Kingdoms of Amalur Impressions
When we at Everyday Gamers looked at the games we wanted to review this year, a few jumped out at me. The obvious one was Mass Effect 3, but someone beat me to calling that review (no, Jordan, I’m not bitter). The next on the list was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the first game being made by Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios. Schilling is known for being an avid gamer along with his other obvious accomplishments (still thanking him for 2001), and he had pulled in some great talent to work on the game, including the programmers who had worked on some of the most iconic RPGs ever made, the crew at Big Huge Games and renound Fantasy author R. A. Salvatore. The more I learned about this game, the more I was interested, and the demo clinched this as a game I had to play.
There is only one problem with trying to review this game, however: I am currently 42 hours into it, and I am probably not even half way through the main quest.
No, that is not an overstatement. The side quests, faction quests and various just fun things I can do in this game have kept me busy, and while the temptation is there to just power through so I can review it, I do not think I would truly be doing the game justice if I did that.
This leaves me with a bit of an issue, however. As I am sure most of you already know, Mass Effect 3 is coming out Tuesday, and when it does, Amalur is going to play a bit of a back seat for a while. While I have every intention of beating this game, ME3Â will be my main focus for a while. I did toy with the idea of writing a review even though I did not finish the game, but I do not think that is the right thing to do with an RPG. At the same time, I needed to write something.
So, if you are wondering just what Kingdoms of Amalur is all about, read on.
Choose Your Destiny
Welcome to Amalur, a realm where everyone is controlled by Fate. Destiny is everything. The threads of Fate are unchanging, and the Fateweavers have the ability, or curse depending upon whom you ask, to read those threads and tell people’s futures, specifically their deaths. It is all set in stone, and nothing can be done about it. At least, that is how things used to be.
The Fae, immortals who when killed are reborn again through something called The Great Cycle, have changed. The Winter Court has been taken over by a group of radicals known as the Tuatha, and their goal is to wipe the mortal races off the face of Amalur. The Summer Court has been reluctant to take action against its cousins, and though the mortals are holding their own, they are losing numbers where the Tuatha are not. All looks lost.
That’s when you die.
That’s right; for those of you who have not paid any attention to the game, you start out as a character who has died at the hands of the Tuatha. You are brought to life by the by the power of the Well of Souls, a creation of the gnome scientist Fomurous Hughes. You soon find out that you are not bound by fate. Your destiny is in your own hands. On top of that, you have the power to change the fates of those around you, something which could very well make you the most important person in all of Amalur. Tuatha will hunt you, others will try to use you, but in the end only you can decide whether you will use this awesome power to save Amalur or destroy it.
Sounds like a pretty in depth plot, right? You do not know the half of it. Salvatore reportedly wrote over 1000 years of back history for the game, and his time and care with the story shows. You want to know why I have spent so much time playing the game and left so much of the main quest unfinished? A big part is because much of the same time and effort which was put into the main story was put into the faction and side missions. Sure, there are a few of your typical fetch quests, but there are many more which have uncommon depth. Take the faction missions for the House of Ballads, which is not only a fascinating story in and of itself but gives you tremendous insight into the Fae. Then there are missions like the one I just finished (MILD SPOILERS AHEAD). A merchant sent me to find word of his daughter. She was trying to lead a group of refuges to rebuild a town destroyed years earlier by the war, and he has not heard from her for a while. I went to the town just to find out it had been attacked by Tuatha raiders. The only survivor seemed to think the daughter had been captured by them, so I mounted a rescue, only to find she was actually trying to close down the access points the Tuatha were using to get to the area. I teamed up with her to do that, and only after that task was completed that she was willing to go home. What was supposed to be a simple rescue mission became a whole lot more, and this simple story managed to fit into the main story rather nicely. You are fortunate if a few side missions in most RPGs connect back to the main quest. In this game, it appears many of them do. (END SPOILERS)
So up to this point, the story had been great. What about the gameplay?
THIS Is How You Do Combat
If you have been looking for an action RPG with a phenomenal combat system, look no further than Kingdoms of Amalur. The combat is fairly simple at face value: assign one weapon to your primary and one to secondary. Then assign four abilities/spells which can be activated by the face buttons while holding down the R Trigger (360 controls). Add the ability to dodge at the press of a button and a shield to block, and you have your basic elements. In fact, in it’s simplest form, the combat almost resembles that of Fable II. You can even switch your attacks among primary, secondary and magic on the fly.
