Hands On Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning

By Alec Meer on October 11th, 2011 at 1:16 pm.

Coo, the Diablo III people won't like this.

I’m writing this about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning while sat on the train on the way to go play a few hours of Skyrim, which means I’m suffering more than the usual degree of mental discombobulation. Which open world is which? Which was the one with the Red Legion? Which was the one where I was battling rock trolls atop wobbly rope bridges? Which was the one where I was compared to a god? (Oh yeah, that one’s both of ‘em.) That’s the thing with vast, free-form RPGs: there’s only so much room in your head. Usually we only have one at a time to contend with, but 38 Studios’ surprisingly sandbox roleplayer is due to arrive at about the time we’ll have finished climbing Skyrim’s icy mountains and be ready for something else. If all goes to plan, we’re going to be spoilt for choice.

Not that these are entirely comparable games beyond the superficial. Kingdoms of Amaretto is far more about combat than world simulation, with the hyperstabby likes of God of War namechecked as inspirations. You can wander the land at will and have a few pick-a-response conversations enroute, but for the most part you’ll be dancing the artfully-posed dance of death against a legion of assorted monsters, thugs and especially the Fae, a sinister race out to do all manner of nastiness to humanity and its elven and gnomish allies. (I’ll guess that dwarves crop up at some point too, but don’t quote me on that. Point is, Reckoning doesn’t fall too far from the trad. high fantasy tree, albeit opting for a grimdark take on it).

In a way, it’s comparable to an MMO – you vs a world divided into quest-packed, monster-guarded zones of varying difficulty. Rest assured it’s built from tailored challenges not generic killing fields, though – some side quests do have the kill x of x structure, but x at least tends to be ‘massive bloody rock troll that’s probably going to kill you.’ You’ll also find more esoteric stuff – wandering around the woods, I was asked to help act out a improvised ballad intended to summon a big bad. I had the option of sticking to the ballad’s intended, ultra-earnest writing or picking pithy, snarky lines that the other performer was forced to adapt to. Minor stuff for sure, but it’s life on the battlefield and I got the sense there’d be rather a lot of it.

I also stumbled across a freelance fighter’s guild, The Warsworn, who’d welcome me into their fight against thieving rotters The Red Legion if I could perform a few tasks for them – taking out some boss fight-inducing Legion leaders for a start. This was about 40 minutes into the game, by which point I’d entirely forgotten about and abandoned the main quest. Happily, the game didn’t seem to want to fuss about getting me back on its straight and narrow – my own devices seemed to take easy priority.

I was glad of this, as the storyline in the three hours I played didn’t manage to grip me and seemed bogged down in an explosion of lore. Something about destiny, something about me dying but being resurrected by gnomes (their first success in that field, apparently), something about a special power I had, the titular Reckoning, which enabled me to rewrite and erase the fates of enemies when I activated, something about my abilities being godlike… It’s all fine, I’m sure, but I just wanted to go off-piste, get away from the exposition and explore the game’s world and skill tree. This latter is intended to adapt to you, rather than you to it. Rather than being locked to a class, you pick the Destiny. This, essentially, is a secondary skill tree, a collection of buffs which you can select based on the upgrades you’ve picked so far. So, if you have poured all your points into wizardly abilities, you’ll be able to select a Destiny that offers improvements to your magickability. If, however, you’ve picked two-thirds mage skills and one-third rogue skills, you’ll find a different option is open to you – offering broader boons in both fields. So, the point is you’re not penalised for walking a hybrid path and not trying to construct the most mathematically-sensible character build.

Some might argue it’s homogenising the roleplaying experience, putting everyone on a more or less equal footing, but Reckoning seems determined to have you indulge yourself in whatever playstyle you prefer. It’s also all about the megabiff however you play – opting for a mage character, I found that I was dishing out enormous damage at long and medium range, especially once I picked up a Sceptre. Or ‘stick of lightning death’, as my notes have it. This is a singeplayer game: whatever class you build, you’re hardly going to end up in a support role. There’s more than a little Fable in there, in terms of you’re a force of destruction no matter how you design your character, but this is resolutely freed from the narrow pathways and repeating areas that Lionhead’s series seems so unwilling to leave behind.

