Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:Big Huge Games
Release Date:2012-02-07
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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World of Amalur

The key word there is potential. Kingdoms of Amalur has all the makings of a modern classic, but is never quite able to capitalize on the things it sets up. There are some definite strengths, to be sure. The main storyline, as far as its plot points go, is actually one of the better ones I've played through in an RPG lately. Despite a general lack of choice and consequence in how it plays out, the A-plot of stopping the deadly Tuatha (twisted, evil Fae), and the B-plot around the Fateless One's past, mesh and collide in a pretty satisfying manner. Similarly, there are a lot of excellent sub-plots to be found in the game's various faction quests, including the Fae-centric House of Ballads, and the Warsworn, a mercenary outfit which struggles between its antiquated notions of chivalry and honor, and the need to be profitable and successful in the current world. All these faction quest lines are well-developed and offer a bit more in the way of choice, although most of the consequences are cosmetic, and they don't really interact with the main story at all.

While the main and faction quests are generally quite engaging and well-written, however, Reckoning suffers due to its sheer size. The game draws much from modern MMORPGs, and as a result, its massive world is focused heavily around fighting through excessive numbers of filler enemies, picking up random loot (99% of which is junk), and performing side-quests which rarely go beyond your typical FedEx and monster slaughter models. There are some definite exceptions, and the writing is occasionally entertaining enough to give enjoyable context, but after the first few hours these side-quests all tend to blur together and begin to lose meaning. The bulk of the game's 100ish hours is made up of doing these side-quests and trekking across the vast, repetitive world of Amalur, and, while it's able to keep itself going for a while, about 30 hours in I was already getting tired.

The odd thing is, Reckoning actually gets better as it goes. Most games are front-loaded with their content, mostly because they want to impress gamers right out of the gate - after all, most players don't finish games and they want to see all the cool stuff to justify their purchasing decisions right off the bat. Reckoning starts out as an okay action-RPG with some good combat, but the early focus on side-questing around monotonous forests and caves doesn't do it too many favors. However, stick with it long enough and the game's better elements creeep out of the woodwork. The game's first city, Ysa, marks the turning point, and is when the story really begins to come together. Many players may not get that far, which is a real shame as it's when Reckoning hits its stride; frankly, it should have happened five hours in instead of 25.

Granted, it's true that the MMO-style forward progression of the game, focused largely on side-quests and hopping from one locale to the next as you begin to out-level the enemies, never really goes away, but by the time you learn to overcome the usual obsessive-compulsive reflexes that define so many single-player RPGs (you really, really shouldn't go looting every last chest or picking every single flower), it might be too late. Even as Reckoning provided much more immediate and effective locations, plot points and character abilities to use, I found myself less and less eager to jump back in simply because I got burned out on the early game. If I had known at the time, I would have rushed the main quest from the start and never looked back. Part of it's my fault, but given that the game is sold as an open-world experience, I think it's a fair complaint when so much content never rises beyond mediocre.

Action-RPG Done Right

All of this that I say about Reckoning's repetition is worth bearing in mind, but there's a flip-side to the game that also makes it one of the best action-RPGs seen in years. Though the action-RPG genre has always struggled to marry fast-paced, responsive combat with the depth and breadth of a genuine RPG character system, Reckoning might well be the first game that really succeeds at it. Part of this comes down to the fact that that combat is up there with other dedicated action games like God of War in terms of fluidity and responsiveness, and part of it also comes down to the fact that it doesn't cut out the role-playing in the name of that action. Reckoning provides a very solid stable of both combat-oriented character development and non-combat options, and it makes previous attempts like The Witcher 2 and Divinity II look clunky and awkward in comparison.

In keeping with its theme of Fate, Reckoning allows players to freely build characters. There are no preset classes to choose from, which means you can tinker around at your leisure with the options available, and be rewarded for it. If you find yourself enjoying magic, then pumping points into Sorcery abilities will unlock both extra damage and moves to use in combat, as well as more and more devastating special attacks. Stealthy players, meanwhile, will be happy to learn that stealth, complete with instant-killing backstabs and a focus on critical hits and dodging, is also just as viable. All character types can partake in Fateshift Mode, which provides a big damage and armor boost for a duration, after building up the Fate meter by performing special attacks and combos.