Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:Big Huge Games
Release Date:2012-02-07
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Though the open-world RPG might have seen its most prolific release late last year in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, there's still plenty more fun to be had for players looking to explore, loot and conquer. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has been turning some heads in the last few weeks leading up to its early February release, especially due to the pedigree of the individuals working on it. While we can't say definitively just yet whether this massive R.A. Salvatore-, Ken Rolston- and Todd McFarlane-fuelled action-RPG lives up to its equally massive potential, based on our extended hands-on time with the game, it's looking to be one of the best games of its type in the last couple of years.

Welcome To Amalur

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is based on an original fantasy world created by veteran author R.A. Salvatore, whose work in the Dungeons & Dragons franchise has been reflected in a number of other games, such as Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate. Being a brand-new game world, however, Amalur instead opts for a tinge of Irish mythology rather than the traditional fantasy tropes. References to Fae (non-mortal "fairy" races), the Tuatha (in Amalur's case, a race of demonic Fae waging war on the mortal realm), and other concepts out of folklore help to give Reckoning an original background. While it never feels particularly alien, it's always nice to play an RPG with a slightly different source of inspiration, even if it comes from the father of so much D&D canon.

At the center of Reckoning is the notion of Fate - that all beings have predetermined lives and outcomes. A warrior-monk order, the Fateweavers, exist to read the threads of Fate and advise the inhabitants of the world in how to deal with their lives best. As the player character, you change all that. Resurrected from total death by a Gnomish experiment, the Well of Souls, you awaken in the midst of a Tuatha attack, escape from their grasp, and shortly learn from a Fateweaver that unlike every other mortal, you have no Fate whatsoever - and more, that you are able to bend the threads of fate to your will.

While it's impossible to go into more details based on the sampling of gameplay we tried out, Reckoning holds a lot of promise both in its interesting folklore-tinged game world, and in its story setup, which to a degree recalls Planescape: Torment. Though the game doesn't take itself entirely seriously, there's still more here to latch onto than most other action-RPGs, and we're eager to see where things go in the full game. There is a lot that can be done with this kind of setup, and it'd be nice to see Reckoning play it boldly rather than safely.

One thing that we did get a sense for based on our time with the game is the style of the writing and the quests. Reckoning, while never really straying from traditional RPG quest design (go here, collect an object, kill a few monsters), also manages to wrap them up in entertaining ways. Almost all quests have some sort of interesting twist or tie-in to the game world (such as one where a disciple from a monetary is convinced he'll be granted great powers, and constantly debates his future "wizard name" even as he depends on your help), and very few play out exactly as expected. At the very least, it seems most quests involve some dialogue options, or a dungeon crawl, and several have a couple of different outcomes based on choices made. After playing hours of Skyrim, it's nice to see the designers and writers having some fun with the usual RPG tropes, rather than following them to the letter without even a hint of self-awareness.

A Fable To End Fable

Reckoning takes many of the design tenets of open-world games like The Elder Scrolls and Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga, but more than any, it draws inspiration from the Fable series. In fact, the resemblance to Fable, at least on the surface, is almost uncanny - the artwork is cartoonish and feels like a mix between Lionhead's game and Blizzard's signature Warcraft style, there's a tinge of humor and levity that runs throughout the quest design and writing, and the action-style combat has more in common with traditional action games or even brawlers than other action-RPGs.

To label the game as a straight-up open-world affair is a little bit inaccurate. Rather than featuring a near-limitless stretch of terrain to explore, Reckoning follows the more traditional hub-area approach that RPG fans will be more than familiar with. The world is divided into a number of distinct zones, with multiple building interiors to explore and dungeons to delve into. Despite the traditional structure, however, the sheer size of the world is impressive - the full game looks like it will have over 30 distinct hub locations to explore, each stocked with dozens of quest opportunities. It's hard to tell just how progression will be handled in the full game, but with such a large world at our fingertips, it's hard to not get excited at the prospect of traversing it.