You’re dead. But don’t worry, you get better. That’s how your story starts off in Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning. You’re a once dead warrior who rises from the netherworld and inexplicably possesses the ability to bend fate to his or her whim. This is lucky, as you’re the only one who can fight against an evil, undying force that threatens the various races of the world of Amalur. All in a day’s work for a dead hero walking.
After a brief, but effective tutorial of the game’s basic mechanics, you’re set free in the expansive world, and although you have a main plotline to follow, in true open-world RPG fashion, you’re unleashed and allowed to go about your business as you see fit. And, with a world as good looking as this, it’s not hard to be sidetracked and dragged off the beaten path, even if you do sense something a little familiar in the proceedings.
You see, it doesn’t take all that long into the game before you start to realise that Amalur bears more than a striking resemblance to Lionhead Studio’s Fable series. Not only does the game boast a rather stylised look, but, the core gameplay is almost identical in many ways.
Hack and slash
The most notable of these is combat, which behaves and feels very much like Fable‘s system. You can hack and slash with various weapons, fire ranged shots with bows and sling magic around, all seamlessly, thanks for a simple, yet effective control scheme. There’s no target lock, which can cause issues at times with an occasionally wonky camera, but aside from this, it’s all very Fable, only a little more satisfying and rewarding. You can choose any combination of primary and secondary weapon to wield (mapped to X and Y respectively), and have a wide range of abilities and combo attacks to utilise. This, combined with the ability to dodge, parry and reposte makes the combat system far better than Fable‘s, and although you can button-mash many opponents into mulch, some tougher foes will require careful use of your skills, especially defensive abilities.
And additional feature of the combat system is the fate meter. As you slay enemies, this meter fills up and, once full, you can unleash your ability to ‘unravel the fate’ of your foes. Hold down LT and RT for a while and you enter a slow-mo mode where you can dole out great damage out on your assailants, leaving each within an inch of their lives. Then, when you press A next to a foe to finish them off, a simple QTE-style button-mash prompt appears. The better you do here, the more experience you’ll earn, and once you target is executed, each foe you left on the edge of doom will be dispatched too. It’s an interesting mechanic, and one that can be used to turn the tide of almost any battle as it makes you practically godlike for as long as the meter lasts.
The more complex combat system, and its extra functions also makes combat more challenging, and you’ll often have to think of better ways to deal with groups of foes if you want to stay alive. This may be a better choice of weapons, a couple of cleverly chosen spells, or the use of the game’s stealth system, which lets you sneak up on foes in order to assassinate them with a nifty one-hit takedown, or at the very least impose some serious damage.
This stealth system functions much like those seen in other games, including Skyrim. As you move around, and eye indicator above foes’ heads may start to light up, signifying you’re about to be seen. Keep it dark and you can perform stealth kills, pickpocket people and can, of course, even avoid combat altogether. Because the game is third person, the stealth system is much more forgiving as you can see your surroundings better, and makes the feature much more central to the proceedings.
Progress through the game is, as you’d expect, achieved by killing enemies and completing a myriad of quests in order to earn experience points. As you do this you’ll level up, and this allows you to choose a basic stat to improve, such as stealth, lock picking, persuasion and so on, and then you can spend three skill points on more specific abilities, such as improved weapon handling, new spells or physical abilities and the like.
Unlike the system seen in Skyrim, where you get better at everything you do as you do it, here it’s more traditional exp for kills and quests. So, you don’t need to keep using a sword to get better, you simply plough points into the relevant skill when you level up.
Don’t mistake this for overly basic though. Although the system may not be as flexible or deep as Skyrim‘s approach, it’s by no means simple, and there’s plenty of scope to build the kind of character that compliments your play style. And, if you make a mistake, or simply want to change things up, you can visit a ‘Fateweaver’ to reset all of your spent points and then redistribute them as you see fit.
Other facets include a basic crafting system which again, isn’t as deep as the one seen in Skyrim, but is still welcome and lets you save money buying powerful weapons by letting you find or salvage components to make your own, enhance weapons with special gems (which you can also create) or brew your own potions.
Thanks to the seemingly endless number of plants and collectibles in the game’s massive world to collect (which is a skill unto itself), it’s wise to spend some exp points in boosting these abilities, as it can save you a lot of money.
In fact, Amalur has various elements that really do beef up the whole role playing system. There are some things in the game that, if you don’t invest experience points, you’re simply not going to be able to do, or do easily.
Want to dispell that tempting chest that could be full of rare items? Then you’ll have to learn some dispell skill, or you’ll have a hard time of it. Need to persuade a character to part with a needed item? Don’t even try if you don’t have a good persuasion level.
True, other RPGs do this too, but Amalur seems to place much harsher restrictions and difficulty on things rather than simply preventing you attempting a task outright, meaning that you can try, but you’ll probably fail, and so you’ll need to plan what type of adventurer you’re going to be and stick with it, as it takes a lot of killing and questing to level up. That is, aside from lock picking, which is a little too easy in my opinion. Whereas master locks in Skyrim, for example, would see you break pick after pick, here I picked a very hard lock with only two picks, on more than one occasion, even though my skill wasn’t very high at all.
The world in Kingdoms of Amalur is sizable indeed, and it’s also densely-packed with dungeons and quests at every turn. Quests can be picked up from the game’s various factions and from all manner of NPCs wandering the wilderness and settlements. If you don’t show some restraint and start to accept each and every quest you see, you’ll soon end up with a heavily stocked quest list. There’s always something to do in the world of Amalur.
Quests are also balanced just about right too, and there’s quite a bit of variety in there. Dungeon crawls never seem to drag on too long, and each location feels different enough, even if there is a little repetition in yet another generic cave or ruin. And, thanks to the great combat system, you’ll always enjoy taking on quests, even if the next mission ends up being a basic ‘go here and kill them’ affair. Still, I have to say that there are plenty of tedious quests dotted around too, such as farming a number of materials from creatures or locating several items to deliver to an NPC, and you can’t help but groan when you stumble upon such a task.
When simply wandering around the world, the game feels and sounds very much like the aforementioned Fable, only unlike the overly restrictive Lionhead title, which had far to many limited areas to explore, here the world is much more open and free. It’s not a truly open world, à la Skyrim, and each location is bordered and enclosed to some degree, but it’s still a vast, explorer-friendly land, and you never feel surrounded by invisible walls. There’s also no loading between areas, except when you go into buildings or dungeons.
The game also has a nice, retro feel to it, with more than its fair share of Diablo-style looting and treasure hunting, and the layout of the world and general feel remind me of any number of 16-bit classics. It’s a great mix of old and new.
As a picture
The presentation of Amalur is impressive, and although it doesn’t boast the sheer scale and awe inspiring vistas and freedom of Skyrim, this is one nice looking game. The almost cartoon-like characterisation sits well with the world created for the story, and all dialog is fully voiced to a high quality, with some great ambient music underpinning the adventure. Magic and special attack effects are suitably flashy, and the variety of environments, enemies and loot on offer ensure the world, and your adventure in it, stays gripping and absorbing throughout.
Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning is one of those games that really does take you by surprise, and it’s a great, if sometimes a little basic and repetitive game that plays more like an old classic than a new breed of RPG, but is all the better for it. And, thanks to the huge world and ridiculous amount of quests to go at, it’s a game that could last months.
To sum up, although I’d still favour Skyrim if you can only get one of the two, Reckoning is a highly recommended title. It’s a very promising start to what will hopefully be a new series of RPG tales.