Also available on: Xbox 360, PC Developer:38 Studios / Big Huge Games Publisher: 30 Studios / Electronic Arts Genre: Role-playing game
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a staggeringly ambitious project. Combining the imagination of fantasy author RA Salvatore with the visionary genius of comic book legend Todd McFarlane, developers 38 Studios and Big Huge Games aimed to make a whopping impact on the role-playing game genre with this one.
The game is set against an open-world fantasy backdrop that draws influence from a wide range of sources, from Lord of the Rings to the Elder Scrolls titles. It's built upon 10,000 years of history masterminded by Salvatore, and combines the RPG depth of Skyrim with the furious action mechanics of the God of War series.
The result is a triumphant hybrid with enough sophistication to strike a chord with any RPG veteran, but perhaps its greatest achievement is providing gameplay comprehensible enough to open the title up to anyone.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning starts out much like any other RPG. Players select one of four races and customise their character using a broad array of tools. There are four factions to choose from - the game's unique take on light and dark elves, and two varieties of human - and attributes vary depending on where your allegiance lies. For instance, the Almain are skilled with weapons, while the Dokkalfar are adept at casting spells.
A brief intro sequence wastes no time laying down Amalur's lore. The premise has enough substance to fill a novel in its own right and the story seems to borrow from the greatest fantasy fiction of our time.
Players who cut their teeth on traditional fantasy RPGs will find few surprises in the opening segments, aside from perhaps the arcade-like fluidity of movement and combat. Gameplay takes place from the third-person perspective and, despite initially coming across like a Devil May Cry derivative, crams in the kind of depth rarely found outside of games like World of Warcraft.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is expertly paced. Players are introduced to melee combat almost immediately, and the other mechanics are layered on one-by-one. By the end of the opening mission, you'll have mastered projectile weapons, magical abilities, stealth, looting and other essential RPG staples. While tutorial missions can be a source of boredom for experienced players, this one has you coming back from the dead to battle giant spiders alongside a band of gnomes. What's not to like?
Although the mechanics we have just outlined are the kind you'd find in any standard RPG, it isn't long before Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning spectacularly deviates from the norm. Unlike most of its counterparts, the game allows you to reset your attributes by paying characters known as Fateweavers a substantial amount of credits. This reallocates all of your experience points and reshapes your destiny.
Outside of this feature, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning still offers more creative freedom than most games of its kind, allowing players to mix and match attributes and align themselves with a range of different factions. Of course, there is no shortage of traditional RPG mechanics either. There's the levelling up grind, talent trees to scale, and new abilities to unlock. You might even feel like you've wandering into Skyrim when gathering ingredients for alchemy or jacking open a chest with a lockpick.
Combat is deeply satisfying, and intuitive enough to grace any hack 'n' slash title. Reeling off combos and mastering special abilities is pivotal to success, but you'll never have to memorise more than a few button combinations. Boss battles end in God of War-esque quicktime events, which yield a varying amount of XP depending on how many button bashes you got in during the coup de grace.
The Reckoning mechanic, activated during battles, slows time to a crawl to enable players to deliver death blows to an arena full of opponents. Enemies floored when this mode is activated will release spirit energy, which can be used to improve your character later on.
There's never a dull moment in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. There's a new item at practically every turn, and you can't travel more than a few feet without stumbling upon a side-quest. Players always have one skill or another that they can be honing, and the option to visit the Fateweavers is always there for a change of pace.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is more than graphically competent, but its greatest visual accomplishment is McFarlane's creature design. There's nothing here reminiscent of his comic book work, yet the Spawn creator adds a unique twist to the creatures of folklore. Trolls, elves, gnomes and the like are still instantly recognisable, but with a surprise or two in store. That's not to say some of the environments aren't impressive too. At times there's some pixelation, yet the lush forests and ice caves give rise to a sense of wonder all the same.
If Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has a down side, it's the repetitiveness of boss battles and side-quests. There can be no complaints pertaining to variety in the core missions, yet the bonus quests start to feel like padding after so much item fetching and contract killing. Bosses are usually hulking creatures, surrounded by re-spawning enemies, which meet their demise by quick-time event. The game would have benefited from a few twists on this formula, though this is a minor niggle at worst.
38 Studios and Big Huge Games have done a great job with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, providing a deep and sophisticated RPG with core gameplay straightforward enough to appeal to genre newcomers. If nothing else, it's good to see an original IP come along and show some of the established franchises how it's done.