Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning goes leagues toward living up to the promise of spiritual-successor titles like Gas Powered Games’ original Dungeon Siege – even as their actual sequels continue squandering it.
There are criticisms to be made, of course, but considering the possible pitfalls in the game’s ambition to create a lush, open-world, single player role-playing game with the depth of mass multiplayer online, Amalur delivers a solid experience.
What I loved:
Graphics: Consistently, gorgeously lush throughout, even on the standard definition TV I played it on. You’d be forgiven for comparisons to World of Warcraft – I had unsettling flashbacks to the Thousand Needles zone in Amalur’s desert area – though Amalur drips with detail and a visual crispness the aging MMO can’t muster.
Combat: Chakrams … chakrams are awesome. Having never put any serious time into God of War, they were a novel experience for me (though I suspect the element-charged mid-ranged disks have some parallels in Kratos’ Blades of Chaos). The various weapons felt distinct and fleshed out, each having a number of special attacks unlocked throughout the game as you climb the ability tiers. The delay in accessing them was a good design choice, as it left a few new treats for weapons you may have put 30 hours into already. The warrior-tree’s weapons were the most similar to one another, relying more on special attacks to distinguish their play style than, say, the difference between daggers and faeblades.
Choices: My favorite part of the original Dungeon Siege was that my character’s stats improved in accordance with my actions – archers became more dexterous, mages more intelligent, etc. Amalur has a similar feel. There are no binding decisions, no class restrictions. If you want to be an archer who wears heavy armor, just put the requisite amount of points into the Might tree. The blacksmithing and sagecrafting skills even allow you to make warrior armor with wizard bonuses, if you so choose.
Crafting: Between blacksmithing and sagecrafting (creating magic gems), my gear was constantly top-of-the-line. There’s something satisfying in finding a “crude” version of the next weapon-quality tier, breaking it down and reforging it into something deadly.
What I didn’t love:
Difficulty: Or the lack thereof. Even on the “Hard” difficulty setting, most mobs fell after two to three hits with rogue weapons, which pack far less punch than a greatsword or Meteor spell. On the flip side, by the time my character hit the early 20s, my gear was so good I could stand still in a crowd of enemies indefinitely without taking any damage. In fact, with the right enhancements, my armor could have killed the enemies itself, which brings me to the next point…
Crafting: Between blacksmithing and sagecrafting, my character became a god by level 20. It was no problem at all to craft a set of gear with universal damage resistance in the high 90s and per-second health and mana regeneration of five-plus. And that would be fine at level 50 against the sort of insane post-game enemies you’d see in Final Fantasy VII, for example, but with 30 levels to go, I could easily craft gear three to four times better than the loot I was finding.
Variety: More than 30 hours in, I’m still fighting boggarts and sprites on a regular basis. And the excitement I would normally feel at the occasional troll or demon encounter is muted by how quickly they go down. On the equipment side, Amalur has some pretty unique-looking weapons and armor … but as stated above, there’s no real reason to use them. Perhaps most baffling is the lack of player-wielded spears. They’re already in the game … in fact, one of the game’s main character’s use of one is the lynchpin of a massive story arch.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an entertaining, dynamic action-RPG with novel lore (courtesy of R.A. Salvatore) stunted from greatness by lack of challenge. With a difficulty-readjustment patch hinted at by developers, and some downloadable content adding in new weapons and encounters, this game could really shine. As of the moment, it’s hard to argue more than 50 hours of gameplay isn’t worth the retail price, even if you end up breezing through the last 20.
Jordan seems to have had a much better experience than my own. While the game features a wealth of potentially good ideas and a strong combat system overall, I just could not get excited about the game. One too many ideas were simply undeveloped, buggy, or clunky. Simply equipping a new item, removing items from your inventory, and any number of the more mundane aspects of RPGs takes far too long. Camera bugs led to me staring at the ground or a person’s backside during battles and conversations, respectively. Lockpicking and dispelling felt like bad Flash games from yesteryear rather than proper mini-games in a big budget, full retail release. This led to an experience that felt almost exactly like Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance or any number of hack-n-slash RPGs from the Gamecube and Playstation 2 era (which were great at the time but in a post-Skyrim world, not so much).
Games and specifically RPGs have evolved past time-consuming menus, needless conversations and quests that add content at the expense of quality in the years since the release of those old titles. Apparently, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning didn’t get the memo. – Christian Sorrell