Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning: PC Review
Use the force, Neo.
|Title||Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning|
|Platform||PC, Xbox 360, PS3|
|Release Date||February 7, 2012|
In a gaming era where most mainstream Western RPGs are either an entry in a franchise, or spring from some long established chunk of lore, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has drawn a lot of attention as a blockbuster RPG set in a brand new world. And yet, ‘brand new world,’ may not be such an apt description.
If you’ve followed the development of Amalur up till release, the game’s highly derivative nature shouldn’t come as much of a shock. Afterall, this is a title where the lead developer has been quoted as saying, “Fans say ‘I want something new,’ but clearly they want the same thing with less suck.” Rather than setting out to rewrite the playbook, it seems the primary goal was making a polished and addictive RPG that drew from the best elements of its predecessors. The developer, 38 Studios, is something of a dream-team and was founded by retired MLB Pitcher, Curt Schilling. To head the art department, he enlisted Todd MacFarlane: master of many a nightmare, and creator of Spawn. The story and primary writing duties for Amalur were handled by R. A. Salvatore, an author that has published a staggering amount of fantasy and science-fiction novels, including a number of books set in the Star Wars and Forgotten Realms universes. Amalur’s score comes courtesy of yet another industry veteran, Grant Kirkhope, perhaps best known for his work with Rare and Goldeneye. The final addition to Amalur’s development team is Ken Rolston. Rolston previously headed development on the last two Elder Scrolls titles (Morrowind and Oblivion, respectively), and his name has gone a long way promoting Amalur.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning begins with the death of your character. The good news is that you respond well to resurrection, unlike every other mortal. The bad news is that you don’t remember who you were. If the death and amnesia mechanic sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Witcher tackled this recently, and actually did a very good job of making a fresh and even exciting story out of such a tired plot setup. In Amalur, it usually feels like an afterthought. Every now and then throughout the main story quests, characters hint that you used to do Some Things before you died, but the hints are never very tantalizing (and neither is their ultimate reveal). Either way, all that matters is you die, get carted off in a wheel barrow, create your character, and wake up in a pile of corpses. Wait, what?
Let’s backtrack a little. Character creation in Amalur is a fairly painless endeavor. Unlike Bethesda or Bioware games where you are given the freedom to tweak almost every single aspect of your character’s appearance, here you are given a modest number of sliders. In less than fifteen minutes I was able to come up with a character I was pleased with, and could enjoy looking at for the rest of the game. While I understand that some will be disappointed they can’t tweak the exact angle of their earlobes, others may welcome the fact that they don’t have to agonize over character creation for hours, only to find they’ve created a heroic freak of nature once stepping out into daylight. Once your race is chosen, and your character is named and made, you choose a god to worship*, which provides you with one of a few minor passive bonuses, similar to Oblivion‘s birth signs. Then, it’s time to claw your way out of the corpses and onto greatness.
Amalur‘s opening thereafter is pretty standard. Essentially, it’s a tutorial that runs about thirty minutes to an hour, leading you along a set path until you escape and are left to wander about the world as you please. And yet that’s an important fact to discern; while Amalur is technically an open-world affair, it doesn’t offer the degree of freedom you would find in an Elder Scrolls game. You can’t just go running off in one direction and scale a few mountains, ending up on the opposite side of the map after an hour or so. Although there are certain ledges that you may vault off of, there is no jump function here, and furthermore, there are plenty of locations you can see that you will never be able to traverse. Your mini-map at least does a pretty good job of showing you where you can go and where you have been already. In this sense, exploration of the world is more akin to a game like Fable or a pre-flying mount World of Warcraft. If you want to get to that segment of the map on the other side of the mountain range, you’re going to have to walk there first, and if you haven’t taken your time and leveled up sufficiently in the process, you’re going to get slaughtered.
