2012-02-17

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – Choose Your Fate, And Choose Well

by Yo Snyder

Okay, confession time. When I played the demo for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,
I wasn’t all that impressed. It seemed like a homogenous conglomeration
of other RPG games. It felt like someone created the ultimate
action/RPG formula and EA and Big Huge Games worked very hard to adhere
to that formula by checking off each and every box. That’s all true;
it’s about as safe and generic as a fantasy, action/RPG game can get.
Every element you might expect from a game in this genre is represented
here. However, there is one area where Reckoning truly excels and
ultimately breaks away from the rest of the games like it; combat. In
short, I can’t think of a time when I’ve had this much fun fighting
things in an action/RPG, which despite all of the rest of it’s sameness,
makes this game rather unique.

I was a little worried at the start. Getting through what I played in
the demo was kind of a chore; I wanted to see something new. Then, my
early quests consisted of the typical “in order to help this person, go
talk to that person who will need help from this other person who will
help you only if you go complete such and such a task for them” type of
fetch quests. This was kind of annoying, but I went through the motions
of completing them in the hopes that eventually I’d get to something
more interesting. Truthfully, while the quests do veer away from some of
that “fetchiness”, they’re never really all that interesting. I didn’t
bother much reading about what was going on or why I was doing stuff, I
just wanted to do stuff. As I went about that, however, I started to
notice somethings that, despite my initial indifference, I actually kind
of liked.

First, there’s a lot to do in this game. I played several hours
before I even realized that I hadn’t even moved on the the second quest
of the main storyline. Quests are numerous, but easy to keep track of
and prioritize; very nice. Also, while not quite the “open world”
experience of something like Skyrim, there’s still plenty to
explore and discover. It’s open enough to give you a sense of freedom,
but constricted enough that you’ll never feel completely lost. It’s also
nice that the game has an easy to use “fast travel” system to help
getting around during those fetch quests that much easier. There’s also
plenty of loot drops. You’re constantly getting new and often useful
items. You can also create your own items or upgrade your current
equipment. Lots of customization options with your gear, and the
constant loot drops compel you to keep exploring and fighting in the
hopes that you’ll get something really cool.

Then there’s the fighting. The combat in Amalur is what really
won me over. The quests aren’t all that memorable, the characters are
forgettable, and the world you’re playing in looks fairly similar to any
other fantasy/action game, but the combat; that was something else
entirely and really helps this game stand out from the crowd. It’s
deceptively simple. You basically have one button attacks. The joy is
the in the fluidity in which you can switch up your attacks. Start off
with ranged strikes using a bow, go in closer and throw down some spells
with your magic staff, get in closer and do some damage with that
massive sword you’re carrying around; and them mix and repeat in any
fashion you choose to your hearts desire. However, some enemies are more
vulnerable to certain types of attacks than others, so you’ll need to
pay attention and use what’s most effective. Do well in combat to fill
up a special meter that allows you to reshape the threads of fate; a
fancy way of saying you enter this game’s version of bullet time. Your
attacks get powered up, your enemies move slower, and if you finish them
off, you can do a super-cool and brutal finishing move. From the wide
variety of weapons and upgrades you can choose from to the amazing
simplicity and fluidity of it all, to the huge and intimidating
creatures you battle, the combat in Amalur is top notch and sets the standard for fighting in Western, action/RPG fantasy games.

Now even though I’ve said that the rest of the game is fairly bland,
that’s really true in a general sense. There are moments and ideas that
are rather interesting. The whole idea of being someone who is outside
of fate, and therefore capable of reshaping not only your own fate, but
the fate of others is rather interesting. So is the suggestion that this
ability might be rather dangerous and have dire consequences. You know,
the truth is that our fate is both predetermined and entirely up to us
to shape. I know that may seem a little confusing, but here’s the short
explanation. The destiny for all of us has already been written. The
Bible is very clear that we are either destined for hell or for heaven;
there are no other options, despite our attempts to create other options
through denial and self-deception (Truth is still Truth, even if no one
believes it, and a lie is still a lie even if everyone believes it).
However, it’s entirely up to us what our fate will be. We didn’t always
have that option, but through the death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ, we can now choose what our fate will be. We can choose to deny
the Truth of the Bible and what it says about our condition and need for
a Savior and embrace hell, or we can accept what it says and embrace
heaven. God loves us, and he’d much prefer we chose heaven, but he won’t
force the decision on us; that wouldn’t be very loving. It’s entirely
up to us, so in a sense, our fate is entirely in our hands to be shaped
how we see fit, one way or another. Granted, the consequences of weaving
fate doesn’t have quite the same eternal and spiritual implications in Reckoning,
but it certainly gets one thinking about fate and how the fate we
choose has consequences not only for our lives, but the lives of those
around us.

For the most part, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning doesn’t do
anything new, but it does all the expected things well. There’s plenty
to do and lots to explore in this fully realized, if derivative fantasy
world. However, it’s saving grace from the forgettable blandness is the
excellent combat system, and to some extent, the customizable
experience. Level your character up however you like, but if you change
your mind and want to be more of a warrior than a mage, then you can
reset everything and level up your character differently. Meanwhile the
combat is just straight up fun. I’m constantly finding new ways to
combine my various abilities and chain my attacks. The massive creatures
I get fight offer the chance to try different strategies for success.
The huge number of weapons to choose from influence your fighting style,
and you can enhance them in various ways to make yourself even more
lethal and powerful. Usually it’s a strong story that carries a game
like this, or interesting characters, or a fascinating world to explore,
but Reckoning is the first time where it’s the combat in a
fantasy, action/RPG that made me want to keep playing. If your looking
for some fast paced fun in a game with plenty of similarities to the
likes of Fable, Dragon Age and in smaller ways Skyrim, you should pay a visit to the Kingdoms of Amalur.

Score out of 7:

Graphics: 5 – This is a pretty game. The colors are bright and
vibrant and the environments rich in detail. Character models at times
look a little stiff during conversations, and they look less than
life-like running around the world at times, but overall, this game is
easy on the eyes.

Sound: 5 – Good voice work and a solid sound track help bring this
world to life. The sound during combat helps add to the excitement by
making every blow and spell and explosion sound epic.

Controls: 6 – Simple, intuitive, responsive controls. It’s easy to
manage your inventory, to switch out new gear, level up and even quickly
access things during combat. Combat controls are fast, fluid and
responsive. The only problem I had was a little trouble with the
conversation wheel at times not registering my selection.

Gameplay: 5 – The combat saves the gameplay in Reckoning. Most
of it is pretty standard fare for this type of RPG. Well done, but
still very typical and predictable. The combat, however, is a joy. It’s
fun and also challenging without ever feeling cheap.

Story: 4 – Honestly, I didn’t invest a lot in the story. I just
skipped through dialogue to get on to the next action, mostly because
this is pretty familiar territory. Still, there are some interesting
ideas about fate and shaping our own destiny. Some interesting twists
and turns along the way.

Content: 4 – The game suffers somewhat from an identity crisis. It
has s deceptively bright and cheery look to it with slightly cartoonish
character models, and the combat gets brutal and bloody. Also, you have
the typical, scantily clad females of the fantasy genre.

Final: 5 – The demo didn’t impress me with its homogenous feel,
but spending extended time with the game changed my mind. It’s still
fairly same-old, same-old for the most part, but the combat is just so
much darn fun. Add in some pretty extensive customization options, you
have a fairly engaging adventure if you aren’t all that concerned with
story or character development. Definitely worth a rental, and if Mass Effect 3 weren’t on the horizon, I’d even say it’s worth buying.