip quest text zone' you might actually miss out on some well-written and interesting stuff.
The other similarities to World of Warcraft are superficial; the aesthetic way your UI is set out, the camera position and the colourful palette don't exactly affect gameplay - but they're not great for making you feel like you're playing something new and original.
Which is a crime, because Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is new and original in many ways. And when it isn't particularly original - at least it's creative about it.
The focus on the narrative isn't particularly original - but the game world created by R.A. Salvatore certainly is. The world created by the team is deep - deep enough to make you want to find out more even if you aren't particularly invested in the questing system - presenting a peculiar conundrum.
The combat system is creative as well. You have two weapons - a main and a secondary. The main is mapped to the X (or square) button, while your secondary weapon occupies the Y (or triangle) button.
It's all too easy to find yourself slipping into habits left over from other games - using your main weapon most of the time, and falling back to your secondary only when you need. I spent the majority of the game wielding Faeblades as my main weapon and a bow as my secondary - never fully realising the combat system's potential.
You can map any weapon to your main attack button and the same goes for the secondary button. So you could have an agile Longsword as your first weapon and follow up with a claymore bigger than your character. Or wield that claymore first, and a warhammer second. Maybe you're a Battlemage, equipped with a sword/sceptre combo - spitting magic with one button and dealing pointy death with the other.
There's so much versatility available here - and it doesn't end at simply being able to use different weapons. The way you level can alter how each weapon is used - you can use points to unlock attacks for any weapon, as long as you pour those points into the correct tree.
So if you want to be that BattleMage you'll have to spread your levelling points across two trees - Might and Sorcery. Obviously each tree has other bonuses to draw your eye - meaning you'll be further tempted to focus on one as you play.
I went full Finesse for my playthrough - hence the Faeblades/Bow combo - and by combining dodging and attacking I found it easy to take on a dozen enemies at once.
The itemisation in the game plays further into the combat - like most RPGs these days your armour and weapons have stats, abilities and elemental properties. A savvy min-maxer is more than equipped with the ability to carry a weapon for every occasion - a fire weapon for the Boggarts (little wooden goblin things) and Threshs, an ice one for the Fire Sprite Champions and so on.
Further, thanks to a creative implementation of Open World RPG staple Blacksmithing you're able to build your own weapon almost immediately - though only through building up the skill will you ever make anything truly great. The same goes for Alchemy (the ability to make potions) and Sagecrafting (the ability to make gems - which you can socket into armour).
The rest of the skills are spread across a variety of necessary elements - lockpicking, dispelling (a magical lock system), mercantile (bartering) and persuasion are some examples - and they're all used enough that you'll want at least a single point in each.
I've briefly mentioned the strength of the narrative already, but it really does warrant further discussion. In what I hope is a deliberate effort to marry the plot to the actions of the character, KOA:R places you in the shoes of a fateless hero - a reanimated man, ripped from the threads of fate and capable of weaving his own story.
There are elements of D&D here, Wheel of Time there and with LOTR spattered throughout the game does a great job of making you feel like an important part in a massive universe.
I also appreciated the effort the writers went to in making the NPC's actions remain 'in canon' by developing a narrative where they really have no choice over what happens. The player character is the only person not bound by fate - and so the other people in the world aren't 'coded' to do certain things, they're 'fated' to do it. It's a small concession, but every time the plot nodded in its direction I appreciated it a little more.
They also do a fair amount of work to delve into how people react to someone not bound by fate. One of the first people you'll meet - Agarth - is a fateweaver, meaning he knows what will happen to everyone, all the time. Including himself. Coming into contact with the fateless one changes this though - it alters his fate and he has to deal with no longer knowing what he previously knew as a certainty.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a bit of a puzzler, to be honest. I'm in love with the narrative, and especially in love with the way it ties to the story. However, I'm not crazy with the way the developers seemed to borrow elements at large from World of Warcraft without considering their placement in a singleplayer RPG experience first.
The first 30 hours I played of this game I found myself completely enthralled - unable to come up for air, and not wanting to even if I could. After this though, the constant walking started to turn the game into a bit of a chore. The final section of the game - where you essentially walk for two hours straight until you reach the 'boss fight' - felt like a kick in the teeth. And then the boss fights happened, and I felt content with the experience.
Absolutely get Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning if you're looking for a deep fantasy world - but if you can't handle the MMO flavour, you might want to give it a pass. KOA:R shines when it is being creative or original - when you get lost in the depth of the combat, or the wealth of backstory - and falters when it apes other games. And seriously - it's 2012... lose the invisible walls already.