Hands On: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

By Andrew Smee on December 14th, 2011 at 1:52 pm.

Lemon fresh!
We sent Agent Smee to have a good long play of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Below is his detailed report on the colourful open-world fantasy ‘em up where atheism gives you an XP boost.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, from what I can tell, appears to be a summation of the last ten years of western RPG development. An open world RPG that embraces every mechanic the genre has to offer, from quests involving moral decisions to class customization, crafting and gem socketing, tied into a slick combat system straight out of one of those console-based third person action brawlers? Sign me up. I had 4 hours with the game at EA’s offices in Guildford, interrupted only by stability crashes typical of a build still in development. A couple of months from release but from what I saw, everything about the game is finished apart from those issues.

I played the opening tutorial and a portion of the bombastic main quest before exploring the open world. Straight off the mark the references begin: Reckoning starts its story in such a similar fashion to Planescape: Torment that for a brief, mad moment I thought it was some kind of HD remake: a body on a cart being taken through a dank fantasy mortuary, mistakenly thought by those in charge to be dead. From here it turns to character creation, a choice of facial looks, two genders, four races and a pantheon of Gods to swear fealty to, granting race-specific passive bonuses to skills amongst the three holy classes: Warrior, Mage and Rogue. Cutely, there’s an option to be self-sufficient, beholden to no gods, which turns out to mean an increased XP rate. Atheism: cheesing leveling.


Anyway, after being unceremoniously dumped in a big pile of bodies, my chosen hero woke up in an understandably worried state. The tutorial dungeon does a quick job of introducing melee combat, archery, stealth mechanics and magic with a few giant rats and Tuatha soldiers, the main enemy, to test it all out on. A lesson in inventory management and armour types was taught before my plucky fighter stumbled out into a bright and sunny world with the knowledge that she could reach into the very soul of another being and rip out the strings of fate that binds their existence to this world.

That’s the Reckoning of the title, a combat-based power up you can unleash on unsuspecting foes. There’s an armoury of different weapons and fighting styles but they’re all controlled by a rudimentary combo system chained by rhythmically clicking or holding attack and nudging the flurry of sharp things that your character just turned into towards the enemy. Damage numbers appear above their heads as you pound them with lightning bolts and arrows – it has the speed and style of God of War but it’s always obvious the fast-paced action is hanging off an RPG framework, your elemental resistances at work and the various magic spells and skill abilities accessible through a customisable quickbar.

It all ends with the Reckoning, the aforementioned cutting-the-strings-of-fate manoeuvre. It’s listed alongside Health and Mana with a nice purple Fate bar which increases by killing things, and when full allows you to turn blue and be rather nasty to everything around you. Make an enemy fall to their knees and you can execute them in a gleeful sequence where time slows down as you hammer away at the prompted key. It’s a quick time event, except it’s only mashing the one button, and the faster you click the more bonus XP you gain from destroying the fate of your foes. Friendly characters react with surprise at this ability, though really, I’d have thought killing anyone with any method would be severing their connection to what Fate had in mind for them.

Out in the world I met a pleasant chap who introduced the concept of Destiny, which turns out to be a deck of Tarot cards full of Warrior, Mage and Rogue archetypes I could choose from to further specialise my class. However, Reckoning appears to be very lenient with that most important defining decision: people like him, Fateweavers, can also completely respec the player character and switch out the Destiny cards, allowing you to change class entirely whenever you’d like by paying some gold. Further than that, the Destiny cards also have categories for cross-class combos, even supporting a jack-of-all-trades WarriorMageRogue build. It’s total freedom to create a character of your own choosing, specialising in whatever role suits your fancy. Neat!

