ātis the season for Role-Playing Games, it would seem, what with the pre-Christmas release of Skyrim, and the any-day-now release of Mass Effect 3. But while gamers are saving their pennies for the big-name titles, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning may have slipped past their radars - I know it slipped past mine when it released last month. But a copy for the PC graced my mailbox last week, and Iām certainly glad it did. Itās both familiar and fresh at the same time, and though itās not the perfect RPG title, there is a lot of fun to be had here.
Iāll try to keep my review from repeating Mikeās earlier glowing comments, and instead focus on some other aspects of the game that I found fascinating. (Bear with me.)
There are some big names touted in association with Reckoning, including the writer R.A. Salvatore, and Oblivionās lead designer Ken Rolston. Iāve never read anything of Salvatoreās, but I do know my Oblivion, and oddly, aside from similarities in game mechanics, Reckoning feels less like an Elder Scrolls title, and more like World of Warcraft, crossed with say, Fable.
In fact, I felt like I was experiencing some serious WoW deja-vu for a few minutes when I first started playing. The look and feel of Reckoning has that same lush, highly saturated colour and ācartoonyā character design. NPCs with quests for you stand around with large yellow exclamation marks over their heads, and several other creatures that roam the lands will look familiar to those who have played the MMORPG.
But after several hours of playing, the initial impressions had been shaken off and the game started to develop its own style, with an intriguing approach to character and world that plays with ideas of fate and predestination.
The world of Amalur, you see, is one where most people live lives that have already been predestined. Even the different races of Fae creatures, who vastly outlive the humans, are forced to play out events from history, again and again, in order to somehow retain those stories and events. Sword-welding Fateweavers roam the land, telling people their fates, and usually, the when and how of their deaths.
Your character, however, enters life with all of fateās threads already snipped (youāve been resurrected by a gaggle of gnomes experimenting with a device called the Well of Souls); however not only are you starting from a blank slate, you also have new, strange abilities to actually manipulate fate as well. Youāre able to change other peopleās destinies, and even unravel a creatureās fate altogether.
This aspect of your character manifests not only in your interaction with other characters, but in your character development, and combat options as well. A fate meter fills up as you vanquish enemies; once it has filled, you are able to enter Reckoning Mode, where everything around you slows down a little, giving you ample time to unravel the fates of your enemies. Then, once they are all down, you can perform a āfateshiftā to destroy all unraveling foes, which not only looks cool, but grants some serious XP. OK, so itās little more than a combat conceit, but I enjoyed how it was well in keeping with the gameās theme.
This concept of rewriting fate is also evident in the character advancement part of the game, which also plays with the Fateweaversā ātarot-esqueā cards that they use for their predictions. Throughout the game certain cards, and their associated bonuses, will become unlocked as players allocate points to either Might, Magic, or Finesse when they level up. (Players can choose to allocate points to these areas in any combination they like.) In addition to being able to switch between these unlocked cards whenever they like, characters can also, for money, purchase from Fateweavers the ability to completely wipe the slate clean yet again, and reallocate all their earned ability points - and effectively rewrite their persona.
If only the rest of the game was as intriguing and fluid. For while Reckoning brings some fantastic new game-changers of its own to the genre, other aspects still leave a lot to be desired.
Adventuring and exploring is, for the most part, enjoyable and interesting. There are herbs galore to collect for alchemy, mobs of critters, and Fae lorestones scattered around the land, which are recordings from the past that you can listen to. Sometimes youāll hear poetry, other times a song, or snippet from a piece of lore, from ancient myth. Other times youāll hear ancient Fae complaining about their neighbours or telling a secret. Itās a wonderful bit of colour that adds context and richness to your wanderings, and far more enjoyable than stopping in the wilderness to leaf through an old book.
While wandering around is a lot more interesting than it probably should be, questing is a lot less enjoyable than one would expect. There are a huge number of side quests to the game, but unfortunately most of these are pretty grindy and require a lot of back and forth (even taking fast travel into consideration). The bulk of quests revolve around either collecting things, or going into a dungeon to fight a big thing, and bring something back to the quest-giver. Itās pretty unenlightened fare, especially in light of the way Bethesda and BioWare, and yes, even Blizzard, have upped the game in this department in recent years.
These guys have also mastered the art of the info-dump, and itās one reason why Iām going to recommend Reckoning as a āgreat in small dosesā sort of game: all of the information gets sort of overwhelming after a while. NPC conversations are also particularly bad, with a combination of bad lip-synching, stiff character positioning, and screeds of text to read and listen to. The large red āskipā button, positioned to the side, unfortunately gets a lot of use, and makes me wonder if the developers didnāt already know people would be wanting to get through the conversation as quickly as possible.
Still, for all of these drawbacks, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an intriguing, good-looking, game that has absolutely brought a new spin to the RPG genre. Games like Reckoning, that push the genre in slightly new directions, help remind us that the old hoary chestnut that is the Role-Playing Game still has a few surprises up its sleeves, and rather than lumbering off to the place where game genres go to die, it has become more dynamic and unpredictable than it ever has been before.