A compelling twist of fate.
Perhaps more so than any other trend in modern gaming, the industry’s ongoing obsession with de-genrefication is one I watch with a great deal of interest. I’ve always been a huge fan of pushing games forward, but by the same token, I’m not so sure I’m sold on the idea that developers taking a ton of great ideas from other genres and packing them into a larger theme is the way to get it done…and then, along came Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
An intriguing collaboration from Big Huge Games and 38 Studios, Amalur set out to be an action-RPG with a little something for everyone, blending a classic RPG quest system, an MMO-driven loot structure, real-time God of War–style combat, and a perk system that’s as much Call of Duty as it is Skyrim.
Mashed all together, it’s honestly a lot to consider.
If you’re an RPG purist who reads the above checklist and get the sense that Reckoning might be a bit of an odd mix, that’s probably because it is. Then again, you might be an action gamer who’s never really latched on to the turn-based, cutscene-driven grind of the epic RPG, and you find yourself wondering if Amalur’s a tasty bit of mad science that has the potential to turn the genre on its ear. Well, there’s a bit of truth to that, too.
The big question here is, does it all work together, or will one of the groups mentioned above end up feeling like they got the short end of the stick?
For RPG fans, everything you’d expect is here: a sweeping story filled with heroes, villains, and the decidedly underclothed tweeners who tug at the gray areas of your gaming soul; tons of random weapons, armor, and items to help fuel your unquenchable thirst for monster-slaying insanity; and a class system that allows you to branch your skills into any combination of the three crown jewels of the RPG character sheet (fighter, mage, and thief, for the uninitiated). It’s a deep package, and while I was a bit put off by the WoW-inspired visuals and painful equipment menu that forces you to scroll through a lengthy list of loot instead allowing you to jump to individual categories, I think the voice acting’s solid, the character design’s great for what it is, and there’s enough content in here to keep me busy for weeks on end.
And then there’s the combat. Action gamers will undoubtedly notice the core system’s combo-happy obsession with David Jaffe’s aforementioned Hellenic opus and the “Fate” system’s Max Payne–esque slo-mo attacks, and you’ll be happy to see there’s an admirable bit of technique here as well. Melee attacks feel smooth, boss battle are always epic, each weapon feels different, and the leveling choices do a great job of mixing things up—but, ultimately, each class comes down to weapon speed and power, something that definitely disappointed the range-vs.-rage fanboy in me to a notable degree, as it essentially renders the ability to “fateweave” your way to a new class somewhat useless, causing it—like most “respec” options—to come off as more of an apology for the ignorance of your initial decisions than a genuine mechanic. Still, Amalur offers up of one the better brawling experiences in recent memory, and it’ll absolutely reward folks with the patience to put it through the paces.
So, where does all this leave us?
All told, I enjoyed Kingdoms of Amalur quite a bit, but get the sense it could be a bit a real debate for some gamers. Personally, I came in expecting a more action-oriented Elder Scrolls—an opened-ended action game with a fantasy theme—but what I got was more of a Tekken-infused session of WoW: a technique-driven MMO without the online elements. Ultimately, it works much better than it sounds on paper, but I also recognize that the game’s massive list of moving parts leaves it as a title lacking one true “hook.” Amalur easily succeeds as an action-RPG where games like Two Worlds II have struggled in the past, but if you don’t fall in love with something in the game—say, the 38 Studios–fueled fiction, the frenetic combat, or even the endless loot-hoarding—you may end up setting this one down before it truly hits its stride. For the gamers who do give it a chance, Amalur’s got a decent dose of staying power, and as long as you don’t expect a revolution, you’ll find more than enough value to justify the $60 price of entry. My advice? Give it a shot.
SUMMARY: I’ve cursed the name of more than one ex-girlfriend for uttering these words, but here they are, nonetheless: I loved Amalur, but I’m not sure I’m in love with it. It’s a beautifully realized game with a lot of solid features, but it falls just short of blowing me away. That it came so close is both its blessing and its curse, but I’d still say it’s worth a playthrough if you’re even the slightest bit curious.
- THE GOOD: A polished, palpable blend of several games you love.
- THE BAD: A jack of all trades, master of none.
- THE UGLY: Equipment-management system, minimap art.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on PS3.