Review by Fayt_Of_Heaven

"Kingdoms of Amalur - Why play a dumbed down MMORPG offline?"

Disclaimer:
I will not be providing any numerical scores for each category. A number isn't going to tell you very much about the features of a game other than it being subpar, average or excellent. Talking about the most important aspects influencing whether you buy this game is a better use of time. If you need to know whether a feature is a 7 or 8 out of 10 to buy this game there are plenty of other reviews available. There will also be ranting in some places because if writing this review isn't at least somewhat satisfying to me there's no point spending the time to write one.


The title of this review will likely garner negative attention from fans and prospects of the game. It's only natural considering that feedback from professional reviewers and players alike have been resoundingly positive. Curious why my review is so far from the norm? Read on and I will explain why.

Kingdoms of Amalur and MMORPGs

Before breaking down Amalur into the typical subcategories, I'd like to explain what I believe to be the game's biggest weakness:

Kingdoms of Amalur feels like an offline mmorpg instead of an interactive, explorable world.

I think the idea of capturing some of the core strengths of mmorpgs are a great idea: analyze what you think works, integrate it into your game and add your own twist to spice it up. Sadly, this is not the case with Amalur. Instead, it feels like the developers just "copy and pasted" the base template with little modification or personal thought thrown in. As a result, the game suffers. The vast, explorable areas of the world are there, but they're also accompanied by all of the downfalls that plague the MMORPG genre. Numerous lackluster and tedious quests. Boring NPCs. Locales that feel lifeless and empty. A main story that serves to move the player along on his journey but very rarely takes the spotlight.

The dangers of being associated to your online brethren

And therein lies the danger. MMORPGs can get away with these weaknesses by boasting multiplayer support and additional features such as PvP, markets, clans and raids. Amalur does not have that luxury.

Hence the rub. Why play through a game that feels like an offline version of World of Warcraft when there are games like Tera Online, Blade and Soul, Vindictus, Dragon Nest, etc? Games that have amazingly crafted locales, races and combat systems that far surpass anything available in Amalur, while also being multiplayer. It's a dangerous line to walk as a developer, but games like Skyrim have demonstrated that it is possible to provide the expansiveness and exploration offered in online role playing games while maintaining the core features of what makes single player so attractive.

Combat

Gameplay is excellent, specifically weapon combos. For all of the negative feedback I've given regarding the game so far, I think the developers did an excellent job developing a system that feels so fluid and dynamic. Movements and animations could have been a little more polished but that is a minor detail. Depending on the weapon type, players will somersault, slash, throw, stab and smash their way through enemies ala God of War. It's very satisfying to watch.

The skill system though is absolute trash.

Considering the number of different destiny cards, you'd think your character had access to many different roles and a huge variety of ways to play your character. However, this is false. Destiny cards (character classes) only provide stat bonuses. An Acolyte will give +% mana regen and +% elemental damage and a Rogue will give +% ranged damage and +% piercing damage. Changing classes from an Acolyte to a higher sorcery class like Seer will just increase the bonuses (ie: more mana regen and elemental damage %).

Your player has 3 skill trees - Finesse, Might and Sorcery. Each skill tree is set in stone and does not change when you change classes. You need a certain amount of points invested into a specific tree to unlock more powerful abilities in that tree. You can see fit to distribute your points into all 3 trees, as long as you have skill points remaining. The points you have invested into each skill tree determines which destiny cards you can select. Diversifying into multiple trees will give you access to destiny cards that have stat modifiers that benefit both skill trees or perhaps all 3. Focusing most of your points into a single tree will give you access to high tier destiny cards that benefit that specific tree more (ie: Finesse).

It's also disgusting how many passive abilities there are in the skill trees. I say disgusting because these abilities take absolutely no effort to implement. No need to animate the spell, calculate the trajectory, the hitbox, etc. At most, you need a bit of basic math to modify player statistics such as weapon damage + 20%. And while easy for the animation artist and the programmer, it is extremely boring for the player. Out of approximately 71 abilities, 26 abilities are passive abilities. And I'm already being generous. Some were strikingly close to being passive abilities that I decided to leave out. Another 9 or so abilities add additional combo options to weapon types, so while being passive at least they improve combat in some way.