A helpful EA rep then fast forwarded me to about two thirds into the main plot and replaced tattered dead person rags with gleaming epic armour. Those Tuatha guys were back in full force, this time laying siege to a castle with a huge army. High up in the castle ramparts above the melee on the ground below, I was tasked with dispatching invading soldiers. Like the tutorial, it was essentially a linear dungeon crawl populated with waves of enemy soldiers, happy to meet my upgraded magic and skills with powerful abilities of their own. These hardened foes were no giant rats easily stomped on, and I quickly learned that a last-second dodge-roll (or a teleport, if playing a Mage) was crucial to survival, as was countering enemy blows with a shield, forcing them to stumble. Constantly spamming health and mana potions helped a lot too.

Progressing through the trap-laden corridors, finishing off the waves of invading enemy soldiers and netting a few sneaky stealth kills along the way with my shiny new super-dagger, I reached the top of the castle and came face to eyeball with the beast the Tuatha had been spearheading their siege with. Spawn comics creator Todd McFarlane had a hand in designing Reckoning’s art style and this thing looked like it had just crawled off his drawing desk: a gigantic, wrinkly, slug like monstrosity with clawing arms and a little goblin riding on its back holding onto a long bondage harness that pulled on its eyelid, sporadically blasting eye lasers at everything. You’d better believe it’s the boss fight, and taking it down was straight out of an action brawler. Hitting it with arrows from afar, dodging it’s sweeping claw attacks and getting a few hits in on its face whenever it slumped forward, you know the drill. Exciting stuff, if unremarkable.

Victorious, I emerged in the city the castle looked over. A bustling market, merchants of every description and agitated persons with exclamation points hovering above their heads vied for my attention. Finally let loose in the open world, I dutifully ignored the main quest marker and embarked on a series of small adventures, first in the city itself and then in the rolling green hills outside it. My first adventure was to crouch unseen to steal some much needed health potions from an alchemist, be caught red handed, enter into combat with the city guards who I just fought alongside with and was summarily thrown into jail. Hero of the people, that’s me.

I could have waited out my sentence in return for an XP hit, Elder Scrolls style, but because I’m not a total wimp I picked the lock of my jail cell, sneaked through the guard’s quarters, stole back my equipment and hightailed it out of there, Elder Scrolls style. Reckoning really does owe a lot to that series, but that’s unsurprising, as the lead designer of Morrowind and Oblivion, Ken Rolston, is the executive designer on Reckoning. It plays much slicker than those, however, and not just because combat is straight out of God of War – the general minute-to-minute wandering feels more like Dragon Age.

That’s reflected in the quests. After speaking to a concerned citizen in the city’s hospital about groans from the basement, a spot of catacomb exploration revealed the good doctor who healed me earlier has a sideline in necromancy research. She offered to share her findings with me if I silenced the witness. I of course attacked the foul witch, she raised a catacomb’s worth of dead things, and then I died. After reloading I went and stabbed the helpless sick patient to death inside his hospital room, which turned out to be a much easier fight. Then I stole medical supplies from the wounded. Hero of the people!

Leaving the city behind me I ventured out into the countryside, whose picturesque country lanes was beset by everything from bandit gangs, wolf packs and walking tree spirits. Meeting a lone farmer toiling in her barren fields, I was sent me off to a nearby cave to find some sacred magic artifact to revitalise her crops or something, I wasn’t really paying attention – for all the fun on offer, the tiresome writing and bored voice acting don’t much help matters along. On my way to the cave, I was accosted by an angry priest who asked for the magic thingy herself, labeling the farmer as nothing more than a beggar and a squatter.

There’s some undercurrent of racism and religious intolerance at work in Reckoning’s lore, something to do with elves and humans and land rights that I didn’t take the time to understand because, boring. It was present in many of the quests I was picking up, and it’d be interesting to see if and how my actions would change things. I didn’t play enough to see anything like The Witcher’s stern consequences, but the decisions I was making during the quests at least hint at overarching change. I was sent to uncover a ring of spies hiding out in a village, for instance, with the choice to kill them, turn them in, or let them go. Skill-based persuasion attempts are in effect for these kinds of interactions, so investing in a silver tongue seems to be a sensible option, as always.