As you delve deeper into the game, you’ll find that Amalur scales (and then locks) enemies and items to your relative level. If you look at the world map, you’ll note that the world is essentially broken into five main regions, and then a number of ’tiles’ or main areas within that, each of which generally has its own set of quests, enemies and NPCs. Each time you enter one of these new map ’tiles,’ the game checks your level, and then sets the level of the enemies and items within a relative range. Depending on how you play, this can bring fairly mixed results. In my playthrough I explored the first region of the game, Dalentarth, almost obsessively, completing every possible quest offered, and unearthing every inch of the mini-map in each area. After coming to terms with the fact that a 300 hour completist’s playthrough wasn’t a realistic goal for this review, I decided to focus on the game’s main quest line upon entering subsequent regions. Since these quests send you to every area in each region (usually to do a single task), if you decide to focus on the main story, eschewing side quests and general exploration, each of these map areas that you simply travel through will be locked to a certain level. Should you return to these areas later and undertake their various quests, chances are you will have far-outpaced that area’s level range, rendering the plethora of equipment you find pretty much useless. One welcome offset to this is that dungeons (which you inevitably are sent into for quests) scale to your level only upon entering them for the first time, and not when you enter the map area they belong to.
Drops in Amalur follow a familiar color coded convention. Uncolored items are typically pointless to equip and better sold or salvaged, while green and blue coded items are similar, typically denoting minor or enhanced magical properties. The best drops come in either purple or gold, and feature unique designs, while all others follow a certain design based on their level tier (regardless of the item’s properties). It’s rather staggering just how many weapon and armor designs the developers have packed into this game, and Amalur features some of the coolest loot design you can find in an RPG. Unfortunately, that just makes it that much more disappointing when you find some new unique piece of loot that looks completely badass… and the stats are worthless compared to what you already have equipped. Gold items, for example, denote armor that pertains to a set, and as you acquire more pieces, the bonuses increase. However, the chances that you’ll find all pieces of a set before that set is outpaced by other, stronger items, is incredibly small. Still, chances are if you’re wearing a hodgepodge of unique items, you’ll still look completely badass.
Although Amalur features a rather deep crafting system, I would advise waiting to invest in it until you find yourself near the game’s level cap of 40. One of the most exciting parts of Amalur is that old loot crawl, in which you find new rare weapons and pieces of armor, and get to see just how they change the look of your character. Blacksmithing sort of negates that. Whatever you craft will carry the standard look of that tier’s uncolored, blue and green loot, and in the earlier levels, those items are just plain boring to look at compared to the unique items. And yet, once you max out your Blacksmithing and Sagecrafting skills (possible around level 20), you can easily make items whose stats completely outpace the unique items that are dropped. This makes it fairly difficult to say, “I’m going to wear this awesome looking piece of armor with puny stats, instead of these mundane God Hands I just created.” Blacksmithing also carries a certain amount of tedium with it, due to the intriguing, yet ultimately frustrating nature of salvaging weapons for components. Combined with the typical head-scratching inventory management frustrations you’ll find in most RPGs, Blacksmithing quickly becomes something of a chore.
See, when you begin playing Amalur, you start out with an inventory limit set at 70. As you proceed through the game, you’ll find backpacks for sale from a handful of merchants which increase your carry limit by ten. Eventually, you can obtain a house which provides a chest with storage for up to 155 items (which seems like a strangely arbitrary number in itself), but with the amount of loot you obtain in Amalur, it’s not going to be enough. This means that every few hours you’ll need to return to town in order to either sell off your equipment, or salvage for components used in Blacksmithing. If you decide to pursue Blacksmithing, typically you’re going to salvage about half the items you come back with. As you level up this skill, you’ll eventually be able to salvage green, and then blue items for parts. When you salvage an item, you have a random chance to get a number of components from each item. Although it’s a cool concept in theory, obsessive types like myself will find it incredibly maddening. I’ve spent hours in front of the forge, saving and reloading dozens of times in order to get the best parts from the items I’ve tossed on the chopping block. Thing is, by the time you salvage a ton of parts, make badass gems with Sagecrafting, and craft your ugly set of armor, you’re probably about to stumble onto the next tier of items, and so begins the process again. In the end, it just seems like a better idea to save the crafting for your endgame.
