Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Hands-On Preview - Fate, Fantasy and Frisbees
Written Tuesday, October 04, 2011 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
It’s a rubbish name, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It’s the kind of title that usually belongs on a pulpy paperback gathering dust in a LARPer’s library. The cover would feature a dragon with a naked woman draped over it. Inside there would be grumpy Dwarves and soft-spoken Elves. It would be utterly, utterly generic. That’s not the impression Big Huge Games intends to make with Reckoning, I’m sure. Especially considering the dream line-up of talent they’ve assembled behind the scenes. With renowned comic book artist Todd McFarlane consulting on the visuals, respected author R.A. Salvatore building the universe and Oblivion’s lead designer Ken Rolston as “lead creative visionary,” Big Huge is going large. The game is far more interesting than the name suggests.
It begins, pretty much, with you spluttering to life on a pile of festering corpses. You have been reanimated, brought back to life by something called the Well of Souls, the potency of which is being tested by a group of gnome scholars. It has never worked before, but now here you are, reborn into a world on the brink of destruction. The Fateweavers, Amalur’s mystic soothsayers, are predicting an imminent end to the world. No mortal is fated to survive. But when you climb down from that pile of rotting flesh, you bring new hope. You are “fateless.” Your future, and the future of Amalur, is yours to decide. You may well be its saviour.
This notion of fate and its importance is more than just narrative fluff. It is built into the very core of the game, having a profound effect on your character’s creation and customisation. Where other games may make you pick a character class and force you to stick with it, Reckoning allows you to create a far more fluid combination of skills. Indeed, there’s an impressive amount of customisation available throughout. The look of your character is relatively limited – you can choose from just a handful of options - but the breadth and depth of your abilities is pleasingly open. So, once you’ve chosen from the four available races and decided on a religion for your character to follow (each offering distinct stat boosts), you can concentrate on developing your skills.
These are broadly distributed across ranged weapons, magic, stealth and melee attacks; each of which is introduced in a rather slick tutorial. Charting your escape from the besieged Well of Souls facility, you have to make it to safety by employing each skill set. Once you’ve emerged into the light of the Faelands, you’ll have a decent idea of your preferred approach. Yet, individual weapons may change your desired path, something that Reckoning is uniquely suited to adapt to. I chose the brawler class, specialising in melee combat. In this way I was happy to romp through dungeons and fields, button-mashing my way through enemies in a pleasing fashion. There’s heft to the combat, a kind of satisfyingly chunky feedback to each sword swipe and stab. You can see why, in this respect, the game has been compared to God of War.
But then I came across a new weapon, the name of which I forget. Let’s just call it The Flaming Frisbees of Doom. They are the best thing ever. You dual-wield these flaming discs, crunching them into the face of anything near and flinging them out boomerang-style at anything mid-distance. They swoop and sweep and criss-cross and explode. Successfully pull-off a three hit combo and they go looping out into the air before explosively smashing into the back of your foes, typically just as you are about to get hit. They are a joy to use and wonderfully dramatic, but they are also the weapon of a mage, meaning my brawler could not get the best out of them, something I discovered to my doom when I encountered a snarling, beastly boss about an hour in. But no matter. All it took was a change of class when I levelled up and the allocation of some skill points to the weapon, and I was free to fling my Flaming Frisbees of Doom around with reckless abandon.
Add to this a Reckoning Mode, a bullet-time style slow-mo ability that you can employ once a meter fills, and the game does a great job of making you feel badass. Of course, Reckoning is not all about monster mashing. This is a large and expansive RPG, with a sprawling, open world to explore. It’s stuffed with towns and enemies, flora and fauna, quests and loot. Indeed, Reckoning is best described as a more accessible Oblivion. This debt is most obviously realised in the quest lines available to you. Just as Bethesda’s opus featured various guilds to join, Reckoning offers factions. In my playthrough I chose The Warsworn, a group of battle-hardened knights. I picked them for a very specific reason. The first town I encountered had a large square at its centre. Gathered there were a group of people huddled around a stricken villager, clearly the victim of some crime. Before approaching them I nipped into a local store to have a look around. In that store was a chest, a glowing chest of which I had encountered many times on my travels. I knew it would contain loot, so I picked the lock and helped myself to the contents.
That was a mistake. Immediately, the town’s defenders sprang on the thief in their midst. I was given a choice: go to prison or resist arrest. I resisted arrest. That was my second mistake. Ten minutes later, half of the town was dead, gathered in messy piles around the picturesque square. Among the victims was the quest giver associated with the stricken victim. She was one of the few people still moving, cowering from the evil man that had just murdered most of her friends with flaming Frisbees. I couldn’t talk to her. That quest was now closed. I staggered into the local pub to drown my sorrows. Ensconced in a corner was a big, burly man. A quick chat with him revealed that he was a member of The Warsworn, a highly-respected warrior faction with a strict code of ethics. Despite their bloodthirsty nature, they are heroes. Clearly the only way to redeem myself would be to earn membership in their ranks. So off I trekked to earn a commendation.
It’s this kind of threaded storytelling that is most pleasing about Reckoning. Instead of blindly heading back and forth to fulfil various tasks, the game does a great job of giving you plenty of choice over what story you want to tell, who you want to align yourself with and who you want to be. It is, in short, promising to do exactly what you want an RPG to do, which is allow you to truly roleplay, to become a character and have control over who that person is.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning wants you to tell your own story, to make your own fate. And despite that awful name and some quite generic visual trappings, it’s shaping up to do just that. It’s not revolutionary and it clearly isn’t a Skyrim killer, but it isn’t supposed to be. This is an accessible experience with solid storytelling, borrowing from a number of familiar sources to build something that works in its own right. Plus it has Flying Frisbees of Doom. Flying Frisbees of Doom rock.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is out on February 7th, 2012 in North America and February 10th, 2012 in Europe.