It just seems worth mentioning here that the graphics options were robustly customisable and accessible in-game from the main menu, as was redefining all the controls. There’s no side by side stat comparison in the inventory, but there is a compare equipment button, and an option to hide your character’s inevitably face-covering helmet. She could also sprint forever, which is nice when the open world is so open.

Returning to the city I had previously saved to sell all my loot I was distracted by a friendly tournament in the guard’s barracks and went a few rounds with the men and women of the city watch – with their consent this time. Afterwards I spoke to their blacksmith, and he allowed me to use his forge. The smithing interface allowed me to break down my useless loot into component parts and forge new equipment with fancy artifacts I had found on my brief travels. Bits like enchanted pommels or extra-sharp blades could be used along with shiny gems I had refined from cracked shards, socketed into the new equipment. I’m getting a little tired of mentioning the names of venerable RPGs, so I’ll just let that one slide.

The glowing acid sword I subsequently forged was better than any other blade I had found, and I was eager to try it out. Unfortunately my time was up, so I left EA’s offices with my mind filled with stats and numbers, already planning my next build, hoping to max out the stealthy dagger assassinations, wanting to get into chakrams to live out the Xena fantasy. I remain apprehensive that the standard of writing won’t be up to scratch, which turned things into somewhat of a dreary mess, but there are always those faithful numbers ever climbing upwards. Coupled with the brawling combat and eminently cutomisable everythings…well, I’m more than a little concerned, actually. I’ve got 160 hours in Skyrim so far, nowhere close to finishing that story and this next one has already wormed it’s way into my brain after a short afternoon.

Oh well. Here’s to adventure.

Kingdoms of Amular: Reckoning will be with us in February of next year.

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41 Comments »

  1. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Sounds decently enjoyable, then. Good!

  2. Zakkeh says:

    Sounds like it should be fun, a kind of hack-n-slash Skyrim with fewer dragons. Will probably pick this up, if it is on anything that isn’t Origin

    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      Fewer dragons? Well there’s allegedly an infinite number of dragons in Skyrim, so…

  3. Vexing Vision says:

    Mhmmm.

    I am more intrigued now than I was before. The name is still putting me off, and the mediocre writing… oh well. It does sound interesting enough.

    Tell me about skill trees.

    • sneetch says:

      Well, one man’s “mediocre writing” is another man’s “epic storyline” so I’ll wait and see on that score.

    • Felix says:

      @sneetch

      I agree. The jury’s out on the story as one man’s opinion of a small portion is no opinion to swear by.

  4. Drake Sigar says:

    Why is everything that’s cool about England based in Guildford? (The Top Gear and Lionhead offices.)

    • Zhugie says:

      Because there’s nothing else to do here. Nothing

    • Ross Angus says:

      This is perhaps a comment for another post, but Wild Metal Country always reminded me of the rolling hills of Scotland (despite the Aztec architecture). But then it was a Scottish game.

  5. deadly.by.design says:

    Looks a bit like Guild Wars in its art direction. That’s not a bad thing, though bloom was less clichéd in 2005.

  6. woodsey says:

    My interest was thoroughly piqued until you mentioned the voice acting and writing, which is a shame.

    • BlackestTea says:

      I am having similar feelings. The fact that it seems to offer really entertaining action combat does interest me, but just having those sparkling moments against a background of dreary writing makes me wonder how long the game could actually keep me in. It’s especially unfortunate as they mentioned they had put a lot of effort into writing this giant meta-narrative of the world which was supposed to shine through via all kinds of interactions. It would be a pity if that just failed to get conveyed because of sloppy story/lore-presentation. I do like the cheerful over-the-top graphic style, though. It reminds me a bit of Trine, funnily and it would be a nice change from Skyrim’s dark-hued worlds.

    • Blackseraph says:

      Ahh come one Elder scrolls is all about bad voice acting and even worse writing, but that doesn’t seem to bother that many people.

