I am one of the RPG nuts here. Although I don’t know how I can say that since I haven’t picked up Skyrim yet. I’m making the excuse that practicing for SCR last December and the hectic retail holiday schedule made it hard to pick up. Regardless, I do love me some RPG, although I am usually more partial to JRPGs, I sunk a ton of time into Fallout 3, Borderlands, among others. While we all await Mass Effect 3’s March release, I found this game’s demo available on Xbox Live. It looked intriguing, and promised extra loot for Mass Effect 3, so I decided to give it a shot. What did I find? Let’s dive in.
Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning is an action RPG by Big Huge Games, about to be published by EA. It carries with it quite a pedigree. Its design is being led by Ken Rolston(Morrowind), the story is being written by R.A Salvatore, and its art is being done by Todd McFarlane(Spawn). Obviously there is lots of talent behind this title, which makes it surprising that it kind of went past my radar. Granted, besides Rolston’s experience with Morrowind, the other two wouldn’t usually be my cup of tea. Still, with this combination of talent, we should get something good right?
I will not spoil much of the story for you, but you start in somewhat familiar territory. You are someone who recently died, and now you are back to life. You don’t remember what happened in your previous life, and are instantly thrown into a life or death situation. Sound familiar? It should. Regardless, the narrative is told with quality voice acting, and it is told in such a way that it keeps you interested while putting more questions in the back of your head. This is good. The graphics are a good mix between cartoon and reality. They are not as realistic as Skyrim, but not as cartoony as Borderlands for instance.
The character creation is not overly deep. You first select a race, which will give you bonuses to different attributes and skills like blacksmithing, alchemy, health, defense, etc. You then select a God, which will also grant you different bonuses like fire resistance, health boosts, etc. Once this is done you go into customizing what your character looks like. That’s it. It’s not as complex as Elder Scrolls or Fallout, but that’s because of the way the character growth system works here. It is very deep and I will get to that later on.
The beginning or “tutorial” area does a good job of introducing you to the battle system. It has a lot of options behind it, and a vast number of combo possibilities. Your character can do anything from any classic RPG “class”. You can use melee weapons, ranged weapons, you can cast magic, and you can be stealthy and get assassin type kills. It all works seamlessly, you can go from casting a lighting spell to dodging an incoming attack, to attacking with your sword then blocking another attack. If you have a creative mind you can see how the combat can be fun and varied here. I always go for the tank that can cast basic spells, and I will be able to do that. But how does it play?
Combat moves at a brisk pace. There is no lock-on system, which freaked me out a bit at first, but then I got used to it. The best way I can describe how combat feels is…loose. It isn’t as tight as other games like Elder Scrolls, but you still get the satisfaction of beating the hell out of your enemies in different ways. I truly enjoyed popping enemies up with my long sword, then frying them with a lighting bolt on the way down, to then dodge or block an incoming attack. You can add the other skills mentioned earlier in here. It makes combat a fresh experience every time, since it moves at your pace. I do wish it was a bit tighter, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.
Character growth is what’s really unique here. You don’t have regular stats like in traditional RPGs. Instead, each time you level up, you are alloted one skill point to use in your out of combat abilities, such as alchemy, persuasion, stealth, etc. Once that is done, you are alloted three skill points to use in one of the three main categories: sorcery, finesse, and combat. These all hold different skills, finesse is the stealthy one. You’re not done yet though. This is where the game’s unique “Destiny” system comes into play. You unlock Destiny Cards based on the combination of points you have spread across all three categories. These all have different bonuses that will affect how you play. Ten points in combat may open one, but six in combat and six in sorcery will open another.This gives you a tangible benefit for mixing things up, and also really encourages you to play how you want, since there are not really any paths that don’t have higher level Destiny Cards waiting.
This really has me excited, as I am a stat nut. In my hour in a half with the demo I completed four quests after the first one, and they all had different paths to a solution. The game really encourages you to forge your own destiny, and it looks like it’s going to succeed. The narrative so far seems good, not great, but good enough to enthrall you to keep playing. This is without taking the character growth system into account, as well as the fact that you do have alchemy, blacksmith, and botany available to you. The amount of things available is mind-boggling, and it’s looking like I will be picking up this game when it comes out on February 7, 2012. It will also be released on Playstation 3 and PC the same day. If you download the demo on your Xbox Live, you can unlock special items for use in the full game, as well as an exclusive armor for Mass Effect 3. This alone should be reason enough to try this out. Have at it! The Kingdom of Amalur requires your attention!