Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
It's not often that the main character in an RPG is dead at the beginning (although Planescape Torment is one such game that springs to mind) but that's exactly the position your character will be in at the beginning of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the fantasy, third-person action RPG from 38 Studios and Big Huge Games. Fortunately your character will soon make a Lazarus-like recovery, thanks to the Well of Souls, and return to the land of the living and that's extremely good news for the citizens of Amalur because they are desperately in need of a hero. The side effect of coming back from the dead is that you no longer have a fate, you were meant to be dead after all, and are free to shape it as you wish during the course of the game. The beauty of this is that in a world where everyone is seemingly bound to their fate, you are the only one with the power to alter not only your own fate but those of others too.
Whilst most RPG games allow you a good deal of freedom, Kingdoms of Amalur takes things to a whole new level. As you would expect you are free to deviate from the main storyline and take on any of the many side quests that can be found in the game. You are also free to shape your character’s progression too, levelling up passive abilities such as Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Detect Hidden, Persuasion and Stealth. You can switch between a number of destiny types, which confer bonuses on your character, whenever you want to (although you’ll only begin the game with three of them). There are three skill trees (Finesse, Might and Sorcery) that you can purchase skills from using your skill points that you acquire when your character levels up. Each of the skills on the skill trees has six levels allowing you to improve a skill significantly if it’s one you deem to be useful. Surprisingly however, you can even completely reset all of your character’s skills by visiting a Fateweaver. This allows you to completely reshape your character’s attributes and effectively change the way in which you play the game at any time you want. You’ll have to pay for this privilege however and subsequent resets of your character’s abilities get progressively more expensive. Still to have the ability to effectively reset your character in this way is impressive and helps you avoid unwittingly creating a character that you aren’t completely happy with.
With this being an action RPG it’s imperative that the combat is solid enough to keep you coming back for more. Thankfully the combat in the game is actually pretty impressive. The game makes effective use of combos and charged attacks and feels very smooth and easy to get to grips with. You’ll have access to staffs, a variety of swords and dual knives, hammers, bows and so forth. Magic can also play an important role in combat if you choose to take advantage of it. The combat remains fluid and exciting throughout and of course there’s always the option to use stealth but how effective it is boils down to the abilities and skills you’ve chosen as your character develops.
One of the features I really like in Kingdoms of Amalur is the ability to create and name your own armour and weapons. Whilst playing the game you’ll get to collect a variety of components that can be used to craft weapons and armour that can differ from those that you’ll find in the game. You can even break down the weapons and armour into components which you can then use in the crafting of your custom creations. These custom creations allows you to craft weapons and armour that provide you with the status boosts you’ll need to compliment your character’s attributes. I suppose you could argue that it’s possible to craft weapons and armour that make the game a little too easy but personally I think it’s pleasing that if you invest time in one area of the game such as the crafting, it does have a tangible effect on the game as a whole.
Whilst the game is generally impressive, and the quality of the action makes sure it's an addictive experience, some aspects of Kingdoms of Amalur could have been better. The bulk of the side quests in the game feel too generic, the storyline is decent but lacks the richness you'd expect to find in an RPG and the visuals, whilst impressive from a technical perspective, lack originality. These problems collectively mean that Amalur doesn't have a particularly strong sense of identity and that's a shame. Probably the first complaint I had with the game was that the options to change the look of your character are actually pretty basic by today’s standards and feel far too limited for an RPG of this calibre. None of the aforementioned problems are of major importance and they are certainly not big enough to deter anyone from enjoying what is essentially a very polished game, but with stronger side quests, an engrossing storyline and an original look for the world and its characters it would have been a top of the line action RPG.
The presentation of Kingdoms of Amalur is absolutely fine. The visual style of the game will be familiar to anyone who has played a colourful, fantasy-based action RPG before but in the game’s defence the character models generally look fine and the numerous environments that you’ll explore all look absolutely fine if not technically impressive. Assuming you simply put the disk in your Xbox 360 and load up the game, you’ll be advised to first install the game before beginning your adventure and this is for good reason. Playing straight off the disk, you’ll encounter long load times and quite a choppy frame rate at times leading to a gameplay experience that’s not ideal. With the game installed to the hard drive however things are much better with a smooth frame rate and load times that are much more acceptable. The game is also subtitled, although they are disabled by default. You’ll have absolutely no problem in following the game’s storyline as all of the essential dialogue is subtitled with the speaker’s name being shown so you’re aware of who is saying what. Tutorial information and quest details are all given in text too and can be recalled when needed. The on screen radar always shows you where you need to complete your next quest. The game also makes good use of icons to convey information and the icons are pretty much self-explanatory.
I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The combat is enjoyable and the amount of freedom you have to play the game in a way that suits you means that most fans of the genre will find Kingdoms of Amalur to be an addictive experience. Yes some aspects of the game could have been better. Better side quests, a richer storyline and more options to alter the physical appearance of your character would have been appreciated but the combat is impressive; I like the ability to be able to craft weapons of your own design and the main storyline is enjoyable. On the whole it’s a very addictive action RPG and if a sequel could manage to make up for its deficiencies, none of which are serious, it would be one of the best action RPG’s to date.