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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PC) artwork

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PC) review

"Amalur was to be the setting for further games, not the least of which an MMO, but nothing else materialized as the studio went bankrupt after releasing just this one game. It sold well enough, but its development went over budget so badly that nothing but miraculous sales would have resulted in a profit, and that didn't happen. Fittingly, because while I enjoyed my time with it, it's not a miraculous game either."

In the glorious style of western single player action RPGs - or if you're less kind, in the style of Skyrim wannabes - comes Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a one shot title in a brand new world of its own. The plans were more ambitious than this. Amalur was to be the setting for further games, not the least of which an MMO, but nothing else materialized as the studio went bankrupt after releasing just this one game. It sold well enough, but its development went over budget so badly that nothing but miraculous sales would have resulted in a profit, and that didn't happen. Fittingly, because while I enjoyed my time with it, it's not a miraculous game either. Indeed, the comparison with Skyrim presents itself over and over, and it rarely comes out on top in that comparison.

Amalur itself is a gorgeous setting. The game universe and the underlying lore were written by R.A. Salvatore, a name you may have heard in connection with Forgotten Realms and the ever popular Drizzt Do'Urden, and his backdrop is pretty much the best feature the game has. The story this game presents in that world, written by a rather less famous name, is serviceable, but not quite of the same quality. The main character starts the game quite dead, only to be revived from death, a first for a mortal in Amalur with the interesting side effect of severing him from the hands of Fate. All creatures in this world are in fact bound by Fate, which the somewhat misnamed Fateweavers can see but not alter, and he is the only one who is unreadable and can defy the direction the world takes. Storywise this has interesting effects, and in gameplay terms it means that you can craft your own character independent of the usual fighter/mage/thief classes. Skill points can be assigned to a number of different attacks and weapon styles, and while I went with an almost entirely pure fighter, hybrid classes are possible and encouraged. And resetting your skill points to go with something completely different halfway the game is cheap and easy.

Amalur looks pretty, very pretty at times, with lush plains in one area, a rocky desert in another, and badlands ravaged by an endless war against an immortal species further in the east. (A war that goes about as well as one would expect, when the enemy just keeps coming back after death.) The critters that inhabit this world, some humanoid, some animal and some monstrous, look believable and combat is downright flashy. My warrior cut through the opposition with a number of sword combos that look and sound painful, though often it took quite a few of them for an enemy to finally go down. A special ability your character gets is to "rewrite the fate" of your enemies, which translates to slowing time down for ten seconds, during which your damage is greatly boosted too, letting you quickly bring enemies to their knees with a few strokes and then unleash a special finishing move that tends to look so awesome that the bonus experience it gets you is almost an afterthought. Picking up your enemy and thrusting them on a large stake of energy doesn't get old quickly. But this is an every so often thing that has to be charged up through regular combat, and that part is not as fortunate. For the second half of the game it became repetitive. Eventually you hit the wall where the loot you pick up barely improves your equipment anymore, reselling it to vendors retains little point as you soon have more gold than you know what to do with, leveling slows down, and perhaps most critically, combat never really gets that challenging anyway. It takes time to whittle down an enemy's HP, but many enemies don't do a very good job of putting the hurt on you while you're doing it. And for the few that do, you likely are swimming in healing potions after the first few hours. I initially had trouble with groups of enemies constantly knocking me off my feet and not letting me get my own hits in. But once I learned a skill that renders you temporarily immune to being knocked down, that one problem was taken away and the rest was easy. From what I'm told, rogues and mages have a similar experience.

Next to combat, there is the usual selection of skills such as lockpicking (in a minigame that will be very familiar to players of this genre), dispelling (to open chests with magical traps, another minigame requiring some reflexes), alchemy for crafting potions with harvested plants and blacksmithing to make weapons/armor from looted or recycled parts. I focused on the latter, quickly advancing both blacksmithing and sagecrafting (to enchant items), hoping to make stuff better than what the game randomly threw my way. It didn't quite work that way. Very often, combining the best parts I'd found or bought (I'd just buy out any store that had any of them) never yielded an item better than what I was already wearing. Alchemy fared a little better, though as is usual for me in this genre, I'd carry a score of different buffing potions and never actually used anything else than instant healing or periodic health regeneration. For the most part, combat never got difficult enough to warrant more.

Length is really the main thing that works against the game. Focusing on the main quest and perhaps a few factions (essentially brief self-contained questlines that follow a story of their own) will take no more than about 30 hours. But if like me you insist on following every exclamation mark on the map to its typical side quest to go to location X and kill enemy Y or collect item Z, this can easily grow to 70 hours. The problem is that the game doesn't really have enough meaningful content to last that long. You've got essentially all your skills by the halfway point, there's little reason to pick up loot off your foes anymore, and I'd probably even have avoided combat if the enemy didn't swarm me every time I drew near, even when badly outleveled. It is testament to the quality of the lore that Amalur kept my interest nonetheless. Even if the gameplay had settled into a regular routine at some point, I just wanted to see more of the land, the immortal Summer and Winter Fey, their philosophies of the great cycle of life (and their complete inability to deal with a world where everything does NOT stay the same, courtesy of your fateless protagonist breaking said cycle), the arrogant gnomes that believe everything to revolve around them, the Warsworn that style themselves the world's protectors...even as the game lingered on, it did so in a world that remained fascinating. This came as a welcome surprise. I'd been warned about the game getting monotonous, and it does, but it didn't matter as much as I feared. The desire to be in this world remained throughout.

To draw the inevitable comparison with Skyrim again, benchmark game that it tends to be, the storyline behind the side quests is less interesting, but the lore is of at least equal quality. There is less variation in what the quests make you do, though it's not quite MMO-style either, you do more than collect wolf pelts. Many dungeons have quests associated with them, but some do not, so the option to just go exploring for the heck of it is there (though especially in the second half of the game, I wasn't about to deviate from a path that is quite long enough on its own). One thing which I definitely found superior in Amalur is the game's reliability. Skyrim, and Oblivion before it, remained notoriously glitchy even after applying all official patches and more than one unofficial one, with questlines not working, or getting broken by doing things out of sequence, and freezing with some frequency. On Amalur, not a single questline broke on me, I've had one instance of getting stuck in the scenery after ending a battle in 70 hours of play, and I've suffered no freezes or game crashes at all. The few times I managed to get my camera stuck, the game realized this within a few seconds and corrected it. It appears they did their playtesting right on this one.

In the end, I enjoyed this visit to the Amalur universe quite enough to regret that it's probably going to be the only one. It deserved perhaps a better game than it got, but it seems unlikely now that that'll ever happen. What's there does warrant a look, but perhaps go easier on the side quests than I did, and focus with the more interesting story and faction ones. Finish in 30 hours. You may well get the superior experience.

sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (August 04, 2015)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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