I went in to Kingdoms of Alan expecting an ornate but stupid hack’n’slash game, and came out impressed by a fully-fleshed roleplayer that quickly set me free. In the build I played, there was a certain slickness absent – the inventory rapidly became a mess of indistinct items, the dialogue seemed so-so, the aesthetic seemed muddy – but I’m okay with that. If Reckoning can keep up its non-prescriptive ‘here are your tools, here is the world’ approach across 20-odd hours of adventuring, we’ve got quite the post-Christmas treat waiting for us.

Start-to-hat time: 30 minutes.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, developed by 38 Studios and published by EA, is due for release early next year.

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59 Comments »

  1. Hoaxfish says:

    That’s a lot of people just hanging out around that tree

  2. Zakkeh says:

    Sounds interesting, will definitely wish for a demo of a sort

  3. pakoito says:

    I think this game is being severely underrated by press and critics, and while not a full-fledged Elder Scrolls, it can come close enough. And c’mon, combat flow in TES is the most broken part.

  4. CaspianRoach says:

    This sounds very nice for a studio’s first game.

    • Namos says:

      Actually, as I understand it, 38 Studios is formed around the core of Big Huge Games (they of the excellent Rise of Nations games). So it’s not their first game, per se.

  5. Stitched says:

    I, too, indulge in the Kingdoms of Amaretto but only during the holidays.

  6. Symitri says:

    Wasn’t this the game that was originally designed to be an MMO and then turned into a single-player experience? I might be thinking of something else, but it’d explain the “In a way, it’s comparable to an MMO” comment :p

    • MrMud says:

      This is the singleplayer game that is setting up the world for the mmo they are also working on.

    • bluebomberman says:

      I wonder how many people, like, me, are (were?) confused by this not-MMO prequel to a MMO.

      I found myself not paying attention precisely because I thought it was an MMO. Could be one reason such a big budget game is flying under the radar.

    • Qazi says:

      Warcraft started like that.
      They keep saying this is what they intend to do with the Torchlight series.
      So, no, I for one wasn’t so confused by this business model. :(

  7. malkav11 says:

    It’s funny you should mention an MMO, because IIRC this was meant to be our introduction to the world of the MMO they want to make next. (Edit: I see I wasn’t the only one who remembered that.)

    And unfortunately for them, I have yet to see anything about this game that makes me more than mildly curious. Which would be one thing if it were releasing in the gaming doldrums of, oh, early summer next year or something, but if they’re taking on Skyrim head to head…well, my preorder’s already in on Skyrim so it’s not much of a contest. Still. I’ll keep an ear out. Maybe I’ll look it up on Steam sale sometime.

    • Drakythe says:

      @malkav11 KoA:R is coming out 3 months after Skyrim. I know Skyrim is supposed to be a very long game, and most likely will be, but I’m not convinced that a 3 month gap is competition. To my recollection 1Q of the year is usually the doldrums for game releases, so this is a great time to release a new IP.

      And after reading this article and the coverage Gamespy has been offering, I’m very excited for this game.

    • malkav11 says:

      Oh, so it is. The article somehow managed to confuse me about that. A three month gap is plenty, although I will still be waiting for word of mouth rather than preordering. It looks like it -could- be good, but the worldbuilding makes or breaks these games for me and Amalur seems pretty generic to me so far. And if it does turn out to be good, I’m one of those folks who’d want more, and want more in the form of a singleplayer RPG, not an MMO.

  8. Rao Dao Zao says:

    It sounds very good, but I’m wary of supporting something that is just a staging post for an MMO. Well, okay, by the sound of it it’s not “just” a staging post for an MMO. But… MMOs. Not that I’ve ever played one, mind you.

  9. Jumwa says:

    Is this one of those “Free world! Explore it and do you as you like! Anything goes! As long as you’re a man,” type games, like Gothic? Because my partner and I adore playing Elder Scrolls style open world games, but almost every other title in that sort of genre we play (i.e. Two Worlds, Gothic series,) forces you to play as the entitled male gender, and it’s rare either of us cares to go that route. Least we don’t like being forced to.

    • mejoff says:

      The problem with Gothic and Two Worlds on that score, is that they went for Witcher style pre-gen characters because they couldn’t be bothered to do a customisation interface, except they couldn’t be bothered to do any of the characterisation the makes Geralt playable either.

