STAFF REVIEW of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Xbox 360)

Friday, February 24, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Box art When I first heard about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, it looked decent, and what I?d expect from something in the genre. I have to admit though, once I found out the lead designer from Morrowind and Oblivion, Ken Rolston, was the designer for it, I instantly put it on my watch list. If that wasn?t enough name power to get you excited, the infamous author R.A Salvatore had a big hand in crafting the lore and universe while Todd McFarlane dealt with the artwork side of things. For those that recognize the names, that?s a big deal, to have so much talent collaborating on one project.

Maybe I went in with my expectations too high, though I tried the demo (I want my Mass Effect items after all) and enjoyed my brief time with it, as it really reminded me of Fable. For some reason though, Kingdoms of Amalur wasn?t ?clicking? with me right away even though I really enjoy the fantasy RPG genre, especially games that resemble Fable. Eventually it warmed up to me once my character became more powerful with new abilities, and I started to enjoy it more once I was getting the hang of combat even though having a silent hero didn?t score any points with me. Then I hit a game breaking bug that just shattered my enjoyment and I was unable to continue any further without having to start a new character, but I?ll get more into that later.

As you begin your journey, you?ll choose your race (choose between the four races of Varani, Amain, Dokkalfar, and Ljosalfar, each with their own inherent bonuses) then customize how they appear to your liking (though I found the options pretty lacking). The story begins with you dying then being revived mysteriously on a pile of other corpses. A contraption called the Well of Souls has brought you back to life, and with it, has changed the fate of Amalur itself. Everyone has a predetermined destiny and fate, except for you. You are free to choose your own destiny, a burden that will take you to war against the Tuatha as you set your path forwards. It?s an interesting premise, though it does take a few hours of gameplay to really understand all the inner workings of the story. For how much power you wield, you never feel like your actions make much if a change in the lands you?ve been through though, as you?ll help seemingly everyone on their mundane tasks that they need your help with (when you aren?t progressing the main plotline).

Combat and gaining loot is what Kingoms of Amalur is all about. You?re given the freedom to play in almost any way you can think of. You have a main and secondary weapon along with a shield to block incoming attacks. You have swords, hammers, great swords, bow and arrows, staves, daggers, faeblades, chakrams, and scepters to mix and match however you like to play. Since you can swap seamlessly between your main and secondary weapons, you can shoot and enemy with a charged up arrow, then cast a spell at them before you run up for the finishing blow with your sword. Or you can start hitting your enemies with your enormous two handed hammer, push him back with a spell, then finish him off with arrows, the possibilities are endless. If you like playing the sneaky rogue classes, you can stealth behind for a deadly backstab, or sneak and lay a trap and finish off the fight with your daggers or any other weapon. Choosing to be a master in one combat tree will make you immensely powerful with those weapons, but you can make a hybrid so that you can use any types of weapons should you choose. The same goes for armor, the warrior style of characters will prefer the heavy iron armor, while rogues use leather, and casters use robes. This doesn?t mean your robe wearing caster can?t use a giant two handed great sword, though favoring weapons to your skillset will be favorable.

Combat is also simplified and you won?t have to memorize insanely long button combinations to pull off your best moves. Combat in Amalur is diverse and is more based on how and when you press your attack button. For example, mashing the attack button will do a simple combo, but if you have a slight pause in the middle of it then press it again, you?ll launch the opponent into the air. The same goes for holding the button for a charged move, and weaving these (and unlocked abilities) into your combat will greatly help you defeat the tougher foes with some impressive combos. Once you start swapping weapons mid combo and casting spells to keep it going, it becomes very rewarding when you can kill a troll who is higher level than you without even letting it attack you once.

This doesn?t mean you can be always on the offensive, as you?ll quickly find that when it?s you versus numerous enemies, you?ll need to dodge, roll, and block just as often as you attack. Time your shield blocks correctly (everyone can use a shield too) and you?ll riposte, leaving them open for an attack. You?ll find though many times that the enemies don?t always play fair and live under the same rule sets that your character does. While you can be interrupted (and will quite often) mid cast or attack, many times an enemy will continue their barrage regardless if you?ve hit and interrupted them though. It almost becomes unfair when you fight a group of mobs that almost make it seem that you can stop blocking at all. This happens quite often and makes it frustrating for the melee types of players.

