Published on January 23rd, 2012 | by Alex King0
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – Demo Impressions
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: 38 Studios/Big Huge Games
Time for a Reckoning
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, it’s likely you’ll have heard of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. With game footage and developer video blogs being released weekly, 38 Studios and Big Huge Games have whipped up some serious support for this open-world action-RPG. They probably didn’t need to try so hard to pique our interest though, considering that Amalur’s 10,000 year history and lore was written by multi-award winning author R.A. Salvatore, the art design was overseen by Todd McFarlane of Spawn fame, and the executive designer Ken Rolston has worked on some of the genre’s best entries – The Elder Scrolls III and IV are two that spring to mind. With Reckoning’s European release just a month away, the demo is now available on all three platforms, giving players some much needed hands-on experience with this epic fantasy adventure.
Introductions Are In Order
After a cinematic introduction, which sets the background for your hero’s death and subsequent resurrection, the player is faced with the now customary character creation system. Compared to the usual RPG offerings, there’s nothing extraordinary of note here, though the inclusion of a randomised appearance option is a godsend for those who just want to jump straight into the action.
Once customised, your shiny new cadaver is unceremoniously dumped down a shaft waiting to be cremated. Only you’re not dead, in fact, you’re quite clearly alive and lying on a mound of rotting corpses. Scarily unperturbed by this the hero casually trots off in search for answers, and unwittingly walks into an ambush as the game’s antagonists, the Tuatha – immortals who want to enslave/destroy the mortal races – are desperately trying to destroy the machine responsible for your revival.
As you begin the search for the scientist responsible for the “Well of Souls”, you are exposed to all the game’s different gameplay elements via a smattering of enemy encounters and world interactions – anyone who has played an Elder Scrolls game will be well accustomed with this sort of introductory dungeon. Once completed you are then free to explore Amalur’s first region and given 45 minutes to quest and sight see, although in reality this will probably extend to roughly 75 minutes as the timer pauses during NPC conversations and when the character menu is accessed. As demos go this is a fairly large one, with the player able to explore a number of the region’s opening dungeons and total playtime lasting between two to three hours.
Weapon Of Choice
A number of things impressed me during my time with the demo. Firstly the combat is very fluid letting the player switch between the different fighting styles and weapons available with consummate ease. The player can equip two weapons from a huge arsenal to a primary and secondary slot, to serve as the main method of fighting whilst also mapping four abilities to the face buttons on the console’s controller, which activate when used in conjunction with the right shoulder button. When it comes to defending yourself, you can equip a shield allowing you to block incoming attacks and stagger opponents if the timing is right, whilst a dodge allows for a quicker, more agile getaway.
Stealth in Reckoning is accessed via the right trigger and plays out very similarly to sneaking in The Elder Scrolls: as you sneak towards an enemy, a translucent eye appears above them and fills up when they start to become aware of your presence. However should you get close enough you can assassinate the enemy, potentially killing the lower level mobs outright or inflicting a high-damage critical attack on stronger opponents.
The combat really shines brightest when you engage with multiple enemies: for example, you can string together a chain of longsword blows on one enemy, before parrying another’s attempted attack and surprising him with a blast of lightning to the face, then finish off the archers using your longbow prowess. It all amounts to an incredibly engaging and satisfying combat style that is more often than not reserved for action games, not RPGs.
Let’s Role Play
Reckoning is most definitely an RPG at its core, and the mechanisms at play behind the glitzy-action scenes are another success story. During character creation the player picks not only how his hero will look but also the set of permanent bonuses they desire: the racial benefits confer starting advantages to non-combat skills, whilst the religious bonuses focus on buffs to particular combat styles. There are a total of nine non-combat skills that can be utilised in Reckoning, ranging from blacksmithing to persuasion, all of which can be advanced as your character levels up. Speaking of which, the character progression system is one of the best I’ve ever seen. When you gain a level you receive one non-combat point to allocate and three ability points to assign to the might, finesse or magic skilltrees. As with combat, this system is very flexible allowing you to specialise in just one area or mix-and-match, creating hybrids of increasing complexity.
Once you reach certain pre-requisites (e.g 14 points assigned to might) you gain a “Destiny card”, which confers more specialised bonuses, however, you can switch between “Destinies” when you level up should you feel the need. The lack of a rigid class system is a boon for those who like to chop and change mid-playthrough, making the whole experience feel far more individual and organic.
Whilst predominately an open-world RPG, it must be said that Reckoning is far more structured and story-driven when compared to other titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The world of Amalur is grand in scale, though players will have to wait before the full breadth of the world is accessible, as from the outset, access to areas will be gained in accordance with story progression.
The opening area in the demo is a lush forest, with a couple of towns and settlements. Should you dare to venture off the beaten track there are dungeons to explore, monsters to slay and bandits to curtail. The feeling I got from the world map was that this is a massive game with five distinct regions, each with a unique landscape and people, all of which is aided by the art style chosen by the developers.
While vivid colour palettes, ambitious animations, and near cartoony character models are not normally my cup of tea, I have to admit that it works in this instance: by foregoing quasi-realistic graphics, the developers have been able to accentuate the gulfs that exist between the world’s people and areas. It also adds a touch of flair to proceedings by allowing the designers to fully realise the limits of their creativity, rather than restricting them solely to what looks and feels realistic. If nothing else it’s refreshing to see creativity being encouraged and fostered.
Depends On Your Perspective
There were a few minor concerns that arose during my time with the demo. The principle concern is in regards to the game’s camera angle and control method– it should be noted this is coming from the PS3 version I played, it may be different on other systems. The camera is erratic to say the least, sometimes obeying your commands and following your character perfectly. Unfortunately, the camera will draw back to let you see incoming enemies, before randomly snapping back to strange angles when the combat starts. It can be disorientating and frustrating, as you have to adjust to the new viewpoint whilst under attack. Consequently, the unpredictability of the camera led to situations where I’d be attacking thin air for a few seconds before being able to locate my nearest target.
During NPC conversations, the camera also interfered with the enjoyment of the game. Often, the camera would fixate on an inanimate object such as a leaf, chair or wall, meaning that you’ll inadvertently end up looking at some lovely low-res textures. It’s a minor gripe, but it does break the immersion factor at play. It’s these sorts of issues which can prevent a game from reaching greatness.
Unexpectedly, a couple of common place issues appeareed, such as the pop-in of textures and a number of small bugs such as a headless gnome during NPC conversations. Hopefully, these kinks will be ironed out before the retail release in February.
Pretty Good We Reckon
The demo has cemented my belief that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is going to be a smash hit when it hits shelves worldwide. It has managed to retain all the core elements of a deep RPG whilst injecting the engaging combat style so often found in action games, all encapsulated in a truly immersive world built by an immensely talented design team. If they can iron out the bugs and camera issues, then I have no doubts that it will be an early Game of The Year contender for many RPG fans.