What few active abilities left are very uninspired. You have your ice, meteor and lightning attacks for the mage tree. A single summon ability and a few skills related to making the summon stronger (stat wise). A single heal ability. It all feels so half-assed. Like the developers couldn't be bothered to craft separate class skill trees so they decided to mix and match a little bit of everything into a single skill tree to save time and effort. Want to be a cleric? Well we do have this one heal ability. Want to be a necromancer? Well, you can summon a single skeleton thing. Cool right? Same goes for the other 2 skill trees. Finesse will have a few bow abilities mixed up with the general assassin and thief abilities instead of separating them and fleshing each one out. As a result there will be only a few abilities available related to a specific role. Want to solely be an archer? Well, there's probably only 2 or 3 skills that you'll be able to use then. The skill system is great if you want to be a complete monster filling out multiple roles at once but if you value diversity the system is pretty lacklustre and lazy.

Personally, if Diablo 2 could have 3 different skill trees for 5 unique classes however many years ago, then there is no excuse as to why a modern day game has only 3 skill trees having less than 20 interesting active abilities overall. Either Diablo is so awesome it kicks ass and chews bubble gum all over the games in its future, or Amalur is so archaic and half-assed that it ends up queued behind games 10 years in the past. Skill system wise that is. No need to throw hot coffee in my face.

Exploration

The charm of exploration wore off quickly for me. Probably within an hour or so after leaving the tutorial dungeon. Pretty much that kind of feeling you get when starting a traditional MMO. You largely forget the area you're in and start grinding/completing quests/amassing gold and equipment while looking at the minimap to see where to go next. Refer back to my opening comment about MMOs. What's funny is that many MMO developers have realized this problem and have taken steps to deal with it. Instance dungeons, for example, have been an excellent solution to the problem, giving developers the freedom to stage huge boss fights or story segments that wouldn't be possible in a normal area.

It's surprising how 38 Studios and Big Huge Games managed to not pick up on this. This stuff has been in the industry for a long time. The only way Amalur would end up with such an archaic system would be if the developers had taped their eyes partway shut or they never really bothered to do their research. *Shrug*

Not much else I can really say. Towns are devoid of any interesting or unique individuals. Most NPCs are created using the same character creation you used at the beginning of the game. No wonder they look familiar.

Story

The story is there to set the background of the game and poke you every so often to move along to the next location in the world. It's pretty generic and honestly subpar to stories in certain MMOs (Oh god, he mentioned MMOs again.). If you're playing this game for the story then you are either easily amused, masochistic, or you took a wrong took and ended up here instead of the Mass Effect forums (or another Bioware game).

Summary

Wait a minute. You barely touched most of the categories you lazy bastard! What kind of half-assed review is this?

When writing this review, I assume that most players will do their research. You'll have watched a few gameplay videos and trailers, read 1 or 2 professional reviews and finally perhaps even 1 or 2 player reviews. Most likely the reason you chose my review from the list was because my score was low and you wanted to know why. Therefore my job isn't to throw information at you that you already know. It's to write a review that when layered over what you already know, adds additional insight and perspective. At least, that's what I look for when reading player reviews. I'm looking more for perspective and personal thoughts than I am for stated facts that I already read online somewhere.

Closing Thoughts

Through the mountain of negative comments I've been able to pile on top of the game, Amalur itself is a very decently crafted rpg. The game does not deserve the 5 out of 10 I've given it considering the effort 38 Studios and Big Huge Games put into creating and crafting it. However, if every reviewer based their score mainly on effort and if the game was devoid of any serious defects, there would be no point writing reviews. Most games would score between 8 and 9 and it would almost be impossible to differentiate the "meh" games from the GOTYs.

My score is based on the feelings you take away from finishing a game. Either you're glowing a bit from finishing a truly excellent game or you feel like you've wasted part of your life for nothing. Amalur definitely feels like the latter. There are many, many better games, both online and offline, that can offer a much more rewarding experience for the time you would invest into Amalur. Until the developers are able to offer something substantial that differentiates Amalur and makes it unique, you're better off not buying this.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 03/05/12

Game Release: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (US, 02/07/12)


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