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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

23:4522/03/2012Posted by Charles Etheridge-Nunn2 Comments

You know the drill. In the land of Aldrazar, twelve brave fighters went off to liberate the bronze conch of Aaaahhhh and fell the ninety-nine terrible howler monkeys. Aaaand there we are, the audience is asleep… It’s a high fantasy game, it needs a million-year long introduction while you get a cup of coffee, maybe have a nap. If you’re brave and can stay awake long enough, maybe you’ll listen to the sub-par Lord of the Rings style expository trawl.

Is it done? Good. That’s the bad of the review over with. Now onto the good.

With Skyrim only a few months old and most people still slogging away at it, you can’t look at an attempt to make a large-scale fantasy RPG without comparing it to Skyrim. It’s unfortunate, but Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, is the first game to suffer such indignities. The good news is, the comparison shines a light favourably on KoA:R, despite the silly name. At least it doesn’t sound like a sex act in a plane.

Written by a Dungeons & Dragons novel writer and designed by a reputed comic artist/action figure mastermind, KoA:R has a surprising pedigree despite the lack of promotion it has received. Your character is customisable in a more limited way than say, Skyrim, but the good news is you can’t butcher your features like in that character generator. Thanks to the art of Todd MacFarlane, the distinctive palette of face and body parts all look like they match and won’t create the result of a drunken bender in the house of Frankenstein. These people look dynamic, and that’s the great thing about this game, especially in comparison to Skyrim.

When the story starts, you’re dead. Short game. Oh, wait, no, you’re dead but once you’re dumped in a hole full of bodies, you wake up and have to fight your way out of the catacombs. The controls are easy to get used to. You have two weapons, each mapped to a button like in Fable. There’s magic, stealth, all the usuals, but they’re quick and easy to access. No faffing with menus mid-combat, and yet nothing feels missed out. When you fight, it feels like you’re part of the scenery, you’re interacting with people, rather than swinging wildly in a vacuum.

The inevitable chosen one power isn’t as awe-inspiring as the destruction a dragon breath can do, but it’s more awesome. You are someone destined to rip the fate out of people, generally at the end of your sword. When you mix up your attacks, you fill up your Fate Gauge faster, and when it’s full, you go all super saiyan (Editor: a quick google…ah, Dragonball Z!). Time slows down and blue energy whirls around you, making a whirling dervish lightshow of death. It’s spectacular, and culminates in a simple QTE which isn’t a traditional, “complete these button-presses to continue” but instead is a, “hammer one random button to multiply your XP gain”.

The main story, like Skyrim, isn’t very memorable, but both of these games aren’t making one grandiose story, they’re giving you a massive sandbox to play with and make your own stories. The side quests are the meat of the game and it’s sad that they’re not delivered by memorable NPCs or more varied because some are quite interesting. There’s more of a willingness to be weird with the missions, compared to some of the po-faced Skyrim ones.

The world itself is compact, with single set-piece locations linked by winding paths. There’s the standard fantasy village where you’ll find yourself returning to get your diseases cured, forge items or pick up your DLC. There are overgrown ruins, musty woods and even a village where the locals farm silk from giant spiders. We’re not sure what drives them to such madness but, hey, if that’s what they want from life who are we to argue? Everything may be smaller than Skyrim, but there’s almost no space wasted, all apart from the winding paths between sites. Even those are small, you won’t take an hour going from one town to another.

So that’s the quests and the world. What about the widgets? The tiny bits? Like Skyrim, there’s alchemy, there’s blacksmithing and there’s lockpicking. Each are done in similar, yet different ways. The lockpicking is split into Skyrim-style picking or disarming magical locks with timed button-pushes. So far, so simple. Alchemy is fun, as you have ways of divining what mixes with what. Each plant has a description with a blue keyword, such as “damage” and “poison”. Mix them together and you’ve discovered the recipe for a potion which allows you to do poison damage with your attacks. “Restoration” and “Health” and “Power” makes a greater potion which cures wounds. And so on. As you level up, points in alchemy allow you to add more herbs.

Blacksmithing allows you to break unwanted weapons apart and get components, different handles, bindings, sticks, blades and so on. Each one has a modifier which add together to make a weapon. This allows the items to be fairly unique, for instance “The Xena”, which I made. Combining elements, The Xena is a chakram which increases the weilder’s health, adds 1% to XP gain, does a little lightning damage and a ton of fire damage. No one else has that without trying. The same goes for armour, staves, daggers and so on. Glorious. No more iron ingots for me. The weapons and armour vary wildly and this is a great thing, as you might get mage robes which give you more mana, but you have a big-arse sword and a set of plate mail gives you better big-arse sword damage. You’re conflicted, you have a choice, and it’s not that there’s one type of armour which supersedes every other before it.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has a lot to put you off of it. The silly name, the long introduction, even the involvement of a D&D author and a toy designer/creator of Spawn are things which could switch people off. But people are wrong. You’ve met people, you know what they’re like. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a hoot to play. It feels like Fable done right, like a third person Skyrim edited to a workable size. It’s smaller than the actual Skyrim, it’s more contained, but everything you do makes you feel dramatic, like a hero, all from the start, and it gets bigger from there. And isn’t that what epic fantasy should feel like?

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning which was purchased by D+PAD.

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