Game Review: This brightly coloured RPG is heavy on action and fun, but also has some obvious limitations.
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.