    • Fiyenyaa says:

      @mejoff: actually, Two Worlds did have character customisation (fairly detailed in Two Worlds 2, if unintuitive), so it makes it all the more baffling that they haven’t included a gender option.

    • Fizzbang says:

      @Jumwa: I’m happy to say that players can choose to be male or female in the game. In fact, the third screenshot in the article is of a female PC – although I grant that it’s harder to tell here than most fantasy settings, because Reckoning gives female PCs armor that actually covers most of their body.

    • mejoff says:

      @Fiyenyaa

      choosing hair colour and beefiness didn’t alter the fact that you were the same person, with the same motivation, whatever you slid the three(? it’s been a while since I bothered) sliders.

    • Jumwa says:

      @Fizzbang

      Thanks for the information! I’ll be keeping my eye on this one closely then. After Skyrim finally fades from obsession (for a while at least) it’d be nice to jump to another big open world action-RPG. We do adore that sort of game.

    • Qazi says:

      @Jumwa – The last trailer for this I watched included a female player avatar:

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/09/25/kingdoms-of-amalur-the-heros-guide/

  10. Dariune says:

    I really want to like this. But it just seems to “actiony” and not “RPGey” enough for me.

    Kinda seems like DA2 and Gothic4 had a child. I will keep my attention focused on it in a hope that im proved wrong, but as it stands now, i dont think i will be getting it.

    • pakoito says:

      It has quests, character leveling, story, side-story, consistent lore, factions, forging and enchanting, spell selection, free roaming and…well…pretty much what makes TES a good saga, but maybe the size of the world. Just because the combat has *flow* instead of, let’s be honest, clunky backpedalling while spamming spells it doesn’t make it a non-rpg.

    • Dariune says:

      @pakoito

      Ahh the old “Your opinion is different from mine therefore i will tell you why you think what you think and then tell you it is wrong” reply.

      Its main focus is combat. Yes it looks like it flows, but it flows in a GoW kind of way. That, so far, looks like an action game.

      From what has been mentioned, in both this article and others, the talking and lore seem to take a backseat when compared to the combat.

      Also taking into account that the level system seems less complex than your more RPGey (Can i copyright that word?) RPG then i feel i am justified in my statement.

      You compare it to TES as if i had said that was the pinnacle of RPG’s. Skyrim isnt out so i would never say that about Skyrim. And to me, Skyrim looks about as RPGey as Oblivion which IMO was far less RPGey than Morrowind which coupled with Daggerfall are the only RPGey RPG’s in TES series

      So you see, just about nothing in your statement makes sense as a reply to mine. Im also not wrong. IMO it is less RPGey. Fact!

    • Fizzbang says:

      (my apologies, meant to reply to @Jumwa, above.)

    • Wizardry says:

      @Dariune: While what you said is mostly true, I don’t really agree with the way you worded it. Having a main focus on combat has nothing to do with whether something is an RPG or not. It’s having a focus on action game combat mechanics instead of RPG combat mechanics that makes this game a poor RPG. An extremely combat heavy game like The Eternal Dagger is more of an RPG than even Daggerfall (a game that I like) because, even though it hardly has much non-combat gameplay, its combat gameplay is almost entirely driven by statistics and equipment. This game here, in comparison, looks like any old hack and slasher.

    • Dariune says:

      Thats pretty much what i said. Though perhaps i could have worded it better.

      The focus on combat, while completely acceptable, and the STYLE of combat is a detterent for me. Games like Baldurs Gate, Dagger Fall (I haven’t played The Eternal Dagger), Worlds of Legend etc all had a great deal of combat. But the focus was on twitch combat and lots of it.

      I prefer my combat to be a thinking mans game. More than that i prefer it to add to the roleplaying experience. If i have a ranger, as my character or in my team, i want to make a choice as to whether i want to level up his combat orientated skills or perhaps upgrade the woodland skills to make other aspects of the game easier or even to open up new aspects of the game. This game seems to prefer the “YEEEHAAAA COMBAT IS AWSOME SO DO IT ALWAYS” aproach, in a similar way that DA2 did. Not really by bag.

    • arqueturus says:

      @Wizardry

      You’re persistant, I’ll give you that. Still wrong however. Your defination of an RPG is far too narrow to be valid.