Equipment management aside, it’s the actual use of that equipment that makes Amalur shine. Combat is unparalleled for a full fledged RPG. If you don’t care for action RPGs, Amalur is not your game. On the other hand, if you’ve ever enjoyed the combat in Fable or any other role-playing game that featured real-time combat mechanics, this game surpasses them all. If you’ve only played the demo, combat will likely come off as a bit shallow. While certainly not as full-fledged as an action game like God of War or Ninja Gaiden, Amalur‘s combat is deceptively simple. Essentially, you have two weapon slots (each mapped to their own button or key), four spell slots, dodge and block functions, and a special ‘Reckoning’ mode. Doesn’t sound like much, right? Perhaps not, but it works quite well, and feels incredibly fluid. The fact that you can seamlessly switch between attacks with whatever you’ve set as your primary and secondary weapons is simply an awesome design choice. As you invest in one of the three main skill trees, you’ll unlock new moves for the weapons that cater to that specific tree. While you don’t have to specialize in sorcery to use the boomerang-esque twin chakrams, you’ll want to if you intend to employ more than that weapon’s basic attack chain. It’s once you’ve unlocked some more moves for your weapons, and have tossed in a handful of spells or abilities, that the combat really begins to click. Before long you’ll be dashing between groups of enemies, juggling them with one weapon, and eviscerating them with another once they hit the ground, all before dropping a meteor on their heads and calmly sidling out of the flames. In short, this game makes you look (and feel) like a badass.
One of the more divisive elements of gameplay, however, will be the titular core mechanic, reckoning mode. As you slaughter enemies, you’ll slowly build your reckoning gauge – in story terms, you’re collecting, “threads of fate.” Once you’ve got your little ball of fate spun, you press two keys, pound the ground like Hulk, and enter a luminescent world where everyone but you is slowed to a crawl. Before your reckoning meter drains, you’ll want to dash around rend the ‘fate’ out of your enemies. In turn, your enemies will take a knee, and a button or key will float above their head, signifying their readiness to be reckoned. Select a downed foe, and you enter a badass, enemy-specific quick time event. Unfortunately, you won’t have much time to enjoy it – see, the game prompts you to jam one of four keys as fast as possible in order to get an experience bonus of 25-100%, and if you want the full bonus, you’re going to have to jam like a madman. Regardless of what percentage bump you achieve during the quick-time event, upon completion, all enemies whose health you’ve drained during the reckoning will burst into sparklies and provide you with a nice gaggle of XP.
While combat and loot crawling will take up the majority of the game, there’s also a few mini-games strewn about the world. Dispelling and lockpicking are the two primary events you’ll come across (typically when attempting to open certain chests), and each has its own skill tree that essentially makes them easier. Unfortunately, the lockpicking skill tree in particular is rather useless. The mini-game plays almost identical to Skyrim, where you position your pick and then move a slider – if you’re in the right place, there will be no resistance, and the lock will slide open. If you’re not, the lockpick quivers and then breaks. Even at the base level for the skill, however, any lock can be picked with a little caution and perseverance, and you can occasionally find one shot ‘prismere lockpicks’ which will open any lock instantly. Dispelling is similar, featuring a timing based mini-game, where you have to click on all the ‘glyphs’ within a certain amount of time, or the item you are attempting to dispel will explode, causing you a severe amount of damage. Like lockpicking, there are varying levels of difficulty – however with a little practice, even the hardest wards can be completed without spending any points on the tree. The skill tree for dispelling is a little more useful than lockpicking at least, as there are a handful of quests throughout the game that will provide you with an additional outcome if your skill is high enough. Still, these quests are few and far between, and there are far more enticing options to spend your skill points on in the early levels.
