The immortal Faes (basically Elves) are fading and the young races are about to take over, but there is a dark cloud looming over the realm. With the fates of everyone in Amalur pre-determined, your role as a resurrected fateless hero is unique and you have the power to change the destinies of those around you and whilst unravelling fate's threads. A position of great power and responsibility, and as you may expect a nice set up for your typical fantasy adventure.
With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim taking home a truck load of Game of the Year awards, reaching ten million players and dominating much of this editorial staff's time recently, it is only natural to compare the two games. Not least since development was headed up by Ken Rolston, lead designer on Morrowind and Oblivion. But to be fair, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, does not come from the same mould as the Elder Scrolls game. I would rather liken it to the Fable series, albeit with a larger game world, and more in-depth game mechanics as far as combat, crafting, and smithing goes.
At first Reckoning comes across almost like an MMORPG, you're taken through a brief tutorial and let into a world where quest givers are highlighted with exclamation marks and question marks, where there are plenty of "hunt x number of this and bring back trophies" quests, and fetch quests. It may not sound very exciting, and to be honest the start of Reckoning is somewhat underwhelming. A resurrected soldier without knowledge of his past sets out to change the fate of the world. Even if I haven't played anything with that particular set up it still feels familiar.
One of the main points of interest with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is without a doubt the combat system. It's surprisingly fluid, and shares a lot with the previously mentioned Fable series. As you progress through the skill tree the combat gets even more interesting, and the system of how you fill up your fateshift meter in order to trigger Reckoning mode encourages a diverse style of switching between your primary and secondary weapons as well as using magic seamlessly in combat. Naturally you can still pause the action to use potions, but the combat of Reckoning is a well executed hybrid between a deep RPG system and an action oriented hack n' slash.
There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment with simple combinations such as launching an enemy into the air with your great sword and then peppering them with your longbow. It's almost reminiscent of juggling your opponent in games like Tekken and Soul Calibur.
The world of Amalur is full of your typical fantasy trappings. Resourceful and inventive gnomes, Elves (Fae) with a close connection to nature and who are fading, and ambitious men. There are factions, and faction quest lines to complete. Plenty of side quests and tasks. You can steal, murder, own your own house and many of the other things we've come to expect from an open world RPG.
The world is not one giant map like in Skyrim, but rather it's divided into rooms and regions much like Fable. Most of the overworld locations are a bit bland and generic, yet dungeons and cities are absolutely wonderfully designed with amazing attention to detail. This disparity is somewhat vexing, and from a technical standpoint it must be said that Reckoning isn't cutting edge on consoles. There are clipping, pop ups, draw distance issues, and the camera sometimes finds strange angles from underneath the ground during combat (you can adjust this manually, of course). It should be noted that game looks far better on PC, but for the purpose of this review I've tested the Xbox 360 version and it's not without blemishes.
Overall, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning comes at a time when RPG fanatics are still very much involved with Skyrim or are just gearing up for Mass Effect 3, but given how different Reckoning is from both these games it does deserve a closer look. The story may seem a bit thin at first, and the side quests and faction stories aren't as memorable as those in Skyrim, but there are memorable characters and the game does a good job of keeping things simple and easy to relate to as far as the main storyline goes.
There is a lot of adventuring to be had in Amalur, the ability tree and your freedom to choose from different destinies and thus virtually switch your class on the fly (you can also re-spec your entire character at Fateweavers in game for a price) is something we are seldom afforded in these kind of games.
I also like how the game don't really force you to make good or evil choices in minor quests all the time, but at the same time a lot of the conversations come across as a bit limited as they don't allow for much interactivity on the part of the player. If conversations and making lots of smaller choices is something you enjoy - don't expect to be blown away by Reckoning.
What Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning does really well is how it balances accessibility with what is a rather deep system at the core. There are no filler abilities in the skill tree, which branches into Might (warrior), Finesse (ranger), and Sorcery (mage), and advancing your skills also unlock new moves you can perform in the real-time combat.
Crafting is also accessible yet deep. However, one issue with the system for sagecrafting, smithing and alchemy is that you really need to level these abilities up before they're truly useful. And since unlike combat you're unable to gain experience through repeated use, the process feels less naturally organic than your other abilities.
For example, your initial alchemy efforts will mostly result only in unstable potions. But it's worth dedicating time and skill points when you've got plenty of both as you'll be handsomely rewarded.
The system for items, loot and gems you place in sockets on your equipment is great. It's easy to see what's most suitable to use and being able to turn obsolete equipment into scrap and turn it into gold on the go saves a lot of time going back and forth to shops (you can still do this in order to get better prices for your stuff, of course).
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a game that slots nicely into an empty space in the genre. It's accessible and has great combat, while it sports a considerably more colourful and cheerful design than Skyrim yet still offers great depth.