As you defeat your adversaries, you?ll gain experience, and as you level up you can spend points in the ability tree. You don?t pick a role at the beginning of the game, so you progress your character based on how you play as you go. The three main disciplines are broken into Might (warrior and melee), Finesse (rogue and stealth), and Sorcery (spells and casting). You can choose to stay in a single discipline, but if you want to be a warrior that also uses spells, so be it, as you can spend your points in any tree you wish. Been playing your warrior for a while and want some more diversity in your attacks? You?re able to spend gold (quite a lot of it) to reset your skill trees and essentially start over by refunding all the points you?ve spent. This makes for an interesting time, especially if you want a new challenge, or to simply see how another ?class? performs without having to start over the game with a new character.

Aside from killing any monsters you see in your path, the best approach for gaining experience and those sought after levels, is to go on and complete quests. There will be no shortage, as you have your main quest, faction quests, tasks like bounties and fetch quests, and side quests to keep you occupied for as long as you wish. Every town you go into might be a little overwhelming at first, as it seems every person has a quest and wants you to help them. If you?re a completionist, you?re going to have your hands full. A problem that starts to appear when you have a huge log of quests to undertake though is made apparent on the map (which is how you fast travel to places you?ve been, and something you?ll need to do quite often). The rings that show you where your objectives are (not just the current quest you?re tracking, but all of them) will overlap in certain places, especially entrances. For example, say you have four different quests to go into a cave and do multiple missions there. If you want to fast travel there, you need to open your map then choose the cave and you?re done. The problem arises when you have all these quest markers overlapping on the cave, making it unable to choose for fast travel. With some brute force by moving the cursor repeatedly until it lets you choose the ?proper? spot, there are a few times where you might have to run instead due to having too many quests that you can?t abandon.

Lastly, you have destinies. As you spent your earned ability points, you can choose destinies that will further boost your combat style. If you?re a warrior and choose the might destiny, then you?ll gain a bonus to your damage and mitigation, choose the rogue?s destiny and you can obtain bonuses for critical, ranged attacks, and more. You don?t have to stack the same destiny with your main discipline, and this combination opens up the possibilities of your character even further.

While there are more quests than you?ll probably ever complete, many of them seem to be kill X amount of monsters, fetch quests, and finding people that are lost. Getting big loot upgrades generally don?t come from the quests either, though this isn?t a big deal, as you?ll be getting more loot than you can carry during your adventures that it won?t matter. Just as you get comfortable with your big new rare weapon, a better one will soon drop. This isn?t a bad thing in itself, but you?ll end up spending a substantial amount of time in the menus having to go over new gear and loot you just obtained, deciding what to junk and sell, and what to keep. You?ll also have to fast travel back to town quite often as your armor degrades in time and you need to spend gold to fix it.

The main story should take you roughly twenty or so hours to complete, though doing side quests and treasure hunting will easily double that should you choose. There?s a substantial amount of content included on the disc, and certainly much more to come via DLC.

While you?re given the illusion of making moral choices throughout the story, it never feels like your choices have any major impact on the overall story and people involved. Quests will become repetitive and oddly enough, the lock picking skill almost seems like a waste, as you can essentially brute force your way into any difficulty of lock with enough picks. There are small issues like my character having her helmet on in one cutscene, but not in the next seems inconsistent, and interacting with some objects sometimes forces you to try and press the button numerous times before it registers (even though the prompt is showing). The huge game breaking bug I had though occurred to me roughly a dozen hours in and made the game unplayable. The game didn?t freeze, but my character did, though NPCs moved like normal, and my camera was usable. I?m not sure what caused it, but some research shows that a few other people are having this problem too.

In the end, I had to dock a point from the overall score because this bug didn?t allow me to progress any further, it even somehow even made my previous save with the same character do the same thing. I wanted to finish it, but it wouldn?t let me, I?m just unlucky I guess. Though don?t let the issue I had stop you try picking up Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. This Fable-esque game is one that anyone who enjoys the genre is going to have a good time with for the thirty plus hours it?ll take to complete as it opens itself to many different play styles, here?s to hoping for a patch to fix the quest markers and my ?frozen? character though.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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