Skill points are a fairly precious commodity, as every time you level up you are awarded only one (whereas you get three points to spend on any of your attack ability trees). While there are a few other ways to earn additional skill points (in the form of books or trainers), they’re still not very easy to come by. Starting out, you’ll probably want to toss a few points into persuasion (in order to have a chance at the occasional persuasion attempts that pop up during dialogue), and the rest into detect hidden. There are hidden items and doors peppered throughout the world of Amalur practically everywhere, but they can only be found if you have enough points in this skill tree, and investing early on will keep you from having to backtrack through areas later, in order to acquire what would be mostly useless loot at that point. The other items on the skill tree will mostly accord to what style of play you wish to pursue, whether that is an investment in crafting (with gems, blacksmithing, or potions), or spending points on your stealth skill, in order to better facilitate pocket picking and getting thrusty with your knives from behind.
One of the best thought out aspects of Amalur is the rebinding of your destiny at any of the Fateweaver NPCs spread throughout the game. The story is based upon the fact that you are able to weave the tapestry of fate at will, by taking the threads of destiny in hand, and giving a good yank. In gameplay terms, this means you can pay to reset your skill points whenever you want, for an ever increasing fee. While this sounds pretty mundane (and will be a familiar feature for many MMO vets), thanks to how Amalur is crafted, it’s something of a godsend. As with any massive RPG, you’ll often find yourself poorly suited to certain areas, or locked out of some content because you went and spent all your skill points in lockpicking for some reason. While the hardcore may see this as a bit of a cop-out, it’s refreshing to be able to go back to the drawing board with your skills on a whim. This only gets better as the game advances, and you accumulate more skill points. I played the majority of the game as a rogue until I decided, hell, maybe it’s time to check out some of this loot I’ve been collecting for the other two ‘classes.’ While the warrior has the most impressive looking gear, I found the Harry Potter type to be the most fun. Once you’ve unlocked and leveled up a few of the spells for the mage, combat is less a battle of attrition, and more walking away from explosions like an action hero. In most games, I wouldn’t touch the spell casting classes, let alone experience them at full capacity, and the fact that Amalur allows you to sample any of the three main styles of play, at any time, is a welcome change.
For avid PC gamers, multi-platform titles are always the topic of much scrutiny with, “Is this a shitty console port.” For those that aren’t familiar, ‘shitty console ports’ entail a game that was designed for consoles and rushed onto the PC, with hardly any effort or catering to the platform. This will often include sparse visual options, rigid control schemes, and poor performance on decent PCs. While it’s difficult to argue that Amalur was not designed with consoles in mind first, it is a pretty good console port. The graphics options might not be insanely robust, but they’re respectable enough, and the game both looked and ran well (locked at 30fps with rarely a stutter) on my mid-range laptop. However, it wasn’t until I booted it up on my higher-end desktop, jacking up the visuals to max, that I was truly impressed. The game simply looks gorgeous with all the bells and whistles enabled, and at a fluid 60fps, it’s a joy to behold. Click here to see a comparison. While the controls are fully bindable to the mouse and keyboard, if you have a gamepad, I would suggest using it. Combat is essentially a simplified version of God of War, and it’s just not something that translates well to a mouse and keyboard (especially if that mouse only has two or three buttons). The game at least makes swapping between the two incredibly easy – if your controller is plugged in and turned on, it automatically detects that, and on-screen prompts dynamically change to fit. Unplug your controller or simply start without one, and it does the same for whatever keys you have bound. Regarding bugs, after over 70 hours of gameplay, I never ran into anything major – and that’s not something I can say about most open-world games. Most of the issues I encountered were more oversights on part of the developer than anything else. For example, getting caught while pick-pocketing anyone – whether they’re a merciless bandit, or an ancient being with no comprehension of mortals – will cause them to call out in a normal voice, “Help! Guards!” Not exactly a bug, but certainly an immersion buzzkill.
