Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Preview

18 Jan 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:Big Huge Games
Release Date:2012-02-07
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Finally, as a "Fateless One", your character will be able to periodically enter "Fateshift Mode", which offers up extra damage, armor, and bonus experience points. Truth be told, it's nothing to write home about, but ties in well with the game's action-oriented nature and can be saved up to tackle some of the game's more difficult boss enemies. On top of that, you can also select from a host of Destinies as you level up, which are represented as cards and confer passive bonuses (more or less taking the place of character classes). While the idea is nice as window dressing, I just don't think it's quite as big a hook as the game makes it out to be, and the idea of being unbound by Fate sounds like it could have much more interesting implications than a simple combat power-up or a few stat boosts.

If there's a gripe to be had about the combat, it's that the enemies aren't too interesting to fight and go down way too quickly. Bosses have large and inflated hit point counts, but standard enemies, if they aren't too high a level, go down with only a few attacks. Things do improve as you encounter more exotic enemies (fairies that fire magic projectiles, and giant trolls), but I can't help but feel that the focus on faster combat has taken the edge off of some of the game's challenge. Still, that's a bit hard to judge from the early stages of the game alone. Another smaller issue is that the almighty roll seems to make blocking attacks unimportant - 38 Studios and Big Huge Games clearly did not learn by The Witcher 2's example.

Technical Difficulties

Despite the fact that Amalur runs smoothly, looks pretty good (if you don't mind its visual style) and has a decent soundtrack and voice-acting, it also seems to have its share of glitches and other problems. During play I came across issues with texture pop-in (on my high-end PC, it's worth noting), characters flickering and disappearing during cutscenes, cameras clipping through walls during dialogue sequences, stretching and warped polygons, and a couple of full-on crashes. Simply put, the version of the game we played wasn't entirely stable, and while the bugs aren't game-breaking, they strike me as the sort of beta, pre-release issues that need to be addressed before final release.

Likewise, the user interface is a bit awkward, with multiple nested menus requiring several button inputs to perform fairly basic tasks (like equipping items), and text crammed into tiny boxes, which necessitates more scrolling than is probably needed. It's clearly a console-driven UI, but even by those standards it's not too great, and on the PC, with a mouse and keyboard, it's fairly clunky, only mitigated a bit by a convenient quickbar for items and spells, and hotkeys for opening various sub-screens. Again, I hope this will be improved a bit by release or in future patches, but somehow I doubt it.

Last, there are a few problems I had with the game's controls and camera. While the PC controls are mostly fine, there is a good deal of mouse smoothing that makes camera movement feel a bit unnatural, and it's impossible to turn it off - rather than 1:1 control, it's much closer to a "virtual joystick" implementation, and I'm not a fan of it. On an Xbox 360 controller, the default button layout is also awkward - the same button is used for both sprinting and interacting (A), which means I was constantly talking to NPCs and using objects I didn't intend to; this also makes it impossible to turn the camera while sprinting, unless you twist your index finger around to the right stick. Last, the camera perspective itself is very close to your character and low to the ground, only zooming out contextually in combat. I felt a little motion sick due to the low field of view and found I had to rotate the camera far more than I should have. Placing the camera a little higher up and zooming it back a touch would do wonders, and why it's locked in place so rigidly is a question I have no answer for.

Conclusion

Still, the control and interface issues, while an annoyance, don't really take away from Kingdoms of Amalur's core strengths of responsive combat, interesting quests, and compelling world. It's hard to be too harsh on things like bugs when we're talking about pre-release code, but given the game's release is only two weeks away, it's worth bringing them up. In any case, Reckoning is not the deepest RPG ever created, or the most open-ended, but it doesn't pretend to be either. Players looking for a sizeable action-adventure with plenty of looting, crafting, fighting and talking to do will definitely walk away from Reckoning pleased, and it's our hope that the full game will be able to make good on its potential.