      I’ll at least give this a change too.

  7. NathanH says:

    Hmm, I should probably be interested in this game but for some reason I’m not. I think I’m beginning to get all Wizardry.

  8. sneetch says:

    I like it! I was hoping this one will be good.

  9. Orija says:

    So, everything’s good except for the art-style, voice acting and story, all of which are big ones on my check list. A wait and watch for me.

  10. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    Isn’t this made by whatever’s left of Big Huge Games? I’d like to say that Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends were ahead of their time, but the various features that made them stand out have largely been ignored since.

    Saying that Kingdoms of Amalur “appears to be a summation of the last ten years of western RPG development” gives me hope for (Spiritual Successor to) Rise of Nations: The RPG.

  11. Blackcompany says:

    Sounds like this is a game to watch. I mean, we already have action-oriented combat, an open world and horrible writing. That’s what Elder Scrolls is for.
    .
    The question now is simply this: Will this game be better than, or at least equal to Skyrim once the mods begin rolling out in January? As far as PC is concerned, that is probably what it is up against.
    .
    Then again I am for plenty of variety, so, I may well pick this up. Goes on the watch list, anyway.

  12. TheGameSquid says:

    I’m mildly looking forward to it. It’s unlikely that it will be a good RPG, but as an Open-world adventure is does sound fun. Probably not going to be worth the full price, but I’m still keeping my eye on it. The only thing that really bothers me so far is the art style. Bit too much cheese there.

  13. Burning Man says:

    This writeup was infinitely more engaging than all those videos the team has thrown out so far. I am now actually interested.

  14. Culprit says:

    I’ve been really wanting some good action RPG combat. I still wistfully recall playing Severance: Blade of Darkness so long ago on my 32MB video card. Some new open-world action RPG sounds like a breath of fresh air. Too many games (particularly RPGs) seem to think playing like a simplified RTS is the height of interesting and fun gameplay. I’d much rather be Swinging the weapon and dodging attacks instead of just watching my character dutifully execute the queued up commands.

  15. mattjb says:

    I’m definitely looking forward to this. Last game to scratch the loot-whore itch was Borderlands, so I’m due for another addictive loot hunting adventure. The name? Eh … it’s certainly memorable, that’s for sure. It does look like Guild Wars, now that someone above mentioned it, which isn’t a bad thing. That game had beautiful visuals when it first came out and it held up very well over the years. In fact, this game’s combat is exactly what I was hoping Guild Wars 2 to be, dynamic and visceral. Instead, GW2 just continues that dreary MMO feel that makes the mob you’re fighting seem like a cardboard dummy.

  16. elfbarf says:

    Just curious, how is the inventory handled? Is it a weight based system, tetris, or just item slots?

    • johnpeat says:

      According to GB it’s not encumbrance (weight) so either slots or tetris or a bit of both i guess

    • Andrew Smee says:

      Backpack item slots, just like Dragon Age did things. No weights.

  17. Abundant_Suede says:

    Sounded great until I got to the phrase, “quick time event”.

  18. Kaiji says:

    EA.

    Pass.

  19. johnpeat says:

    There are quick look type things on Giantbomb and Destructoid and 5 mins of those will tell you enough – it’s not aimed at PC RPG players whatsoever…

    That doesn’t mean it will be bad – but it’s clearly a button masher and it uses QTEs (and uses them well, according to those who’ve played it) and thats the sort of thing which fusty old PC RPG players will grumble and dribble about for sure.

    My concerns are wider tho – they’re paid a proper fantasy writer (RJ Salvatore) to create a mythos which appears just to be “Lord of the Warhammer” – Todd Mcfarlane was contracted to create what appears to be “American McGee’s World of Warcraftian Dragons” and they got someone in from Morrowind/Oblivion to add lockpicking and a fast-travel map

    erm…

    • Urthman says:

      From the Old Man Murray review of KISS: Psycho Circus:

      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!