Unfortunately for Amalur, its greatest misstep is in the bland nature of its story and lore. It doesn’t matter if the world has 10,000 years of history behind it when the plot is hopelessly derivative and predictable. In the first hour of the game alone, you’ll be barraged by so many characters, places, and events that start with the letter ‘A,’ the only fact that sticks is that you’re in a big, A-loving world called ‘Amalur.’ And yet, despite this onslaught of information, the entire main storyline could probably be adequately condensed into a single paragraph, ending and all. The only thing you really need to know is that some evil immortal has gone mad, usurped a throne, and wants to dominate the world – and you, dear resurrected savior, are the one person that can stop it, since you can change fate. The mundane story is unfortunate, as it’s clear that R.A. Salvatore put a staggering amount of work and thought into the lore behind Amalur. But, without any memorable characters or story beats, the fails to have an impact. That’s not to say the characters’ dialogue isn’t well written – by and large, it is. NPCs are quirky and their banter is serviceable (not to mention surprisingly well acted), but you move through a world as a voiceless character where the NPCs are interchangeable (with similar names and faces that are difficult to tell apart). To make matters worse, the few characters that pop up in the story do little except guide you between main plot quests (occasionally joining you in battle, but doing very little damage in the process). In the end, there’s simply no anchor to keep you grounded in the world. Considering the fact that Amalur is essentially an action-based MMO wearing single-player clothes, it makes sense that the plot is just filler to be skipped. However, that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
Perhaps one of my biggest gripes is how Amalur‘s story creates a truly bizarre schism between gameplay and plot. Whereas most open world RPGs pride themselves on providing the player with freedom of choice, and offer different outcomes with a real impact due to those choices, Amalur does not. While it’s clear the developers didn’t want to lock the user out of any content, it’s a very strange design decision when the entire core of the story revolves around the fact that you are the one individual that has the ability to change the fate of the world. So much weight is put on this fact in the story, and yet you never have any decisions that leave a real impact. Occasionally you’ll choose between A or B, but the choices are superficial – Amalur has one ending, and one path to follow. It may be a very wide path, but that doesn’t obscure the fact that you’re never making any decisions or choices beyond what set of armor to wear, and how best to dispatch your enemies. In a game about changing the fate of the world, that just seems like a sadly comical misstep.
or own a magic chest that can hold up to (but not one more than) a certain number of items?
Windows Vista 64-bit
ATI Mobility Radeon 4650
Windows 7 64-bit
AMD 7970 3GB
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a strange beast. Most of my anticipation for Amalur sprung from the fact that it looked like it could be the game I always hoped the Fable series would, and did not, become. At the very least, it did just that, featuring a colorful, quirky, massive world, punctuated by excellent combat mechanics and an enormous catalog of loot to sift through. Unfortunately (like Fable), the storyline is incredibly bland and one-dimensional, severely hamstringing the rest of the game. How much you enjoy Amalur will likely depend on what makes or breaks an RPG for you; if memorable characters and a unique, gripping story are necessary, this probably isn’t your game. However, if you can look past that, Amalur provides a stunning amount of content presented in a very polished and sturdy package.
- Gorgeous world that runs great on most computers
- Addictive and entertaining combat
- Deep, flexible attribute and skill system
- Excellent voice acting and music
- Fluid animation
- Provides literally hundreds of hours of gameplay
- Allows you to keep playing after the main questline
- Loot! Everywhere, loot!
- Dull, derivative story with no anchor and no real choices to be made
- Uninspired mini-games
- Some wonky, contradictory game mechanics
- Reckoning mode’s button-jamming finishers look great, but their implementation is frustrating
Logged 80 hours on Steam, with 58 persistent hours on one character (based on the in-game counter, and excluding saving and re-loading, etc). Thoroughly cleared the first 1/5 of the game, the region Dalentarth (completing all side-quests and sweeping every corner of the mini-map), before barreling through the primary quest line, completing it on Hard mode. Reached level 36/40, and attained 32/61 achievements. Played with an Xbox for Windows controller, on both a mid-range laptop, and high-end desktop. Spent most of my playtime as a rogue, before discovering my preference of the mage – found the warrior play-style surprisingly disappointing. Saved and re-loaded far, far too many times. Have not yet purchased the newly released, The Legend of Dead Kel DLC.