    • Wizardry says:

      @arqueturus: No it’s not. You don’t need any combat at all for a game to be an RPG. How much wider can you possibly get?

    • Urthman says:

      Arqueturus, I think you’re right that the term “RPG” has irrevocably changed for most gamers, but I agree with Wizardry that the difference between games that are based on strategy & stats vs. action games that are based on a player’s reflexes is a pretty huge distinction that deserves a word to distinguish them.

      Poor Wizardry. People keep describing games as “RPGs” and he pokes his head up and says, “What? You mean one of those games I like?” and usually we have to say, “No, sorry, we weren’t using the word to mean what you were hoping for.” It sucks when your favorite game genre isn’t hardly being made anymore, but people persist in using the same term to describe the rather different games that have replaced it.

    • arqueturus says:

      @Urthman

      poor Wizardry indeed.. but only because he’s deluded in his defination of what an RPG is.

      I go for the literal defination of ‘Role Playing Game’. I have no problem accepting that some games are much more (A)RPG’s than the classic (C)RPG’s that emulated the original P&P genre. Wizardry’s problem is that fact he keeps popping up in any comments thread and trying to argue/convert everyone that he’s correct/to his opinion, much like some form of Religious door knocker. It’s fucking tedious.

      I miss the age of stats driven RPG’s plenty but that doesn’t make a game like this not an RPG and Wizardy is just the sound of one hand clapping on the subject.

    • Wizardry says:

      @arqueturus: Ah, so you’re a literal definition kind of guy. So I take it you use the word adventure game to describe games in which you go on an adventure rather than games in which you solve puzzles to progress a story. It’s kind of weird that Morrowind isn’t an adventure game while Day of the Tentacle is, considering you do more adventuring in Morrowind.

    • arqueturus says:

      @Wizardry

      Not really, Morrowind is an RPG and most involve adventure of some sort or other. I thought Day of the tentacle fell into the Point and Click Adventure genre?

      But I digress, it’s not what game is what but more why you always pop up to dispute it, when the fact of the matter is it’s irrelevant what kind of a game is this or that. I understand that you love stats based/classic RPG’s passionately and wish there were more around but I stop shoving it into our faces. You’re becoming a stereotype of yourself and not achieving anything to boot.

      Is there literally nothing new in your definition of the genre around? Why not take it to the forums and get players to have a go with these games, maybe that will have more positive effects?

  11. Burning Man says:

    “Games can be rated and compared based on the shortest amount of time it takes a player to reach the first hat, which represents the point where the developers ran out of ideas.”

    Hmm… 30 minutes. Not bad.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      Here was me thinking it had something to do with the length of the ‘tutorial/intro’ period, lol.

      ‘Cause in RPGs, the helmet is always the last inventory slot to get filled…

  12. Lobotomist says:

    The game simply can not be bad.

    With the team that is making it. And lead designer of Morrowind….

    • Urthman says:

      Tell us more. What else has this team done that makes you say that?

    • Joof says:

      Pitched in the ALCS with a bloody sock! How many other game developers can say that, huh?! That’s what I thought!

    • mondomau says:

      @ Urthman – I think Lobotomist is referring to the fact that the Art design and Narrative are being driven by Todd McFarlane and RA Salvatore, respectively.

      Personally, I can’t think of two more overrated hacks that could drive me further away from a new property, but hey, I’m not the majority – Also, this (the preview) doesn’t actually sound as bad as I originally imagined. So, um, yeah. Imma wait and see.

    • Urthman says:

      But it worked so well for KISS: Psycho Circus (as documented by Old Man Murray):

      Mike Wilson: Please tell me I didn’t just pay you a million dollars to think up a spider.
      Todd McFarlane: It’s a Headless!
      Mike Wilson: Oh Christ, I’m outta business.
      Todd McFarlane: See there? No head!

      http://www.oldmanmurray.com/longreviews/67.html

  13. rargphlam says:

    This Hands On reminds me deeply of another console game (that despite it’s predecessor being on PC was never released), and that’s Drakan: The Ancient’s Gates. I’m honestly okay with a semi-open world mega biff with a variety of options.

  14. Zyrocz says:

    Put RPG and open world in the same sentence and I’m happy.