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Posted by on Feb 24, 2012

Review: Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning

Review: Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning

Developers: 38 Studios & Big Huge Games
Publishers: EA & Big Huge Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & Windows [Windows version used for review.]
Release Date: North America: 7th February, 2012; Europe: 9th February, 2012.
In Ten Words Or Less: A conglomerate of the RPG greats, but lacking in inspiration.
Family Friendly? It’s a no from us. Read here for our clarification.

The RPG as we knew it is dead. Long gone are the days where we followed a linear path through a universe facing an immediate threat. Being forced into the shoes of a protagonist with fixed characteristics and skills is no longer the norm. Neither is the random encounter system, or the turn based combat of yesteryear.

So what stands in its place? Unlimited choice. The western obsession with allowing gamers the freedom of choice in every decision has overcome the intricate story telling of the east. As a result, we have games that are truly our own, with much larger replay value, a superior level of immersion and far more appeal to a wider audience. The cost of this? Individuality in a genre that is beginning to show signs of saturation.

This has never been more apparent than with Kingdoms of Amalur. For all its wonder and achievements, it feels familiar – too familiar. Whereas the best games of the genre offer sprawling open worlds that are unique to their respective universes, KoA’s geography is cramped, recycled and forced. It feels born out of a need to create a realm in which the game mechanics can live, as opposed to a need to create game mechanics which allow you to live in the game’s realm.

But what mechanics they are. The majority of the clamour surrounding the launch of KoA focused on the combat , and how it would pull the genre out of the slump of simplistic game play. It delivers in this respect – it marries the enormity of abilities that you’d find in any respectable MMO with the kind of combat that wouldn’t feel out of place in Devil May Cry or God of War. The last time I enjoyed combat of this variety to the same extent was way back in 2003, with EA’s excellent film adaption of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The fact that it captures the same urgency and complexity of combat in a role-playing game as opposed to an action title is a great achievement, and is one of the reasons you will play Kingdoms of Amalur for days, weeks and months to come.

It isn’t the sole reason, mind you. The simply brilliant voice acting is above and beyond what you’d expect from a developers first outing into the role-playing genre, and it feels fresher than the far more established franchises out there. The writing is sometimes questionable, but for the most part the world is populated by believable individuals. They’re apathetic, always ignorant of your background but concerned enough about the state of affairs in the world to rally towards whatever help they can get. It’s a shame that the world which they inhabit feels much less congruent, but due credit where credit is due.

The art style is the main offender here. Whilst the game takes obvious visual cues and a palette straight from Blizzard’s Azeroth, some of its inhabitants – both sentient and non-sentient – don’t feel at home here. The typical arrays of mythological and fictional beasts are present, and they mesh wonderfully with the mysterious swaps and secretive hideouts, but the wolves, bears and humanoid species feel too true to real life to occupy the magical forests of Dalentarth, for example.

The world itself doesn’t conjure the same kind of wonder or intrigue that we’ve come to expect from the genre either – I’m not suggesting that every single RPG can produce a world of the same kind of scale or sheer depth as perhaps Bioware or Bethesda, but I rarely felt curious as to know where the stray path led, or the urge to see the other side of the world like I did in Cyrodil or in the Capitol Wasteland. It’s certainly colourful enough to be attractive, appealing more to the traditional fantasy aspect of the genre rather than the true-to-life alternate future or history games of late, and in that it still has charm.

It borrows more aspects from its obvious influences, albeit with much more success. The introduction of proper functioning talent trees into a single player RPG allows for various approaches to combat, each one respectively viable and interesting enough to experiment in. Whilst games in the past tied your decisions down and make you follow that path for the remainder of the game, Amalur allows you to rethink your decision at any point. Been playing as a warrior from day one, but fancy picking up the arcane arts? No problem, just respec accordingly. Fancy something a bit more balanced? No sweat. There are destinies that you can choose which cater for every possible combination, each one allowing for a different style of play.

The gameplay is a robust affair, with commendable pacing throughout. Whilst side quests aren’t available in the kind of quantity or multi-dungeon quality of its peers, Kingdoms of Amalur still manages to give the player a lot to do with the tight landscape available. This in itself is not always a bad thing – towns are always within walking distance, dungeons and side quests are often close to hand, and you rarely spend half an hour negotiating with a landscape in order for it to reveal its secrets. Grinding is practically unnecessary, what with all the faction quests and optional pursuits on offer. The slight kink in Amalur’s armour at this point is just how long it takes to get invested in the main story; it was only after approximately ten hours that the game began to really fire on more than a few cylinders.

One thing I will hand to Amalur though is that when it comes to crafting, professions and the distribution of quality items, they’ve hit the nail on the head. Epic loot is rare enough to feel like a reward, and yet always feels attainable. The fact that epic items themselves aren’t reserved until the level cap like many other RPGs is a welcome decision by the development team, as is the simplification of the stats which each class requires. Unwanted loot gets broken down for raw materials, which then get utilised in other professions to build better gear – this in itself is nothing new, but the whole system is incredibly refined and satisfying.

Even with the acknowledgement that a game is not just the sum of its parts, and that the combat in particular is above and beyond what we’ve seen in an action RPG before, Kingdoms of Amalur simply lacks genuine inspiration. The game has unfortunately come in a post-Skyrim age, which can partially explain the game faltering when met with my own expectations – but asking a slick, simplistic combat system to shoulder the interest of the player for the duration of the story simply won’t do. Amalur is a world you can pick up and play very easily, but can also put down and drop out of just as quickly. This is role-playing for the casual crowd; a shame, considering the quality of the talent on board with the games development.

The Good:

  • Slick, refined combat
  • Wide array of customisation options for character development and play style
  • Good crafting and itemisation
  • Paced carefully, always ensuring enough distractions throughout the game’s main story

The Bad:

  • The driving plot behind it feels stale and sluggish
  • Devoid of own feel, too much homage to contemporaries
  • Dumbed down enough to lack depth for those accustomed to RPGs
  • The setting simply isn’t interesting enough to inhabit or explore

Verdict: Worth A Go.

Family Focus

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning contains blood, violence & suggestive themes – all have which have earned the game a Mature rating by all certification boards. As a result, the game isn’t family friendly, and should only be experienced by adults.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s amazing what the games flaws actually are. The story aside (which is an evident and easily explainable issue in most titles), it blows my that aesthetics and other forms visual expression would affect my opinion of the game so much. Let me elaborate, the sublime combat aside, I couldn’t care to know why I was doing what I did nor who was involved. I could not tell you a single npc’s name. The truth of the matter is regardless of a good VA effort the characters still did not seems real and the physical disposition is the only thing to blame. Maybe the cartoonish artstyle restricted them – (I disagree though in truth) – but if so more cutscenes should have been incorporated to give a sense that there was some life in these people. Well ME3 will have to be my salvation, Coming for you Garrus!

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