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
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Reckoning's soundtrack, composed by industry veteran Grant Kirkhope (GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and more) is effective and bears a distinctly filmic touch, with common musical themes that creep in and out. It's all fully-orchestrated rather than synthesized, which is a plus, but while I'm a fan of Kirkhope's other scores, Reckoning's is a little generic next to contemporaries like Jeremy Soule, and aside from a few pieces here and there, the music mostly fades into the background.

From a usability perspective, however, Reckoning is a bit disappointing. I played the game on the PC, and was instantly put off by the user interface and controls. The fact is that the game just does not play very well on a mouse and keyboard, and a lack of support for certain key bindings and mouse buttons make things akward for anyone not interested in the default layout. Even on a gamepad, though, the interface has a number of problems. Although the ability to throw any item in your junk bag at the touch of a button is welcome, the endless menus and sub-menus for managing inventory items are, frankly, frustrating, and you will frequently spend minutes of your time sorting through the limited inventory space, scrolling through overlong and cumbersome lists. The game's UI does not make good use of screen space either; many menus inexplicably take up only 20% of the real estate, for instance.

Moreover, the game's camera perspective is disorienting at times, with the camera zooming in during combat rather than pulling back, and sometimes even clipping through the ground or lagging way behind your character. Using a mouse, camera movement feels floaty, as if it's mapped to a virtual analogue stick rather than any sort of 1:1 input. Big Huge Games claim to have taken fan feedback into account and may patch some improvements in, but for now I simply can't recommend playing the game without a controller.

Last, it's worth bearing out that the game's technical side has been dramatically improved since the demo version. While the demo was rife with missing dialogue, texture corruption, broken quests and other problems, the final game is far more polished, and in fact is probably one of the most stable, bug-free RPGs I've played in some time. Some players have reported game-halting bugs, so I can't guarantee the game is perfect, but for my 60+ hours spent with it, I had a smooth experience. The review copy I played was tied to EA's Origin digital distribution service (though you can also get the game on Steam and other services), so the standard DRM disclaimer goes here, but for what it's worth I encountered no issues with Origin while playing.

Conclusion

Reviewing a game like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is tough. It is a massive experience and very hard to capture in the span of even this much text, and furthermore, in trying to hit so many markets (action gamers, RPG fans and everything in between), there's always going to be someone who's disappointed, or something that I failed to touch on. Encapsulating it in a nutshell for a final verdict, a "buy or don't buy" statement is going to be hard simply because everyone's going to want something different out of it.

Reckoning is one of the strongest mainstream RPGs in some time when it comes to its core mechanics, and brings together some excellent combat with a genuinely interesting, if somewhat generic, fantasy universe. However, its own sheer size gets in the way of it achieving its potential, with too many filler quests, and too much time spent running around empty expanses of terrain hunting down level-scaled loot. If you can force yourself to stick to the main storyline and the faction quests, Kingdoms of Amalur provides a great 40 or so hours of gameplay that fares far better than most other open-world RPGs. I just wish it wasn't wrapped up with an extra 60-odd hours of less-than-stellar content.

All that said, the world of Amalur is an interesting one, and I'd love to see more of it explored in the future. Reckoning is, despite its flaws, still a very solid RPG from a studio that has never put one out before; given this fact, I'm very excited to see where Big Huge Games and 38 Studios will take their universe and gameplay in the future.