Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur, is the first outing of a massive shared world creation dreamt up by some of the biggest names in fantasy gaming. Todd McFarlane’s been part of the design team, RA Salvatore wrote a tonne of the game’s lore, while video and P&P luminary Ken Ralston is also onboard.
The game was originally meant to be an MMO – and there is one still coming at some point – but got scaled back to singleplayer only. It’s a tale of creation almost as complex and deep as some of those in the game, and once Reckoning’s roots are understood, the game it has become makes a lot more sense.
There’s an awful lot to like about Reckoning, and there’s an awful lot of game to lose yourself in, but those MMO trappings are rather obvious. They don’t detract from the experience, to be sure, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Reckoning is an MMORPG with three of the letters surgically removed.
There’s no denying that the game’s got a solid starting hook. You wake up in pile of rotting corpses, swathed in rags, and with no memory of who you are or how you got wherever you are. One of these mysteries is solved early – you’ve just become the first person to actually come back from the dead courtesy of a Gnomish contraption called the Well of the Souls. Who you are, though – that’s the bigger question, and one that the game’s main plot is all about.
You do find out some interesting stuff early on, however. The world of Amalur is all about fate, and the paths that fate has laid out for its denizens are all but impossible to avoid – except for you. Somehow, you’re adrift from the threads of fate, something that, you’re informed, is almost God-like in its rarity. You find a typically wise father figure to lead you through some self discovery, and the tutorial areas, as you fight your way out of the Gnomish lair lets you play with each of the game’s weapons systems, though at a the cost of being almost terminally uneven in pacing.
But it’s worth sticking with, because once you get into some proper questing, the game’s a mess of fun.
The combat and character progression are probably the real stars of Reckoning. Like Skyrim, the game’s effectively classless – you can pick up any weapon, and cast spells from the get go, or get all sneaky. But if you want to be really good at one of these, you need to put points into the respective talent tree. They’re called class trees, but it’s effectively the same system that Blizzard’s been using in its RPGs for years – mostly because it just works.
With each level attained, you can boost skills – such as Blacksmithing and other crafting skills, or Persuasion to let you influence dialogue – and then distribute three points between the trees. You can mix and match as you want, too, even from the first few levels you start to see a lot of customisation options and solid benefits from your choices.
Want to be a master of archery with some close-in knife skills? Easy. Wielding a flaming two-handed sword you made yourself, while shattering the very ground at your opponent’s feet? It’ll only take a few hours. Actually using those skills is pretty streamlined, too, and it comes down to using the left mouse button for your main weapon attack (you can have a secondary weapon slotted, which you can equip with a mouse-click), and the right button for your special attacks.
Reckoning keeps the keyboard mashing to a minimum by making only one of your specials – each traditionally mapped to a number key – available at any time. Picking the right special for each fight actually adds a nice layer of tactical decision making, and the combat is more satisfying because of it.
It’s also very bright and flashy. You can chain attacks, use combos, or just mash to heart’s content, and different weapons come with different attack speeds and combos. But the combat’s really only as involved as you want it to be, though it’s very rewarding the better you get at it.
The final bit of customisation you can enjoy links directly back to your unique ability to change your own fate. It’s basically a card system, not unlike a Tarot, where you choose a given Fate, and get access to some boosted abilities. However, you unlike different Fates as you advance through the talent trees, meaning you’ll usually be able to really focus on a certain play-style. Some of these even make changes to basic abilities, like turning your dodge into a damage-dealing teleport.
Choose your own
Outside of the combat, though, some of the game’s quests, and the world of Amalur itself, are quite interesting. One early chain of quests really impressed me, as it involved becoming King of a whole faction – there’s no drip-feeding here, and like the constant amount of treasure and cool gear you’ll need to pawn off, the game gives you some very satisfying storytelling rewards, too.
But as you explore the wider world, the limits do start to get annoying. We mentioned Skyrim earlier, and if there’s one area where Reckoning compares poorly it’s in terms of exploration – there really isn’t any. Instead, you’re blocked and channelled all over the place, forever seeing interesting spots that you can never get to. The fact that there’s no ability to jump from anything other than appointed spots makes this even more glaring, as you’ll constantly find a mess of low obstacles that cannot be overcome.
The game’s engine and art style are also obvious hints that this was meant to be an MMO. The environment’s very open, with obvious hubs around the place, and none of the clutter you’d expect in a modern singleplayer game. It's pretty enough, but it's hardly pushing the boundaries of game design, and if anything it all looks a little too derivitive of other big name franchises - but that's fantasy for you. There really are only so many ways you can draw a wolf or a bear or a troll.
Too, you often end up with a companion for a given part of a quest, which again makes me think of classic escort quests in MMOs. If anything, it’s the best way to describe the game is World of Warcraft without the World bit. Similarly, while every NPC is voiced, the player isn’t, which seems a glaring omission.
When it excels, Reckoning delivers fantasy action better than almost any other game we can think of – it’s a Diablo level of smoothness. And there’s a lot of content to get through, so if you’re looking for a single game to take up a mess of time, this is a top choice. But it’s not quite all there; the missing MMO part of the game exists almost like some cognitive ghost, informing and shaping Reckoning despite not being present.
But it’s not going to stop us playing – at least until the enduring pull of Skyrim exerts its frosty presence over us again!