E3 2011 - Kingdoms of Amalur Impressions
While at E3, I had the pleasure to stop by the EA booth to see a presentation on 38 Studios' Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Reckoning itself is not an MMORPG, but as many of you know 38 Studios was working on an MMO, codenamed 'Copernicus', however, with the acquisition of Big Huge Games in 2009, they then decided to lead into the MMO with an RPG set in the same universe; and thus, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was born as a lead-in to 'Copernicus', establishing the universe and the mythos so that by the time 'Copernicus' is ready to be developed, the focus can be on the game itself, rather than on building those stories to establish itself. The booth presentation at E3 was stunning, even with 'pre-Alpha' graphics and, from the get-go, you could tell that the team working on the game has already gone to great lengths to establish that epic story and world that they hope to make Massive.
Mark Nelson, creative director on the game, gave us a video tour. Reckoning begins with the player having just come back from the dead through the “Well of Souls” without a destiny, making him/her unique, as everyone is born with a destiny. Choose from one of four races and fully customize your character; the team is very enthusiastic about the concept of customization and the choices therein, because they want you to emotionally invest in this character, since you'll be spending so much time with them. The world of Reckoning is huge, with 5 distinct environmental zones, more than 125 hand-crafted dungeons, four major cities and towns dotting the landscape.
The game seems to draw most of its inspiration from action games, making for very fast-paced battles. The game has rich, deep content, akin to a traditional MMO. There are battles and combat, naturally, but also crafting that can be done from the items found into the world around you, or blacksmithing, that allows you to craft your own weapons and armor, and also to deconstruct existing weapons and armor for components that you can use in future projects. The skill system, which they touched on briefly, such as stealth, which unlocks different stealth skills, detect hidden, which would allow you to see hidden doors more easily, and much, much more.
Your “Destiny” is selected based on the choices you've made. There are no classes in the game per se, certainly not at the beginning of the game. These Destinies are your class, but are not selected when gameplay begins. Instead, based on choices you've made vis-a-vis skill distribution and character customization, certain destinies are then made available to you to choose from. The game will then support your play-style as you advance.
We were then shown the War Sworn – one of the six playable factions in the game – who are mercenaries at this time in their history, originally created to battle against beasts of chaos who have plagued Amalur for thousands of years, but had recently gone unseen and been considered myth for several hundred years. Until now, naturally. It was under the War Sworn character that we got to see a little gameplay.
To over simplify my feelings about what I saw would be to say simply that this game looks freakin' awesome. The fluidity with which the characters move is astounding, which makes watching the combat, all combat, a terrific treat. Sure, they've integrated quick time events which I, as a gamer, am personally getting a little bit tired of, but was blended so well (seemingly, because I didn't get my hands on it) into the combat, that it didn't seem to have the disengaging tug on your attention span that they so often do. The animations were beautiful as combos were executed to great success, in glorious Zack-Snyder-esque moments of slow motion, exploding in a wave of violence. The world was rich and full of life, every cave wall or cavern floor was a treat to see because of the importance that was placed on a memorable visual experience within the game, and the RPG elements are both intriguing as a new game and yet familiar, expanding on the good things laid before them by other RPGs of this type, like (the inevitable comparison) Oblivion.
While 'Copernicus' is not yet anywhere near the radar in the capacity in which we saw Reckoning at E3, to see the treatment of the game as an RPG with elements of crafting, blacksmithing, and of course, the in-depth questing system, it's pretty obvious that they're laying sandbags down for the 'Copernicus' floods, when they finally do start bringing the MMO to the foreground. From what I've seen of Reckoning, I'm tremendously excited to get my hands on it next year, and if they succeed as greatly as it looks as though they may, 'Copernicus' may be bigger than anyone has anticipated.