If you listen to Turn Based or read my preview of the game here, then you know I have been looking forward to this game and following it for months. I was very happy to see my review copy arrive in the mail last week, and have enjoyed the dozens of hours I’ve spent with the game. This game does not redefine the genre, or offer up a ton of new concepts, but it is one of the most polished and well-rounded action RPGs of this generation. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is everything you expect in a game, and so much more.
In Amalur you are thrust into a world full of diverse populations, political turmoil, factions disputes, and everything in between. Rather than playing through an environment that feels like it is catering itself to you as the “hero,” you enter into an already rich universe. R.A. Salvatore has done an exceptional job creating the world, and you can tell how much work must have gone into it.
Overall, you begin the game as a dead person. You are able to customize your race, appearance, etc and then suddenly come back to life. After getting through the tutorial, you discover that you were the test subject for something called the “Well of Souls” and it has thus resurrected you. Upon this resurrection, it turns out that you are now a blank slate, as opposed to the rest of the denizens of this world that are strictly governed by the notions of fate.
There are characters in the game called “fateweavers” that are essentially accurate fortune tellers. In the world of Amalur, fate and destiny guide everything. It is a law, like gravity, that is basically always held true. However, once you discover you are not bound to a stable destiny, and can instead forge your own path, things start to get tricky.
The game takes a lot of interesting turns, and it is very enjoyable to experience. The dialogue and voice acting are all top notch, but the character animations during dialogue is very bland and boring. Nothing but the mouths move on the characters, and after seeing what other franchises are doing in this department nowadays, it is a bit disappointing to see purely emotionless characters on-screen. With that being said, it is an incredibly engrossing tale full of tons of hours of main quest content, epic battles, side quests, and even fully developed factions. Amalur’s story rivals anything on any other medium today.
The game also sports another big name: Todd McFarlane. As the art director, he has created some truly fantastic visuals. Each area has a very specific style and feel, and the flashiness of the combat is top notch. Given how much action can be onscreen, I am truly amazed that my PC never stuttered once. The visuals are quite the sight to behold, especially if you use some of the flashier weapons and spells like I chose to!
All is not perfect in this department though, as some of the textures could be a bit sharper. Some areas will have you amazed at how lifelike, yet still colorful the environment seems, but then you will notice a blurry or unfinished looking texture. This is compounded by the fact that my version on PC suffered from some pretty bad pop-in most of the time. One of the great things about giant open-world RPGs is getting to see the huge world spread out before you. You get that effect here for sure, but as you are running you will see entire bushes, or details suddenly appear in front of you. Maybe this will not be as big of an issue on console, but I had all the settings maxed out during my play time.
Moving on to the most important topic: gameplay. In case you didn’t know, the game designer from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion signed on for this game, which is incredible. The best way that I can describe the gameplay, combat, etc. in this game is for you to picture yourself playing a third person action RPG like Fable, but add in the fast and frantic combat of a game like God of War. Combat is incredibly satisfying and extremely exhilarating. Stringing together combos, parrying attacks, dodge rolls, flinging spells, and so much more. The best part is that no matter what type of character you play (warrior, mage, rogue, or some combination of the three) combat is equally intense. Mages in Amalur don’t have to be squishy, and rogues don’t have to sneak ALL of the time to be effective. As the player, you decide what type of character you play.
The game encourages you to mix and match your play style, rewarding you with different destinies and ability enhancements if you do so. Leveling up is based off of a generic experience system, but once you level up, you have three different facets to consider. First, you choose to increase your non-combat skills. These include things like lockpicking, detecting hidden objects, persuasion, mercantile, blacksmithing, etc. Once you increase one of those stats by one point, you move on to the abilities screen. Here you have three points per level and three different branching trees: Sorcery, Might, and Finesse (pertaining to the mage, warrior and rogue archetypes respectively.) Once you visit this screen, you are then taken to the destinies screen. Depending on how many points you have invested into the different trees, you unlock destiny cards that grant passive bonuses to different archetypes.
For example, if I have invested 40 points in the sorcery tree, I will unlock a few different sorcery destinies to choose from that might offer bonuses to mana regeneration, or elemental resistances. Furthermore, if I had 20 in sorcery and 20 in might, I could open up some combination categories to mix and match more effectively. You can pick and choose what destiny to equip at will in your menu, so you are definitely encouraged to experiment. And, if you are unhappy with skill choices down the road, since you have no fate and choose your own path, you can reallocate all your stat points for a simple fee!
Following on the heels of these great features, is the music. Each area has a specific theme that plays as you are adventuring, then it will begin to get more intense as a battle occurs, towns have a different feel, as well as dungeons. Every NPC is fully voiced and each enemy has all of its own unique sounds. This is definitely a game worth cranking your speakers for, to really get immersed in the environment.
Overall this is one of the best action RPGs of this or any generation. It blends the action of God of War, with the intricate world and RPG nature of Elder Scrolls into one seamless package. This is not to say the game is not unique, as it truly is. There is little else on the market that offers the depth and enjoyment that Amalur offers. If you like some action in your RPGs or a little bit of RP in your action, you should definitely do yourself a favor and check this one out. It deserves to be in talks for Game of the Year come December, don’t forget about this one!
The game launches on February 7th, 2012 in North America for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC! Let us know what you think about it in our comments below!
This review was based on a physical retail copy of the game for the PC provided by EA.