I have been charged with writing the “review” of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Well, to be more precise, I begged Bill Murphy to let me write it. I’ve been pretty much playing Reckoning from release day through this past weekend when I actually finished the game. It’s not an MMO, sure, but it is the precursor to 38 Studios’ upcoming Copernicus so it’s best if we pay it some attention. After Bill gave me the green light, I dialed down the difficulty setting on Reckoning so that I could honestly write that I’d made it through the main plot line at least.
For those who might not already know, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the first game released from Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios in partnership with Big Huge Games and published by EA. If that isn’t enough star power for you, Reckoning’s story was penned by none other than sci-fi/fantasy novelist legend R.A. Salvatore.
A lot of talk has been centered on endless comparisons to Bethesda’s Skyrim. It seems a bit unfair, to be honest, as the only thing the two have in common is the fact that they are single player role playing games. The art and game play styles are quite different, each appealing to, I believe, different sorts of players. Those only looking for a gritty, realistic experience will probably prefer Skyrim. Those most interested in a less realistic world with easy-on-the-eye graphics will prefer Reckoning. Most can appreciate the differences and enjoy both.
It won’t take seasoned MMO players to see that Reckoning is a test bed for the MMO that is in development and that takes place in the same game world as KoA:R. Like Intel, there’s an MMO-Inside™.
The look and feel of Reckoning is less realistic world-wise than many games out there. The color palette is bright and there is a slight ‘cartoonish’ feel to the game. In terms of MMOs, I would say that Reckoning falls more in line with World of Warcraft than it does Age of Conan, for instance. That’s not to say that Reckoning is unpleasant to look at. It’s not. It’s just that the look isn’t for everyone.
The character models are pretty good too, though much less detailed than some will like, particularly with how spoiled most of us are with the incredible amount of character customization we’re treated to in a lot of our MMOs. I found it a bit disconcerting to find NPCs wandering around the world that looked exactly like my character even down to the same hair color and facial tattoos. Honestly, that just shouldn’t happen. For a single player RPG not to have more customization is a bit strange. Why not invest in it? All that said, however, I actually liked what my character looked like.
Character and monster movement is quite nice as well. When sprinting, characters lean forward and really pump their arms. When jumping (more on this issue later), characters move like a real human leaping a great distance downward. When monsters die, they flop and twitch around a bit. Swinging swords or casting spells are fluid and natural. Swimming, in particular, is really nice though I missed actually seeing my character swim underwater. All in all the dev team did a nice job here.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a large world divided into big zones which are connected to one another by alleyways. In this respect, Reckoning is less “open world” and more “quest hub” like than other RPGs like Skyrim. It’s not to say it’s a bad thing, just different.
While I actually like the look of Reckoning and find that it’s easy on the eyes, I believe that it’s not for everyone. For a game so focused on devastation and destruction, it seemed almost too bright and not foreboding enough.
Players start out as basically a tabula rasa with no specific talents. In fact, coming back from the dead, characters have to reawaken the inner (warrior, mage, rogue) and reacquaint themselves with the skills necessary to do the job. Players are able to try out each class on the journey away from the Well of Souls and are free to spend level up points in any skill tree they wish.
This brings up what is probably Reckoning’s best feature. Players have an astonishing flexibility to make their characters exactly what they want them to be. Want to be able to pummel enemies with a big hammer? Warrior tree! Want to be able to sneak up behind that bad boy and cut his throat? Rogue tree! Want to be able to hurl fireballs across the divide? Mage tree! In short, players can do it all and can turn their characters into just about whatever hybrid class they want them to be.
Combat is another strong point for players. When your character whales on a monster with a hammer the size of Texas, you practically feel the blow in your arms. Depending on how you level your character, you may switch between a gigantic great sword and a pair of razor sharp chakrams. Dodging and weaving among your enemies (and there is rarely just one, most usually 5-6) is a good idea as they are adept at interrupts which can leave you stunned and vulnerable. Finishing moves are just awesome to behold.