  20. Urthman says:

    This looks like it’s using the Darksiders method of game development: Take the best ideas from a whole bunch of great games and spend your time and effort on making a polished game rather than on trying to get a bunch of new ideas / game mechanics / technology to work at all.

    I wholeheartedly approve. Imagine if Bethesda had had the brains and humility to steal the melee combat mechanics from a better game and plug it into Skyrim.

    • Felix says:

      I completely agree. Polish is often lacking from games, Elder Scrolls titles included, and stealing ideas is perfectly OK in my book so long as it adds to the experience. Honestly, the only thing you need to tie it all together is a good story, a reason to continue on through to the end. Unless the gameplay and exploration are so good as to be reasons unto themselves, then story doesn’t even matter.

      That said, I’m hoping the story ends up at least enjoyable. I’m not asking for a masterpiece, just immersion.

  21. Brun says:

    Sounds like a strange mix of The Elder Scrolls, Two Worlds, and Dragon Age.

    Is the game exclusively third-person, or can it be optionally first-person like in TES? I feel like the first-person perspective is really critical to immersion.

  22. Tei says:

    This game is on my looking forward list since the last video, and I am tempted to avoid any more teasers, since I don’t think I am wrong on what to expect of the game, and I must wait for the game to release.

    “from what I can tell, appears to be a summation of the last ten years of western RPG development. An open world RPG that embraces every mechanic the genre has to offer, from quests involving moral decisions to class customization, crafting and gem socketing, tied into a slick combat system straight out of one of those console-based third person action brawlers? Sign me up”

    Thats exactly, word for word, what I expect from this game. I don’t even expect the game to make sense (but It will be good if it pretend to try), just to have a lot of stuff inside, and fun things.

  23. Jae Armstrong says:

    “Warrior, Mage and Rogue”

    “giant rats”

    “elves”

    You know, I really want to like this game. I do. But they don’t make it easy, do they?

    Still: crafting, customisation, exploration and tasty, tasty murder in a brawl-em-up package- put me down as a tentative buy. I am feeling a little RPG deprived at the minute.

    • Chris D says:

      Yeah, not particularly expecting to buy this one on the strength of the writing. Hoping that mechanically it’s strong enough to make up for it.

  24. JackDandy says:

    Sounds pretty great.
    However, the question still rises about whether I’ll have to use Origin for this.
    If I do, I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on getting this game.

  25. Arglebargle says:

    A bit too archly ‘Oh so clever’ in the reviewing.

    Origin is quickly becoming the next GFWL for me. IE, won’t get it if I have to suffer through that BS. Given that it is merely distributed through EA, it may be available through reasonable avenues. The game looks to be interesting enough though.

    Upside of the game: Real writer paying attention to lore. Designer of Morrowind involved.
    Downside of the game: Writer is Salvatore. Designer of Oblivion involved.

    • malkav11 says:

      Moreover, the great strengths of Morrowind were in setting and art direction. In this game, those are being handled by R.A. Salvatore, generiblah D&D author, and Todd McFarlane, respectively.

  26. sd4f says:

    I had a chance to play this game at a preview, the graphics weren’t very good (xbox) nowhere near as good as the screens on here. I thought the game seemed like it was a bit of everything, and speaking the couple of developers present, they really did portray it that way, with so many influences, particularly planescape torment, but the best way i can describe it is, it’s god of war combat, with ff12/fable style running around (given the graphics that i was able to see), the story seemed to have a bit more work than your standard multiport games, but i didn’t get to check that out much at all, since it was noisy and i only played for about 20 minutes.

  27. johnpeat says:

    The other thing which worries me about this is the emphasis placed on the ‘AAA Team’ behind it and the world they’re creating.

    They’re talking about an MMO, books and other things – but all I see is generic fantasy 101 and nothing I’d really care about OTHER than as a set for this game…

    It suggests to me that instead of working on THIS game, their eye is on another ball. I’d like to be wrong but…