Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a Western fantasy RPG from now-defunct developer 38 Studios, is an ambitious game with a fantastic setting, action-packed combat, and tons of content. It doesn’t seek to reinvent any of the genre’s tropes, but what it does do, it does extremely well. The amount of quests rivals an Elder Scrolls title and you’ll want to spend hours exploring the colorful world. Combat can be underwhelming, even in its flashiness, and the lack of strong characterizations and plot is disappointing given the strength of the setting, but Kingdoms of Amalur is well worth your time and money.
You play as the Fateless One, the only being in the world whose actions are not dictated by the immovable hand of Fate. You are brought back to life by the Well of Souls and find yourself caught up in the war against the Tuatha, a cult of corrupted Winter Fae that seeks to eliminate every mortal being in the name of their god, Tirnoch. It’s an interesting surface spin on the trope of the “Chosen One”–as the Fateless One you’re not chosen by anyone but instead forge your own unique path–but in the end it’s the same “bad guys try to destroy the world, you must save it” plot we’ve seen a hundred times before. Cliched characterizations serve to further conventionalize the narrative, but honestly, you’ll be too busy killing things to care.
Combat in Kingdoms of Amalur is a huge part of the game; it is also a mixed bag. The mechanics and the selection of weapons, combos, and spells are great, but the balance is off and enemy A.I. is easily exploitable. Combat in Amalur requires a lot of movement–rarely can battles be won, even against low-level enemies, by standing still and swinging your weapon. You must be aware of your enemies’ patterns and dodge (or teleport, with certain Destinies) accordingly. However, the necessity of solid tactics is undermined by enemy A.I., which borders on embarrassing. If you’re expecting a combat system like that of Dark Souls, where every step and swing must be carefully measured and the A.I. seems to outsmart your every move, you won’t get it. Instead, Kingdoms of Amalur’s combat system is more like an action movie; enemies often stand around and wait for you to finish off one of their number before they move in, letting you slaughter your way through them with considerable flash. This is great visually, but it doesn’t provide a meaty challenge. Stealth in this game is made easy by the fact that if you move too far out of an enemy’s “zone,” they will turn around and go on their merry way as if you were never there, exposing themselves to an easy backstab. Companion A.I. is equally bad, and followers will often lounge around and do nothing or contribute half-hearted attacks that barely dent your foes. Thankfully, there are no hireable companions in the game, and quest-related companions don’t stick around for long.
Another culprit in the issue of too-easy combat is loot distribution. While the loot in Kingdoms of Amalur is plentiful and varied, some of the stronger weapons and armor–especially uniques–present themselves before they should. If you find a decent set of complementary weapons, dodge often, and use a modicum of tactical thinking, most battles will be a cakewalk on any difficulty level. Some higher-level enemies like Niskaru and Threshes never lose their edge, but for the most part, combat will underwhelm those looking for a challenge.
However, what combat does well is make you feel like a badass. Tearing through a crowd with chakrams (magically-enhanced circular blades of death) and finishing off the survivors with a gigantic hammer provides a thrill not easily replicated. This feeling, along with the powerful setting, is what makes Kingdoms of Amalur worth your time and money: the game spares no expense in making you the toughest, most powerful person in the game. At no point, even in the tutorial, do you feel like a total weakling. Attacks are satisfying and brutal, and an array of flashy combos keeps combat from getting stale. Combat itself is fast, fluid, and highly enjoyable. Fateshifting, an ability not unlike the killcams in Skyrim and Fallout 3 (except more awesome), contributes heavily to combat’s enjoyability. By collecting shards of Fate from fallen enemies, you can enter Reckoning Mode, which lets you pound your foes into the dust in glorious slow-motion kills.
The game gives you plenty of tools to build whatever kind of killing machine you want, notably through Fateweavers, individuals who reset and reallocate all of your skill points as long as you have the gold to pay them. Destinies also play a part in customization–depending on what combination of Might, Sorcery, and Finesse you choose, you’ll get access to different Destinies that complement your fighting style with stat boosts. Weapons and armor are plentiful and come with lots of individual advantages and gem slots. All of this adds up to create a combat experience that casts you as the all-powerful hero–you have the freedom to go wherever and kill whatever you want, and look epic while doing so.
The setting of Kingdoms of Amalur is arguably its high point. In your journey across the myriad regions of the Faelands, you’ll encounter one stunning vista after another – every piece of the environment is designed to wow you, and it succeeds. From the treacherous forests of Dalentarth to the crystal kingdom of Alabastra, there is no shortage of interesting places to go. Textures are crisp and everything bursts with life. Armor and weapons are impressively detailed, spell effects are vibrant, and attack animations are smooth. The game will visually remind you of a livelier version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The amount of things to do in this game also easily rivals an Elder Scrolls title. 40 to 50 hours in, you’ll still find yourself with an enormous backlog of objectives to complete.
Kingdoms of Amalur is a fantastic example of a Western RPG that skimps somewhat on fleshing out characterizations and differentiating itself from the crowd, but nevertheless delivers an extremely solid experience. Fun hack-n-slash combat, the strength of the game world, and the amount of customization options for your character make this game a must-play for RPG fans.
This review is based off of a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning developed by 38 Studios, published by EA
- Fun Hack-n-Slash Combat
- Tons of Customization
- Lots of Content
- Doesn't Differentiate Too Much
- Skimps on Characterization
- Too Easy