Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review

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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The action-RPG genre becomes ever more crowded with each passing year, as the popularity of RPGs in the mainstream continues to climb. It's been an interesting trend to see the gradual rebirth of RPGs over the course of the current console generation, and while fans of old-school isometric games and dungeon crawlers haven't had much to latch on to, players looking for more action-based games have been left with some great experiences - Skyrim, The Witcher 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Mass Effect just to name a few.

Now, after a lengthy and difficult development cycle, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has finally been brought to light. The open-world RPG based on R.A. Salvatore's brand-new universe has a lot to live up to. While Reckoning is able to provide some excellent action-based combat, a very smart character system and some pretty deep lore, the game is dragged down by inconsistent quality, lethargic pacing and a lot of filler content.

A Prestigious Offering

You can't throw a stone near Reckoning without it landing next to some of the game's top talent. Developed by Curt Schilling and former Morrowind lead designer Ken Rolston, backed by a dense universe provided by R.A. Salvatore, and with art direction by Todd McFarlane, there's plenty of big names involved in Reckoning's development. Big Huge Games themselves have also made a name for themselves in the strategy community, having previously worked on the well-regarded Rise of Nations series. As a result of this talent, Reckoning bears the mark of an experienced development team.

However, in having such defined entertainment industry figures involved, Reckoning can come across a little bit less like a coherent product and a bit more like a big mixing bowl of ideas - often great ones, to be sure, but Reckoning isn't quite the "dream team" product it's been made out to be by its marketing campaign. As much as you might like or dislike Todd McFarlane's artwork, for instance, whether it actually meshes with the game universe is a matter of debate, and the vestiges of Elder Scrolls gameplay included also don't quite feel as developed as they could otherwise. It's an interesting mix, but perhaps not the most consistent one.

Fated for Greatness

Picking a place to start with a game of Reckoning's size is difficult, but it's fair to say that the lore and universe are one of the game's focal points. Created by R.A. Salvatore, in conjunction with 38 Studios for their upcoming MMO Copernicus, the world of Amalur is a massive place, featuring multiple continents and kingdoms all with thousands of years of history behind them, inhabited by some unique races as well, both Elder and Young. It's a lot to take in, and the game does a pretty decent job with its exposion.

Most central to Amalur is the concept of Fate. Amalur's world is cyclical, and the paths of its inhabitants are predetermined. While Young Races like gnomes, elves and humans tend to be largely ignorant towards it, the Elder Races, including the Fae of the Summer and Winter Courts, are governed almost entirely by it, to the point where their immortal lives are lived out again and again in sequence, their stories told the same way each time. Reckoning sets itself right on the cusp of change - the Elder Races are seeing transition where for centuries they saw constancy, and the Young Races seek to undermine Fate entirely through their magical and technological development.

For once, Reckoning manages to build its typical "Chosen One" storyline on top of something substantial. In most games, the protagonist is special simply by virtue of being, well, the protagonist. In Reckoning, your Fateless One is revived from death at the beginning of the game and left free of the shackles of destiny - while others must be fit with their lots in life, you are literally the only one with the power to change the fate of the world, rather than the only one who's badass enough to do so. It's a fantastic setup for the game, and has tons of potential for a deep and engaging story.