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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This is accomplished largely by splitting up character development into two different systems. The first, skills, cover all of your combat abilities, and are divided into Sorcery, Finesse and Might. There are no attributes to assign, but rather, new tiers in a given skill tree are opened up by continued investment in that tree, meaning that if you want to unlock the ultimate abilities of each, you'll need to stay dedicated. That said, all skills, even low-level ones, remain useful throughout the entire game due to upgrades - my magic user's lightning ball became a deadly area-of-effect attack later on, for instance. Mixing and matching is just as effective as sticking to one tree, as hurling spells while slashing away at enemies with twin daggers gets the job done as well as raining fire and ice down on their heads.

Non-combat options are handled by the game's abilities, which don't take the form of a tree, but rather a Mass Effect-style investment system. There are nine abilities in total (Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Detect Hidden, Dispelling, Lockpicking, Mercantile, Persuasion, Sagecraft and Stealth), and all are useful. Some of them are self-explanatory - Alchemy and Blacksmithing let you brew potions and craft gear - but others, like Detect Hidden, allow you to identify hidden treasure and secret doors. Lockpicking and Dispelling form two different kinds of mini-games for unlocking chests, and they are both satisfactory, but can be bypassed or automated in a few different ways if you have the necessary skill level or items. Crucially, non-combat abilities also play into quests - there are frequent dialogue checks that include just about every single ability, and maxing out Persuasion isn't enough to guarantee mastery over conversations, unlike just about every other RPG out there.

The final piece of the puzzle is the game's Destiny cards. As I mentioned, Reckoning doesn't have any attributes or classes, but Destinies sort of fill the niche by providing you with passive bonuses. Destinies unlock based both on your level and your investment into the different skill trees, so a jack-of-all-trades will get appropriate bonuses, but won't ever have quite has high a mana pool as a dedicated sorcerer or as big a damage bonus as a straight-up fighter. Combined with the cheap and freely-available respec options, Reckoning gives you a lot of choices, but wisely avoids forcing you into them for the entire game should you change your mind about your play-style. While normally I'd be a much bigger proponent of consequence in gameplay, Reckoning is not a 20-hour Fallout-style game, and given the choice between maxing out your character and respecs, I'll definitely take the latter.

For me, what makes Reckoning's mechanics stand out isn't so much that it does any one thing excellently (though it is quite competent), but rather it's that it never, ever leaves certain character builds behind. It is exceptionally well-balanced as far as different archetypes, skills and abilities go, and unlike some games you will rarely if ever regret investing in a particular path. Moreover, for an action-RPG it is surprisingly quick to give you alternatives in completing quests, and that goes a long way to making things more interesting. Reckoning is, frankly, better-designed and more mechanically engaging than just about every action-RPG I've played... which is why it's so unfortunate I have to then qualify that statement by saying "if it was half the size."

Presentation & Playability

Most games of such colossal scope have to cut corners in order to make ends meet as far as production values go, and Reckoning is no exception. Graphically, the game boasts some very solid (but subjectively appealing) artwork that bears a passing resemblance to other lighthearted RPGs, with a heavy emphasis on bloom, bright colors, fog and other high-impact effects. Look a bit closer, though, and the game reveals a few flaws. There is extensive pop-in when wandering the game's open environments, almost always prevalent and sometimes distracting. The game's texture detail is also occasionally poor - on a grand scale it works well, but the seams do show. The flip-side of this is that the game runs at a perfect 60 frames per second on my two-year-old gaming system, and I never once encountered any stutters or other issues that plague other open-world games. The console versions don't run quite as smoothly from what I've heard, but they still reach for 60 fps rather than the more standard 30 fps.

The game's audio typically fares a bit better. The sound effects populating the world of Amalur are evocative and appropriate - babbling brooks, dripping caverns, crackling torches and so on are all in the right places and give a good sense of atmosphere. In combat, enemies roar and scream convincingly, and weapon and magic effects alike are satisfactory. Voice acting, meanwhile, is pretty solid. RPG fans will no doubt recognize tons of familiar voices - most notably Steve Blum, Jim Cummings and Cam Clarke - and the cast itself is quite extensive and varied, keeping you from hearing the same actors over and over. Some performances are a bit weak, with occasionally awkward line readings and poor attempts at conveying emotion (and to be honest, the pseudo-Irish accents tend to be pretty bad), but it's definitely on the same level as the competition.