Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you probably should have heard of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Perhaps not the name but surely the circumstances and people involved. This game is created by 38 Studios - the game studio that Curt Schilling, formerly of the MLB and avid player (and former spokesperson) of SoE's EverQuest founded. The team he put together includes award winning writer R.A. Salvatore, artist Todd McFarlane of Spawn fame and Ken Rolston of Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and Oblivion fame. Beginning to sound familiar? We covered their first reveal at Comic Con 2010. Since then, 38 Studios acquired Big Huge Games of Rise of Nations fame and MMORPG.com was invited to a gameplay preview in October.
Spoiler Warning! Spoilers Ahead!
With a launch date of February 2012, we were once again invited to a hands-on preview. Reckoning is the single person, open-world, action RPG that is set in the world of Amalur (pronounced Ah-muh-LOOR for the ones that want to get it right), the world which the forthcoming MMO will also be based in. In a very short introduction before we were let loose on the machines, phrases such as "Best combat you've ever seen" and "save early, save often" were thrown out. I was to find out that both these phrases were truisms.
The story in a nutshell - You die, you come back in a pile of corpses, you are unique, you are key in the strife of the Alfar (the good guys) against the Tuatha (the bad guys).
There are five distinct world regions, four playable races, three skill trees and points can be placed in any of them. At character creation, you will find that each race has +1 bonuses in two different areas and a +2 bonus in another, and they range from Blacksmithing for the Almain, Lockpicking for the Varani, dispelling for the Ljosalfar and Stealth for the Dokkalfar. The choice of God of Earth, Air, Wisdom, Order, Justice or None at all also bestows different bonuses on the character such as plus percentages to Fire based skills, with a 1% bonus XP gain for the Godless.
You select an archetype when you start, but how the character develops all depends on where you put your skill points - in Sorcery, Might or Finesse, i.e. Mage, Warrior or Rogue skills. Where you put your points also determines what Destinies are available to you, and these have to be activated, each providing different bonuses. So depending on what you are doing, you may want to switch out say a Rogue type destiny for a Mage type if you are going to try your luck at picking a lock - which is a mini-game in itself - for the lock-picking stat bonus. There are also non-combat skills that can be raised like alchemy, hidden, blacksmithing, persuasion and lock-picking. Given my first few NPC interactions, I put my first point in persuasion, then stuck the next in hidden which allows you to spot hidden treasure troves. Yes, if they sparkle, you can harvest it. Might be a reagent, or a stash of stuff. Lock-picking seemed to be a skill to invest in too, given the number of locked chests I found while running around in the world.
I played on the PC and soon got used to the different conventions of the keyboard and mouse. The WASD keys were used to move, the Q key for switching out primary and secondary weapons and the F key used for a variety of actions including looting and opening doors. Combat is assigned to the left mouse button and skills to the right, with the scroll wheel also used to switch weapons. The UI is spare but does everything you need it to do. Active skills as you gain them are assigned to the number key and the one bound to the right mouse button is marked and highlighted. You won't have too many of them to worry about during combat, and combos are created by the number of times you use a skill in succession, and some skills activated by holding and releasing.
Combat is sweet and combat is smooth. Immersive because the camera angles are right and the animations are just fabulous. This is where Todd McFarlane's description of "Combat Theatre" and his boast that they would "... kill somebody in the game better than anyone else has been killed in video games" comes to life. Early on, I had discovered dodge with the space bar, this came in extremely useful with mini-bosses as well as multiple enemy scenarios. I was forced to move and dodge, choosing the right time to attack and following up successful attacks. You see, characters don't just stand toe to toe, whaling on each other until one's life bar depletes. Characters actually react to a blow, requiring a second or two to recover. This goes for both my player character as well as NPCs. Wolves actually missed and leapt over me when I dodged and rolled. Trolls backed up and moved about for better position. What is really nice is the Reckoning mode. This bar fills up when you fight and does not deplete until you use it. Then you go into a world that is purple-tinged and your every movement slows and your attacks are deliberate. The bar runs out slowly and before you deplete it, you choose a creature to activate the Reckoning on. In a beautiful cinematic sequence - and there are several random ones - you deliver a coup de grace that takes it out along with every other creature you were engaged with.
The world is large and quests are many. There is a main story-line quest, but hundreds upon hundreds of side quests and faction quests. "It's like an MMO!" I remarked, to the amusement of the other single-player media types there. We had other ready-built, level 20 characters to try out, and I was able to see a couple distinct regions and try to kill a Balor for the main storyline.
I tried a little of the crafting and harvesting but did not get very far in two hours of game play with a new character and with the pre-built as I was too busy enjoying the amazing combat and quest storyline. All in all, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning delivers all the promises that the team has made, in spades. The graphics are amazing, the depth and breadth of the world is remarkable and combined with the awesome sauce that is the combat, and 38 Studios and Big Huge Games may have just reset the bar for Single-player, open-world RPGs.