Review by DarkSymbiote

"Refreshing notwithstanding flaws"

Originally planned as an MMO with a universe crafted by Forgotten Realms novelist R.A. Salvatore, the project was remodelled into a single-player RPG when Big Huge Games, already working on a game of their own, was acquired by former baseball pitcher Curt Schilling under his own 38 Studios. Merging both worlds seems like the best idea. Led by former Elder Scrolls veteran Ken Rolston, Spawn creator Todd Facfarlane working on the artwork and a musical score headed by Grant Kirkhope, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has some very big names behind it. Is it the harbinger for a new breed to combat heavy RPGs or does it fail to realise it's own potential?

Story

The threads of fate! I've seen them before but... I've never seen anyone manipulate them like that!

Waking from an unusual body dump, you soon realise that you're the only success of a surreal resurrection contrivance, The Well of Souls. With a ten year long war taking place against the The Tuatha, a derivative of the immortal Winter Fae, the situation is dire in the eastern Faelands. Like in any good role-playing game, you become deeply enrooted in the ongoing strife.

As the only one whose fate isn't preset, you get to choose your own destiny as well as change the ones of those around you. As the main plot progresses, the Fateless One's enigmatic past is slowly and cleverly unveiled through a nicely paced journey. The same can't be said for the faction questlines however, which are held back by overhyped finales and terrible twists. Still most of them, along with the sidequests, are pleasantly enjoyable.

The writing is able but often feels as if Salvatore dug deep into a Forgotten Realms thesaurus.

Design and Gameplay

Most Fae aren't comfortable with change and you are certainly something new.

After picking a gender and one of the four available races (that are variations of only two) and leaving the well designed tutorial dungeon you're free to traverse Faelands for the most part. Quests are aplenty. Entering a town fills up your mini-map and it may cause you to diverge from your current goal. The side quests have a good diversity to them and the dungeons are varied enough. The problem lies in the fact that there may be too many side quests. Your main objective is to stop Gadflow's mad ambition but there are factions as well to prolong your stay. The landscape is divided into five zones, each with its own motif. It's not exactly an open world but the areas are expansive. You'll encounter enemies every now and then along with Lorestones, which don't really any interesting lore, so trekking from western Dalendarth to southern Erathell doesn't become a total bore. Take note though, The House of Valor questline is only accessible through EA's imbecilic online pass. So you will miss out on a decently sized single-player content unless you're connected.

Combat consists of three basic types. Might makes you more proficient at highly damaging swords and earthquakes, Magic focuses on the mastery of the arcane, staves and the fascinating chakrams, and Finesse allows for more speedy, ninja-like moves with daggers and Faeblades. Levelling up grants you 3 ability points which you're free to disperse willingly to unlock new abilities and equipment requirements. One skill point is also awarded for a skill level up but anything besides Persuasion and Stealth are unnecessary. The more ability points you pump in the respective sectors the faster you unlock Destiny Cards. Picking one at any time imparts you with certain bonuses such as a short range teleport. The problem lies in the low level cap (40) meaning you won't have access to higher powers if you branch out your prowess, although you can reset your character for a small fee.

Direct combat is more responsive and fluid than most real-time action RPGs. Nice feedback and elegant maneuvers keeps combat from becoming too stale. Stealth is not perfect but it is fulfilling to sneak up on an enemy and watching a coup de grace. The wide assortment of weapon types is enough for variation but spears, often seen used by enemies, are conspicuously absent from your arsenal. Additionally, you have access to Reckoning Mode whenever your Fate meter is full. Ending a fight while this is active grants you the ability to Fateshift enemies for bonus experience and flashy finishers.

The biggest problems lie with the dialogue. Almost everyone has an opinion on everything nearby and the world in general. There is way too much to talk about and this may become a huge annoyance for completionists. With so many Fae looking so much alike and NPCs in general having the same exact finger pointing animation among other deja vu inducing movements that are nearly always unsuitable to the speech at hand, and substandard facial experssions feel like The Fateless One is striving for the survival of some of the most bored denizens in an RPG. And let's not forget that many people, even important ones, can't even make out your female character's gender. At least they move around quite a bit and perform motleyed actions.

Visulas

Look around you, and I am all that you can see.

For a game with heavy colours and large areas with no load times or abrupt texture pop-ins between towns, it looks quite good. The art style is reminiscent of the Fable series to an extent, only more detailed. Faces often lack any distinguishable features but at least The Fateless One's longer hair options moves around a bit in movement. The shadows are nicely done and you'll notice this when under a forest's canopy and light seeps through to exact parts of your armour.

Audio

I couldn't make out half of what the king was saying, but it sounds like you've got your work cut out for you.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Amalur is the music. There is absolutely nothing unique or memorable and there is a clear lack of enough music in general. While running towards your objective your ears won't be treated to anything adventurous and the battle themes get tiresome.

Voice acting is average at best when it comes to non-major NPCs. The majority of the Fae sound bored and it seems the actors simply became tired. This is amplified by the issue with audio levelling. More than once you will find voices becoming little more than a whisper. Tweaking in the options menu doesn't help a lot. Thankfully the sound effects are decent.

Pros:

- Smooth, varied combat
- World is diverse
- Main story is engaging

Cons:

- House of Valor requires an online pass
- Information overload
- Voice acting is dull at times

Final verdict

Then I shall see who you are, if not who you will become.

For a game that is perhaps the beginning of a franchise, Amalur does a lot of things right even though it disappoints in some major areas. The main story is charming and sticking with it will delight you with it's method of progress. The letdowns are not large enough for you to turn away. If you are interested in a fantasy action RPG that gets combat right and an interesting concept to boot then this game is worth a look.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/07/12, Updated 05/11/12

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


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