During battle, enemy deaths fill your Reckoning meter and when full, using it slows all enemies down to a crawl and allows you to plow through them very quickly. Finishing off a boss with the stroke of a key while in Reckoning mode produces an awesome final attack with an XP boost for pressing Mouse 1, Mouse 2 or the spacebar. I tended to save Reckoning mode for major bosses and am glad that I did!
The one thing that I did not like during game play is the way the camera and mouse handled. I used a mouse and keyboard and set both camera and mouse sensitivity to their lowest settings. It was still too loose and the mouse movements were way too big which would often cause my character to bolt past a monster or find myself turned the wrong way. It’s not hard to correct, it’s just danged annoying.
And what’s with no jumping? That’s right, in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, there is no jumping unless there is a specific jump off point and a special keyboard command given. Stuck behind a rock? No problem you can ju…oh wait…you can’t.
Crafting is pretty bland though you can generally make better stuff than you can find. It’s easy too even for folks like me who usually choose to avoid crafting like the plague. If you choose not to craft, you won’t have any problems finding awesome (or at least adequate) gear in the game. Items are fairly ho-hum as well with little to set apart the AWESOME ARMOR OF PROTECTION from the SUPER AWESOME ARMOR OF AWESOMENESS that you find ten levels later.
One last quibble and it’s that there is almost too much to do in Reckoning. Every town has 5-6 quest lines that players can choose to accept. NPCs give players lengthy descriptions of problems in cut scenes and then send them out to complete FedEx or “kill 10 rats” type quests that usually lead to secondary objectives as well. I spent an entire Saturday cleaning up all the side quests that I’d picked up. With the fast map travel, it wasn’t too bad. It just took a long time.
KoA:R has brought some really nice things to the table with the class flexibility but that’s not necessarily something new. It’s mostly something old that’s been brought back to the genre which is a good thing. Reckoning Mode is pretty awesome too.
The game is highly polished and I ran into very few bugs. Most of Reckoning is flawless in look and in presentation. But there were some bugs, particularly in dialog cutscenes. I could live with those. What’s more frustrating is how easy it is to get stuck behind or on the sides of things. Since there’s no jumping, that one gets really old really fast. Another weird thing is that when, for instance, running into a cave, the camera would sort of zoom follow my character. Once that was going on, I couldn’t turn her around if I decided to wait to enter the cave and I would have to back her out until the camera zoom changed back to my normal game setting.
As much as I’ve loved playing through Reckoning, I simply don’t see myself going back and doing all of the same quests all over again. That’s not necessarily to say that there isn’t replay value because there is if you’re the type who wants to try out different skill combos or approaches to quest completion. I’m just not one of those. There is a singular path to the end story that all characters have to travel. Once was enough for me.
Seventy hours of game play, IF you complete every quest in the game, is a lot of value for $60 on the one hand and less so on the other if you only play through it once. Still, it’s not totally out of line for the price of games these days. I suspect we’ll see a significant drop in price before too long that is likely to get even more folks playing a decent game, particularly with the MMO coming down the road at some point in time.
Honestly, I liked Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, shortcomings aside. It was fun and gave me a lot of hours of gaming goodness. I won’t compare my experience in KoA:R to those in my time with Skyrim as I actually disliked Skyrim a lot. Besides, it’s not particularly fair to compare the two as they have little in common outside of being an RPG and having Ken Rolston involved.
What I see in Reckoning is a lot of practice for the MMO that will be based in the same game world. For a single player RPG, that’s both good and bad. If 38 Studios and Big Huge Games can get solve some of the awkward aspects of Reckoning, and take some of the better aspects into Copernicus the MMO is going to be a sure-fire hit. If we were rating the game as we would MMOs, I’d give it around a 7.5 of 10. Definitely nothing to shake a stick at.
Played Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.