Recently, I had the change to travel to Baltimore to visit the Big Huge Games studio where they were revealing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the single player RPG predecessor to the highly anticipated 38 Studios MMO to the press for the first time.
As a general gamer, I was interested to see this new RPG and learn about its specific features. As the Managing Editor at MMORPG.com, however, I was more interested in learning what Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning could tell us about the highly anticipated “Copernicus” MMO, set in the same game world as this new RPG.
For those of you who may have been living under a rock for the last few years, 38 Studios is the company founded by World Series winning baseball pitcher Curt Schilling who is himself a distinctly hardcore gamer. Also on staff are Todd McFarlane, best known as the creator of Spawn and R.A. Salvatore, renowned fantasy author.
Ever since the studio’s announcement, back when they were known as Green Monster Games, people have been wondering what fingerprints these visionaries might leave on the MMO that they were going to produce. Reckoning provides us the first chance to get an idea of what those fingerprints might be when it comes to the upcoming (and still unnamed) MMO.
The setting itself is really the aspect of the game that informs us most clearly about the upcoming MMO.
At the beginning of the project, R.A. Salvatore created a history for the world, detailing the events of the land’s evolution over a 10,000 year period. The hope is that having a firm history to start from will give the game a greater scope and continuity, leading to a more intense player attachment not only with the individual game that they are playing at any given time, but with the world as a whole. These guys don’t want their world to be a disposable experience.
The game itself (Reckoning) is set 2,000 years before the MMO at what is certainly one of the most pivotal moments in the world’s history.
For those who haven’t been following, one of the only things that we know about Copernicus is that the game revolves around the idea that the people of the lands have access to something called the “Well of Souls”. The Well of Souls is, essentially, a resurrection machine. Not only does this provide a rationale for the constant death and resurrection of player characters, but it also serves as a catalyst for change n the world. What would a society be like, for example, if such a device were to actually exist? So what better way to introduce Amalur audiences to this concept than in a full blown AAA single player RPG?
When Reckoning begins, you are dead. Your corpse, having ended up in a kind of gnomish research facility and being experimented upon, is being dumped to rot on top of a large pile of other bodies... And that’s when you wake up again, mysteriously returned to life, freed from the destiny that the gods of the land have laid out for you. You are, for all intents and purposes, Patient X when it comes to the Well of Souls.
Something that might surprise people coming to the game for the first time is that while it is certainly engaging and vibrant, art-style Reckoning does not look like a Todd McFarlane project. Anyone expecting a Spawn-like look is going to be disappointed. This is, however, an intentional thing, and by no means indicates that McFarlane hasn’t been heavily involved in the project. This just wasn’t an appropriate “Todd project”, as McFarlane explained himself. His job is to oversee the art development of the world. By way of explanation, McFarlane at one point gestured to a path through the forest and told us that his contribution was to have added moss and other overgrowth to the texture. More than once, he wondered why games of this type have paths through the forest that always look like they’ve been meticulously swept and cared for. Who exactly is cleaning the forest?
That statement in and of itself seemed to me to encapsulate the art direction for the entire property, Copernicus included. For them, it seems to be all about making the world feel alive. No matter how cool something looks, if there isn’t a logical and explainable reason for it to exist in the world, it won’t. The goal in the look of the games is the same as for the setting: To bring players into the game world as a whole.
it should be noted that we were very specifically told that Copernicus and Reckoning do not share an art style and that they would end up looking, on the surface, quite different.
In the end, the two games, Reckoning and Copernicus, are going to be quite different beasts. With art, combat, races, and other systems getting a revamp for the MMO follow-up, the take-away from Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is in the company’s philosophies of development and how they will come to fruiting first in this single player RPG.
While I’ve tried to steer this article more toward the MMO audience, there are doubtless those of you out there like me who dabble in the occasional single player RPG. To you I say keep an eye on this game. Spending time watching people play through the demo made me want to pick the game up myself. The story is solid, and makes me want to learn more, the combat system is sound, fast enough to keep a strong pace to both combat and the game (no pausing for tactics here) yet not so fast that players are bogged down with fighting-game style combos, and the game looks fantastic with a strong and consistent art style and frankly knowing that things weren’t thrown into the game just because they “looked cool” is a real selling point for me.
So if that’s the kind of thing that makes your socks roll up and down, give ‘er a watch, I know I will be.