Foo-So-RaSTFU: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Reviewed
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 Console.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has been studded with enough hooks to reel in any RPG gamer you’d care to meet. Intelligently written swords-and-sorcery storyline? R.A. Salvatore penned it. Interesting character design? Todd McFarlane was up to his elbows in ink. Did the guy running it know what he was doing? Two words: Ken Rolston. With the addition of stellar voice work, crafting skills deep enough to keep folks farming for hours, brilliantly designed character skill development, loot that would make Torchlight and Diablo fans giggle in delight, and brutal combat which would earn the approval of Kratos himself, Reckoning takes a mashup of gaming conventions, stuffs them in a blender, and pours out a smooth and rich action RPG experience which raises the bar.
Reckoning begins with an introduction to the overarching storyline, a fantasy yarn penned by R.A. Salvatore (of Drizzt fame) which, while not breaking new ground (evil arises, the balance must be restored, etc. etc.), does establish a solid baseline for the rest of the game. The slowly unfolding tale of Amalur’s fate does a solid job of keeping players’ feet moving; but perhaps one of Reckoning‘s most endearing, and overwhelming, traits is the sheer number of storylines and resulting side quests. The amount of quests in each area and their delivery system (the archetypical “?” and “!” are present) left me suffering flashbacks from my WoW days…which may be intentional as Reckoning started life as a MMO. More than once I found myself so wrapped up in the blizzard of secondary stories that I had to consult the log for what I was supposed to be doing for the main quest line. NPCs, nearly all of whom seem to have their own story and mini-plotline, deliver their lines with an appropriate amount of gravitas to make the player think, “Yes, I really should set the fate of the faelands aside for a bit. Wiping out that gang of bandits most certainly takes precedence.” One will not run short of things to do or impetus to do them in Reckoning.
You can expect a great deal of fun to be had in the process, because obvious care was taken to make the interface as seamless as possible. Menus are simple to navigate and provide the player with a huge amount of information. Conversation choices are made via the ubiquitous Mass Effect-style chat wheel, though farming a NPC for information utilizes a simple list of choices. Potions can be mapped to the D-pad and selected from a rotary menu opened with L2, and active skills accessed with a Dragon Age inspired mapping to the face buttons. Quick, simple, and effective. Just like the combat…ohhhh, the carnage…
I recall the first time I played Dragon Age 2 and got a taste of the third person action elements which had been introduced. Joy at the fresh feel mingled with the disappointment brought about by the execution, which was close but not quite there. Though I wish to take nothing away from my beloved yarn-weavers at Bioware, Big Huge Games has leapfrogged them by a wide margin.
Start with a solid base of controls and mechanics obviously inspired by and patterned after such genre stalwarts as God of War, Devil May Cry, and Darksiders. Throw into this impressive mix the ability of equipping both a primary and secondary weapon belonging to a plethora of ranged and melee armaments. Layer over that an array of passive and activated skills and spells divided into 3 distinct trees. Add additional layers of abilities stemming from the chosen fate selected at the time. Top with absolutely brutal finishers. Bake at 400 for an hour and serve very, very hot.
It’s good that the combat mechanics are not only intuitive but also well implemented, because the enemies you encounter in Reckoning are not going to hand you a free pass. Unlike the magically appearing waves of foes in Dragon Age 2, you will typically face small groups of enemies who show a remarkable knack for gang-fighting, with melee scrappers closing while ranged assailants keep your dodge button warm. Particularly at higher difficulty levels, you’ll find that even minor combatants can effortlessly make large portions of your health magically disappear in the arterial sprays surging from your character. Success on the battlefields of Reckoning requires understanding of not only the mechanics of battle but also the synergies of your chosen equipment and skills. Frustration can easily abound if button-mashing is one’s preferred fighting style, but a bit of practice rewards the character by revealing the depth built into the combat system.
So we’ve established that killing things in Reckoning is fun, but it would not be nearly as much if your foes weren’t so neat to look at. Character models will be subject to comparisons to Worlds of Warcraft due to a slightly cartoony style and vivid color palette, but it would be unfair to label Reckoning a clone. Each model is unique and has definite personality. My only gripe with the models is a recurring issue with lips not quite matching up with the speech. Backgrounds and environments are solidly done, but there’s little to catch the eye. Human hamlets and elfish villages, dungeons and mines, all are much the same regardless of whose fantasy universe you occupy, apparently.
While we’re on the topic of genre staples, sound effects and music fail to either impress or offend. The only item I found of note is the meaty thwack of iron into flesh provided by a successful backstab; I always took perhaps an unhealthy amount of joy from that. The only standout in the audio department comes from top-notch voice work. from enemies growling threats to the hearty hello of a villager, the voice talents were superbly utilized and do a wonderful job injecting real character into their, well, characters.
Underlying all this is a delightfully fun set of talent and skill trees. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the obvious hours and hours of thought which were put into their development. Though broadly drawn into buckets favoring fighters, rogues, or casters, each skill tree can be further subdivided to best match a player’s style. By mixing and matching abilities and skills from each tree, players are given an opportunity to develop their characters in almost any conceivable direction. A plate-mailed summoner? Can do. A sorcerer with a penchant for bows? Yes. A stealthy assassin who uses a five-foot hammer when detected? Nothing new. Perhaps as the perfect topper to this massive mountain of options, and skillfully worked into the fiction given the protagonist’s role as the “fateless one”, Reckoning gives players an easy out if they feel discontentment with their chosen skillset. A visit to a “fateweaver”, combined with a significant amount of cash, allows for a reset.
Since the days of yore, I have always wanted someone, anyone, to make a true-to-form RPG and blend it with the combat of a third person hack-and-slash. I will go out on a limb and say Reckoning is that game, finally bridging the genres successfully. It’ll be very interesting to see what other developers do, now that Big Huge Games has proven it can be done and, more importantly, done well. Particularly Bioware, whose own fantasy opus took some tentative steps in this direction, may have some questions to answer. The team responsible for Dragon Age 3 is probably sweating right now as Reckoning’s star ascends. As for myself, I’m already looking forward to my next trip through Amalur…
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning receives a 4.5 / 5.0
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