Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (or Amalur, as I’ll be calling it from here on out) genuinely surprised me. It’s a game that’s been flying below my radar for months. I’d heard of it and dismissed it, though perhaps not consciously. Amalur simply never grabbed my attention.
We’ll start here: if you played the demo and formed your whole opinion about this game then and there, you’ve made a mistake. 38 Studios and Big Huge Games should be probably be banging their heads against a wall for releasing that buggy demo to the masses. It gave a taste of the game they delivered, but that taste wasn’t very accurate.
The demo build is buggier than the real game. It also doesn’t fully demonstrate the real game’s depth, quest variety, storyline and mechanics. It is, from where I stand, a bad representation of the final product.
The real Amalur is a gorgeous entry in the world of large and open RPGs. Its combat is wonderfully designed, its quests are inventive and its art style makes it a pure standout. It’s a stunner.
From the onset your greeted with one of the game’s best features: it’s an open-ended RPG from start to finish. You don’t select a class and stick with it, you are introduced to each type of weaponry and ability in the first area. From there, it’s up to you how you improve your character. You can try archery for a few levels before you make the wholesale switch to being a mage. You can do whatever you want when it comes to combat.
You will waste skill points in getting to that point, but that’s okay. You don’t need to start a new game to change “classes.” Instead, you speak to one particular character and spend money to reset all of your skill point assignments. You can hit like 20 and decide it’s time to switch to a completely new class and do so.
On the way to learning how you want to play, you’re going to be hit with all sorts of quests that take you to a whole bevy of locations and enemies. The great thing about Amalur, as tends to be the case with the better RPGs, is that even the sidequests feel important. They are clearly marked as not being a part of the main storyline, but they all have such nice twists and turns that you’ll want to spend time exploring the land and completing them.
I suppose it’s not necessarily fair to compare this game to Skyrim; that’s not to say that either title is so much better or so much worse than the other, it’s just that this review should stand alone without leaning on another game. Still, I need to reference Skyrim to raise my major complaint with this title as it relates to exploration.
Skyrim is a true open-world experience. If you see something in the distance, you can get to it. Perhaps the only limiting objects are steep surfaces, just as in real life (though horses sort of trump those angles). If an objective shows on your HUD in Skyrim, you walk towards it. When an impassible hurdle appears, you go around it and continue towards the objective. Exploration makes complete sense in Skyrim because you literally head towards your objective in the same fashion you would in real space (except with swords and shit).
In Amalur, you’re surrounded on all sides by invisible walls. When an objective appears on your mini-map, you don’t simply walk towards it to find it. Instead, you have to head in a general direction and hope that the game’s seemingly pre-determined path will get you there. There are no obvious roads on the foggy map until you explore each space, no GPS route placed on your mini-map. You’re just given a HUD and a circle in a general direction.
There were actually times that I would walk directly towards the circle for minutes at a time while heading to an objective before I’d hit a wall in the environment. I’d realize that, shit, this isn’t the right direction at all and I’d have to backtrack a ways and make a completely different turn. Were the game to include a path like Rockstar did with Read Dead Redemption, it would have been easy to travel. Instead, there’s no GPS type line, no direct link from point to point and a lot of exploring that doesn’t make sense.
In a world as large as Kingdoms of Amalur, that hurts.
Other small user-interface snags associated with loot can get in the way of keeping this adventure smooth and seamless. For instance, comparing an item will stack it next to what you have equipped, not the same item in your inventory. So, say you find a bow in a chest and want to compare it to your bow. Instead of the UI automatically doing that, it compares it to the weapons you have equipped…if you’re currently rocking a sword and dagger, you’ll see the bow next to the sword and dagger. In order to compare bows you’ll basically have to equip yours and re-examine.
The great thing about this game? My major complaints stop right there. Both are easy to get over.
Combat is the pure joy of Amalur. It, coupled with other positive elements like art design and storyline, is what makes this game a complete standout in the open-world RPG genre. Combat is achieved in real-time and focuses on unique combos and weapon speed. Every weapon plays different and is host to completely unique moves and styles. There is, however, only one attack button per weapon, so combos are built around how long you hold buttons and the rate at which you press them.
There’s dodging akin to more action-oriented games, and there are blocks and parries that will help keep fighting fresh and more than just “tap X rapidly.”
Combat is dumbed down enough to let stats play heavily into damage, but it’s also fun to a point of being a nice mechanic in an additionally strong world. You’ll like getting into fights, you’ll like trying new weaponry and you’ll like learning new skills, moves and spells. Combat stays fun throughout the experience.
Quick-time events are also present during battle moments. You’ll either hit them by fighting a boss or activating your special; so they don’t happen too often. They are rewarding, though, as doing well with QTEs always results in experience bonus for that kill. You’ll actually like when they hit because of the bonus they provide.
When all is said and done with the storyline of Amalur, there’s still a lot of game to be played. Beating the main line took me roughly 30 hours with more than a few spent on side-quests. Were I to clear all the locales, find all the dungeons, loot all the treasure and finish every open quest, this thing would have taken forever. There’s a lot of value here.
Hopefully gamers notice Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It’s a brilliant game with a large supply of content and gameplay (a lot of which I didn’t even touch in this review) that’s worth exploring. Pick it up if you’re a lover of large experiences with an emphasis on style, mechanics and story.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline was sent a review copy of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning a week before the game’s release. We played the title across two characters for roughly 30 hours on the first and 5 on the second before starting our review.