Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review
I’ve been struggling to answer a key question concerning Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and unfortunately, I’ve been unsuccessful in finding an answer. The question is a difficult one— Is a game that attempts to blend multiple gameplay elements ambitious and innovative, or does it lack a sense of identity? In so many ways, I love the addictive combat and colorful lands in this RPG and in others, I think it could’ve been better had the designers settled on one particular style.
As I mentioned during my demo impressions write-up, Reckoning features an attractive blend of rich, lush visuals that reminds one more of Fable rather than the grittier, grayer Elder Scrolls franchise. Granted, the world of Amalur isn’t as refined or meticulously detailed and some graphic aficionados may scoff at this, but you can’t help but be swept up in the fantastical presentation. It’s another contrast, really: a game that doesn’t necessarily excel from a technical standpoint is just so pretty.
The sound benefits from a huge cast of solid voice actors, crisp effects, and a fitting soundtrack that accompanies our adventuring. Once again, no one element stands out and makes us go, “now that’s something special," but the end result is cohesive and oddly enticing. Perhaps it’s vague to say this title has a certain “quality” about it, but in my eyes, it’s an accurate description. The audio is much like the graphics, in that they do their jobs but they don’t often make a big fuss about their accomplishments. I like the voice acting, effects, and music…I just don’t love any of it.
First and foremost, I have to clarify a point that may disappoint some hardcore role-playing fans, especially after Final Fantasy XIII-2. In my review of Square Enix’s sequel, I said we actually play the game for the action, as the story and characters take a back seat to the surprisingly in-depth combat mechanic and open-ended exploration. Well, same goes for Kingdoms of Amalur so if you’re looking for a story-driven RPG with lots of cinematics and linear progression, look elsewhere.
This is more about a combination of crazy fun combat and as deep a leveling mechanic as will be found anywhere. Therefore, if you lose yourself in the seemingly endless process of slaying enemies, completing side-quests, and powering up, this game will absorb a fair portion of your life. It really will; there’s a lot here. There’s a huge amount of lore and there’s always someone to talk to, and always somewhere new to explore. There’s plenty to think about and it typically involves the advancement of your character, so micromanagement buffs are in for a treat.
Speaking of your character, without giving away anything plot-related, you actually start the game dead. Then you’re resurrected by the Well of Souls and your adventure begins; it’s a quest that involves intriguing concepts like fate and destiny (mixed in with a gigantic amount of fairytale goodness), but above all else, it focuses on player choice. Like many good RPGs, freedom of choice is a central component and your actions will definitely speak louder than words. The problem is that the somewhat bland storyline almost forces you to focus on the action.
But despite the generic nature of the story, the facelessness of your own character, and dialogue that can grate (many civilians take a long time to say very little), any time you’re in battle, you’re happy. Side-quests and other jobs and errands can be a little tedious and rarely feel inspired or fresh but again, it’s that drive to fight something else that keeps you going. And you’ve got such a robust character advancement and customization system that hours can disappear fast.
The control is good, as the lock-on mechanic works well and the enemies are varied and pose a decent challenge. There’s also great variety in the magic and other diverse abilities that you obtain, depending on the path you choose. The only issue I had involved the camera, which feels a tad loose and doesn’t always keep up with the hectic action; it can be extra annoying in tight, cramped areas. It was one of those eccentricities that didn’t cripple the gameplay; you just have to deal with it.
Here, I have to return to the introductory point: what is Reckoning? It’s clearly role-playing but at the same time, there are action-based gameplay aspects that you don’t typically find in any RPG. Furthermore, with such a heavy focus on combat and sort of a ho-hum main storyline, you almost feel as if you’re playing an extremely deep action game amidst a large fantasy world. I just hope it can satisfy the RPG fans who might’ve expected something a bit more traditional.
Not only does it look a little like Fable, the action/RPG combat is similar as well, although Reckoning definitely offers more depth, variety and customization. This is the reason I kept playing; it wasn’t due to the admittedly alluring scenery or the heavy amount of folklore worked into the presentation (I speak of lore outside the primary story, which isn’t all that great). No, I kept playing because the combat is plenty of fun and growing your character is a blast.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning does a lot of things right. It provides gamers with a beautiful world full of mystery and intrigue, and offers a battle mechanic that never grows tiresome. But any traditional role-playing traits seem underwhelming, as if some sacrifice was made for the sake of focusing on the rousing gameplay. The world itself, from the inhabitants to the design to the music and effects, is compelling and immersive. The depth is definitely there. It’s not technically superior but it’s competent on all levels. Therefore, it's a solid production.
But the end result feels…I dunno, split, I guess. I still can’t decide if it suffers from a lack of identity or if it successfully blends various traits and styles. I do know the storyline and quest objectives could’ve been better, and I know this super fast-paced action may cause RPG purists to go, “uh…this is an RPG?” Yeah, it is. One you want to play? Well, one you want to try, at least.
The Good: Good, colorful visuals. Nice sound and music. Combat is great and addictive. Always plenty to do and somewhere to go. Depth and character choice/freedom is top-notch. Immersive, enveloping world.
The Bad: Nothing really stands out besides the battle. Story is a little lacking despite great background lore. Camera can be iffy. Will RPG purists like it…?
The Ugly: “Nothing ugly, unless you say mundane, trifling side-quests are ‘ugly.’”
2/9/2012 Ben Dutka