Curt Schilling must be mad. Towards the end of a highly successful career in professional baseball, the former pitcher set out to make his second favourite pass time, gaming, his next career. An avid gamer and long-time fan of massively multiplayer games he founded Green Monster Games, now renamed 38 Studios. With the help of Todd MacFarlane and R.A. Salvatore he started building an MMO studio, and their first project "Copernicus", a game we still know nothing about. R.A. Salvatore the notable fantasy writer created a world, rich with lore and full of stories to tell. Rich enough for more than one game?
That's what Schilling and his fellow mad men thought, and when THQ decided to off-load Big Huge Games (best known for Rise of Nations, but retooled to work on a grand RPG), and they went in with money to save Big Huge Games and they tasked them with creating an open world RPG set in the same universe as "Copernicus". That's the game I've just witnessed a 30 minute presentation of. That's the game that Schilling and EA hopes people will turn to once they've visited all the dungeons in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It's a risky proposition.
If Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn't a success, then "Copernicus" and all that these mad men have created may never be fully realised. But that's the gaming industry for you. It's not baseball where every team needs a set of pitchers each season, and most of the time there is a franchise willing to sign you on even if you're shoulder is acting up. But game companies may only have one shot at making it and it's a good thing these mad men have a highly skilled team of veterans working on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
Most retired professional athletes kick back, may do some commentary, do charity or indulge themselves with alcohol and loose women. Not Curt Schilling, he took on a massive challenge and the first results of his and his team's efforts will be seen with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
Ken Rolston left Bethesda after The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. He contemplated retirement, but was convinced to join Big Huge Games. At Big Huge Games he has brought in plenty of former colleagues, such as Mike Fridley and Mark Nelson who are at the EA Partners showcase in SF to show the game to journalists.
In terms of how the action flows, it looks more reminiscent of Fable than an Elder Scrolls game. Maybe a blend of Fable and Dragon Age, but with its own unique flair. The action is smooth and fast and everything happens in real-time. As Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is played out during the "age of Arcana", magic is an integral part of combat and all characters are skilled when it comes to this. Rolston and his team opted out of using classes to define player roles.
"We didn't want to tie the player down with a uninformed decision that risks ruining their next 40 hours," says creative director Mark Nelson.
A great choice as long as the skill tree allows for enough variation and forces you to make choices further along. I'm sure Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will provide enough depth in this regard, but that's something that remains to be seen.
The world of Reckoning is painted with bright colours and gives off a vibe of high fantasy. Perhaps it's just true for this area, but from an art perspective It feels as though we're getting is a livelier and more colourful version of Lionhead's Fable. Surely Reckoning will be dark enough once you get into the dungeons, but the art style also comes across in your attacks and the design of characters and their garments.
You might be expecting the game to start out with the player imprisoned given the heritage of many of the team members, but instead you are resurrected at the start of the game and come to life in a pile of less fortunate resurrection candidates. In a world where everyone is born with a fate to fulfill you are without one and this will heavily influence the story and you're options as you go along. It's a gnome-like fellow who brought you back from the dead thanks to a device called the Well of Souls. Somehow this takes you on an epic journey to save the world, but your primary focus in the beginning is to find out just what has happened to you.
We get to witness a small boss fight against a troll and we see more of the magic based combat. Ice spikes, fire, meteor strikes, everything you come expect, all beautifully visualised. We're told how a mage like character can teleport and stay out of harm's way while unleashing powerful spells. The camera zooms in to give you a good view of the action whilst you're in combat, and with a lot riding on this intelligent camera one can only hope it's as smart as it's made out to be. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning naturally features things like a robust crafting system and a "Diablo"-like loot system.
So how does Todd MacFarlane's influence colour Reckoning? Well, it's sure isn't a fantasy version of Spawn we've been shown. The developers themselves claim that MacFarlane's influence can be traced in the fluid animations, and the game sure looks good in action. At any rate MacFarlane's trained eye will look over everything that has to do with character design and how they move, and that cannot be a bad thing.
It's also hard to spot the R.A. Salvatore input with untrained eyes. The developers point to some ruins and how you can find clues of a civilisation now gone. It's a world with a past.
Sometimes it takes a bunch of mad men to create something truly memorable, and by the looks of it Schilling's gang looks up to the task of delivering with Reckoning. With great risk comes the chance of great rewards. Let's hope Big Huge Games delivers on all the promise, there is a lot hanging in the balance.
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