That is only scratching the surface, however. Unlike Fable or most any RPG for that matter, you are not limited by the type of weapons you can make primary versus those you can make secondary. Want to carry both a long sword and a sorcerer’s staff? Feel free. Have two sets of really nice daggers which you cannot decide between? Equip them both. While having two different sets of daggers equipped will limit the range of attacks you can make, the fact the game gives you this option sets it apart from so many others in the genre. The choice is yours.
There are the skills you can unlock for your individual weapons. The three I am specializing in right now are daggers, bows and chakrams. I have the ability to charge up attacks on all three, with very different results: a dash attack with the daggers which can be repeated up to 5 times, a charged shot with the bow which does a whole lot more damage than an arrow normally does and a spinning attack with my two chakrams which will hit everyone around me. Then there are the delayed attacks and unlockables like the charge shot I can fire with the bow from a shield blocking position which rains arrows on my foes.
So you see the depth in the weapons, but it is also there in your abilities as well. One trick I like to do right now is stun enemies with my shock charged chakrams and then tag them with a flame burning spell I use. Tag up to 5 enemies, hold down the fire attack and next thing you know you are serving enemy flambe. Then I will isolate the most powerful one and start laying into it with my daggers, killing it off quickly while the others recover. The combat in this game is just fluid. I have yet to play an Action RPG where it is more satisfying. How you fight is truly your choice, and many people will choose completely different ways to dispatch the same group of enemies.
Then there is Reckoning Mode. You earn fate in combat by killing enemies and by using your various unlocked skills. Fill up your fate meter, and you can shift into Reckoning, a mode where you move faster and do a whole lot more damage to the enemy. Once you have reduced an enemy to the point of death in this mode, you can Fate Shift them, weaving the threads of fate into a tangible force execution style and taking you out of Reckoning. If multiple enemies have been brought to that death state, they will all be killed when you Fate Shift one, and you can gain serious bonus experience for taking enemies out this way. This really helps give you an added edge when heavily outnumbered or fighting the various bosses.
Your choices are not limited to just combat. Don’t want to specialize in just magic, might or finesse? Spread you ability points among the three as you see fit, unlocking “Destinies” (character classes) with different bonuses. Wishing you were better at a particular skill? Temporarily boost your abilities by using potions you find throughout the world, or build up your alchemy skill and create your own from harvested reagents. Use sagecrafting to create gems which can greatly enhance your weapons and armor. Get your blacksmithing skill up high enough, and you can even use those gems in the creation of weapons. I am at the point in the game where many of the items I create are better than the ones I can find or buy, and that makes crafting a blast.
The Complete Package
So, the gameplay and story of Kingdoms of Amalur are excellent, but that is not all there is to this game. 38 Studios and Big Huge Games have crafted a world that feels vibrant. While at first glance the graphics will seem very similar to MMOs like World of Warcraft, there will be several occasions where you will want to just gaze in wonder at the game. Combat animations are smooth. Vistas and landscapes are breath-taking. The first time I walked into the Fae Gardens of Ysa, I was in complete awe of this other world the artists had created. The Fae are radically different from the mortal races, and nowhere have I been made more aware of that than Ysa. While I have seem some graphical glitches and the character animations during conversations are not always the best, the graphics are extremely impressive.
If there is one thing I could point out as a detraction from the game, it is the side conversations. While the main conversations you have with characters are generally interesting and enlightening, ask a character who they are or about the area around them, and you will often get very bland responses. Many times, I selected one of these conversation trees in the game only to find myself skipping past it cause it was not that interesting.
There is so much more of Kingdoms of Amalur I could discuss, but this should give you an idea of whether or not you would like the game. If you ask me if the game is worth your time and money, I would say overwhelmingly yes. There are only two things which you may want to consider. The first is this is a long game, as my 42 hours with not much main quest completed shows. The second is it will be just as good a few months from now as it is now, so if you are even a little hesitant, it may be worth waiting. I personally think it is an early contender for game of the year, but with no multiplayer contingent, it is not a game which needs to be played immediately.
As I mentioned earlier, I have every intention of beating Kingdoms of Amalur. When that happens, I will write my official review. Until then, I hope my impressions of the game have helped you decide whether or not you think it is worth buying.