When former professional baseball player Curt Schilling announced that he was opening a video game studio, it was met with mixed reviews from the public. How much could he possibly know about games? As it turns out, quite a bit. He enlisted the art direction of the brilliant Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and writing chops of N.Y. Times Best Selling author R.A. Salvatore. This “dream team” of sorts set out to craft a western RPG that would be embraced by the masses. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was born.
Now don’t get me wrong, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a terrible name. It sounds like some Wii shovelware that you’d find in the bargain bin. But, when you start attaching the names of McFarlane and Salvatore to it, it’s time to take notice.
The western RPG is something that has been tackled by many companies, mostly made famous by games such as Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (to be hereforth known as KOA) has taken cues from these games, while improving the combat and quest structure.
So where to actually start? First of all, KOA is a giant game, it’s filled to the brim with locations to unlock, quests to be completed and items to uncover. Over 25 hours into the game, I’ve discovered about half of the map, which just is a testament to the value found within. That’s just map discovery by the way, there are also lorestones (obelisks that give you, well.. lore about the world), hidden rooms and caches of goodies to be found.
The quests that you’re going to find aren’t anything new, as everything at this point can be narrowed down to a few categories. You’ll be searching for someone that’s “lost”, you’ll be hunting down a specific baddie and of course, you’ll have to kill X monsters to get X items. It’s all been done before, but KOA seemingly keeps everything fresh the entire time. The only actual stale questline that I’ve encountered at this point is the main story, which is sad. It’s the classic you-woke-up-with-no-memory-and-are-somehow-special story. Sure it’s tired, but the pacing is excellent and I found myself so inundated with sidequests that the main story just flowed right along with them. Thankfully, they’ve implemented a quick travel system as well, allowing you to instantly travel (while in the overworld) to anywhere on the map that you’ve uncovered. This makes up for the unfortunate lack of mounts (Can I get a horse???).
One of the biggest triumphs in the game is it’s combat system. I consider it a mash-up of Fable and God of War. Each of the three “classes” have skills that are always useful in combat and the natural flow of combat just feels spot on. I’ve never run into a fight that felt either unfair or broken (Thresh sure come close though). If anything, it’s almost too easy. Ease of combat aside it’s just fun. I’ve been mainly leveling in the “Might” or “Warrior” role for my first playthrough and there’s not much more satisfying then tearing into a pack of monsters with a sword that’s as large as my character, sending bodies flying everywhere. Dodging is made easy as well, so you’re able to pick and choose your battles mid-combat. You can also “hot-key” up 4 skills at a time to unleash with just the press of a button.
Speaking of skills, this is an RPG after all! As you fight and complete quests you gain experience towards the next level (Current cap = 40). Upon leveling up, you get to choose new goodies! Firstly you’re allowed to add a point to the main skill tree. This is made up of universal skills such as Blacksmithing, Stealth and Persuasion. Some of these are seemingly pointless unfortunately. Lockpicking is a simple task in this game as it is, so I never found any reason to level this, as even “Very Hard” locks are easy to snap open. On the other hand, skills such as Blacksmithing and Detect Hidden are almost (in my opinion) necessary to level immediately. Items that you can make with Blacksmithing become much better then those that you can find (Although set and rares are usually better, if you can find them). Detect Hidden on the other hand is just invaluable, after a few points in it you’ll start seeing the hidden treasures all over your map, where enemies are (and what direction they’re facing) and even hidden doors! After you’ve chosen from this pool, you are then allotted 3 points to spend in your “talent” tree. This is where you make the decision on how you want to specialize your character. Do you want to be a Meteor throwing mage? Perhaps a sneaky backstabbing rogue? Choose your skills, but don’t worry about making mistakes, respecializing can be done at any time (for a nominal fee, of course). Once this is selected, you choose your destiny card. This is based upon your points spent in the “talent” trees, the cards all have different effects and they help you specialize your character that much more.
Another large part of the RPG experience is the finding of loot, KOA has this in droves. Around every corner you’re going to find a new pair of boots or a new weapon to compare with your current. I found that if I wasn’t upgrading every 30mins to an hour that I had to be missing something. The gear follows the (now) standard classification color coding – white/green/blue/purple with yellow being set items. When playing just remember though; random loot is random. Everything except for the purple/yellow can be broken down into blacksmithing components to make your own gear. This is actually fun to do as you can customize your gear how YOU want it.
Graphically, the game is nothing short of stunning to look at. It’s dripping with flavor in all of it’s areas and you can really notice the McFarlane touch on a lot of things, armor and weapons especially. The game plays smooth as silk and even in the large outdoor areas, there is no notice of slowdown or “choppiness”. There is a bit of an issue with pop-in, but I’m personally able to forgive that as the game is just beautiful.
One of my biggest complaints with KOA is that you’re a mute lead character. You select from dialogue trees (ala-Mass Effect) and the NPCs that you converse with are all fully voiced, but unfortunately you are not. This would have been an amazing touch that they could have added, but I can understand the difficulty and time that this may have taken them to add. It doesn’t effect your immersion, it’s just glaringly obvious that it’s missing. The voice acting for the NPCs though is of excellent quality, there is a bit of an issue with their mouths being out of sync some of the time, but it’s not distractingly so. The music in the game is fantastic as well, the overworld themes are fitting for the areas that they’re in and when you’re about to get attacked, the music changes to a battle theme. It’s all well done and never becomes overly-repetitive.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a terrific first outing for Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios in partnership with Big Huge Games and EA. If this is just the beginning, I am very much looking forward to the future. KOA is beautiful, with wonderful music and a top notch combat system. There’s enough content here to keep you busy for 100 hours easily, more for completionists. I can’t recommend this game highly enough, look out for this one come GOTY time.