Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning review – Schrödinger’s RPG

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was supposed to be many things. A more mature Fable. An RPG with a superb combat system. A new dawn. Geoff’s ultimate wet dream. The list goes on as long as the marketing hype of this title. But is it all that is was made out to be?

Yes, it achieved these things, in a sense. With a responsive combat system, enough quests to keep most stalwarts happy, a large world with its share of immortals, a bloody war and cheating fate will suck you in for hours at a time. It showed us that a well-evolved combat system can exist in this framework of RPG.

It also, however, didn’t live up to all the marketing hype. There are several things that we were led to believe this game is, but is not. Read on about the contradiction and conflict I have with this amazing, but oddly hollow, game.

The combat is fun and engaging, which is good, because most of the time you will be hacking, slashing and burning your way through innumerable hordes. There are several distinct possibilities as to how you go about increasing your kill count, thanks to the flexible Destiny system. By spending points in one of the three ability trees available: Sorcery, Might and Finesse, or by mixing between two or all three to your heart’s content, mould you character to your play style. Spellslinger, assassin, burly warrior, spellsword, spellcloak and universalist are all within easy reach, and add depth to the ways in which you can devastate your foes.

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Will you specialise to become an unstoppable juggernaut, or become a jack of all trades who feels at home with any weapon? The Destiny system cleverly makes do for the shortcomings of every choice through the bonuses it confers. The Destiny system can also suit your current mood, as it can be changed out in the wilderness. Found a great staff that makes your greatsword look puny? Swap from spellsword to sorcerer for a while and go on a killing spree with that new shaft. Fateweavers can also reset all of your skill and ability purchases in case you feel you made a mistake, or feel like something different. The only misgiving with this system, with all the amazing skills at your disposal, only four can be mapped at any one time, and there is no way to activate an ability just once without mapping it first.

There are no real stats at the core of your character, which is sad. Armour tends rather confer resistances and gives static increases to health and mana pools, which seems slightly too simplified for my liking. More often than not, a quick glance for a bigger number somewhere on an item is normally sufficient to decide whether it is good enough or not. Not unlike World of Warcraft, characters sometimes end up looking like they went shopping in a thrift store and the mishmash of equipment isn’t very easy to solve without opting for armour sets. Also very much like World of Warcraft, the graphics are great but generic, in a slightly forgettable and quotidian high fantasy world.

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Despite appearing to be an open world game, the main quest forces the entire game into a very linear corridor, where some areas are completely locked off until the corresponding main quest is done. The living outside of fate and deciding your own path also wears a bit thin, with too many of your victories being attributed to your special condition. The excuses of characters being tied by fate as a reason for needing you as impetus and to solve everything gets annoying towards the end.

There is a big lack of choices with consequences. At one point, your character can, if you so choose a certain option, go on a massive evil killing spree, murdering those who you have been questing for. Besides having no bearing whatsoever on the story, or indeed any logical reason for inclusion, the ramifications of your actions leave much to be desired. This added to your character never saying anything or showing any emotion makes for a sometimes bland experience in moments where you are supposed to feel emotionally involved.

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Facial expressions of NPCs are also very spartan, and they tend to rely on gestures rather than using their facial muscles. (If I see one more Fae put a finger to his temple to show that he is talking about someone who is cuckoo, I will slaughter them.)

Despite them existing in the world, and being used by various NPCs, there seems to be a definite lack of sexy outfits in the game. Don’t get me wrong, it is amazing that this title doesn’t objectify women by making mages wear itty-titty robes, but why then why have some townsfolk wearing skimpy outfits?  NPCs have no visually discerning clues as to their age. It took me most of the game to realise that Agarth is closer to grey-bearded grandfather than middle-aged drunk. Besides the Gnomes, who ALL look ancient and weathered, everyone seems to be the exact same age, with, possibly the same voice actor. The soundtrack is great, but plays the same songs far too often.

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Reckoning mode, a kind of super power kill everything with a cool QTE, is a cop out. Most dungeons eventually devolve into building up enough Fate energy for the final boss, meeting the big baddy, activating Reckoning mode and then looting the room. This pattern continues for most of the game, with very few exceptions. To make it worse, the bosses seem to have such prodigious health totals that it isn’t challenging to fight them without Reckoning mode, but can actually be an infuriatingly arduous process. The finishing moves, while fun to behold, have very little variation, and most enemy types are only killed in a certain fashion. Reckoning mode is a broken I.W.I.N button and turns many challenging battles into a cake walk.

There are a lot of side quests to pursue (a lot!) and they are, frankly, better written and more exciting than the main story. The faction quests, for the most part, explain the lore of the interesting world of Amalur. From learning more about the constant, immortal Fae, to delving into the history of the demon hunting Firstsworn or the extravagant minstrel Travellers, there is a group worth joining and questing with.

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Don’t get me wrong, this game is a lot of fun. Sadly, the overall experience of the game is let down by a mediocre main story and disappointing and cliché ending. Without spoiling anything, the last 10 minutes with make you cringe and wonder what the design team was thinking, when they included all of their exposition in a badly delivered sequence.

An amazingly fun game, but the RPG gong of this title just points out how hollow it actually is.

Scoring:

Gameplay: 9/10.

Amazing combat and a rich world, with at least six major different ways to play through, means you will be spending a lot of time swapping out skills and trying different ways to experience as much as possible.

Design and Presentation: 7/10.

Pretty but generic graphics and awesome spell effects are let down by a weird ‘lag’/slowdown effect that allows you to marvel at the damage you are unleashing on foes. Sadly, when you cast the spell the 10 000th time and you see the same dramatic slowdown, it gets a bit much. Interface is let down by limitation of number of skills that can be mapped.

Value: 8/10.

With a main quest that takes at least 20 hours and really interesting side quests that will cause for long detours, this game has a great number of quests. A definite lack of end-game content and post-game content is really sad, and a missed opportunity.

Overall: 7.9/10.

I loved this game. If I had written this review before finishing the game, it would be a shining, stellar example of what a combat RPG should be. Sadly, a bad delivery makes me wonder what happened, considering this game had three amazing creatives on board. Maybe too many writers do spoil the plot?

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