Format: PS3 (tested), Xbox 360, PC
Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
EA clearly think us games players have a lot of time on our hands, unleashing as they have Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, an RPG as hungry for our precious free time as Bethesda’s recent hour-eater Skyrim. When you think there’s only a scant few weeks until Mass Effect 3 hits too it might just be time to kiss your social life goodbye.
Like Skyrim, Reckoning is a game dense with olde worlde fantasy, with a huge heritage and lore to buy into should you desire. Unlike Skyrim the emphasis here is placed more on action than exploration – though expect to be doing lots of the latter regardless as you navigate through Amalur.
Your character begins life (or should that be death?) being pushed along atop a cart of corpses. It soon transpires that you’re body has been passed through the Well of Souls, a Lazarus machine capable of resurrecting the dead – just the ticket given that the mortals of Amalur currently find themselves in a losing battle against an immortal enemy.
Quelle surprise, you’re plucky soul just so happens to be the first successful reanimation, albeit one with unforeseen complications. Specifically, it seems your character is now without fate, therefore free to choose his destiny – rather than walking a preordained path from life to death as do the rest of Amalur’s inhabitants.
Then there’s the fact that you’re instantly able to wield magic, a shocking lightning spell for example, which you’ll soon be hurling about with gay abandon. It does however seem that the Well of Souls took your voice however, the central character in Reckoning yet another RPG hero without any dialogue when engaged in conversation.
No sooner have you woken from your corporeal torpor are you under attack, the Well of Souls having somehow been discovered by the ever-aggressive enemy, and so through these initial forays is Reckoning’s trump card introduced.
A lot of God of War comparisons have been made when it comes to describing Reckoning’s combat and while, for us at least, combat never quite approaches the smoothness of movement and poise of Kratos’ long running series, it does have a fair stab (excuse the pun) of breathing fresh moves into the genre.
You’re able to equip a primary and secondary weapon – anything from swords and bows, to daggers and wizard’s staffs – and will eventually have a whole maelstrom of magical powers available as you unlock them during levelling-up.
Central to the ebb-and-flow of fighting, unlike in say Skyrim where the player is a rather tank-like plodder, is the ability to dodge-roll – your character able to leap in and out of the fray like Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu. You can even unleash juggling combos and generally chain moves together in a flowing way which feels refreshing within the genre.
Of course none of this would work so well if the game sported overly realistic visuals, but by pitching the game half-way between Fable and God of War the developers have been able to carry off big combos and over-the-top magical effects without compromising the game stylistically.
It’s a slight pity that the overarching plot and dialogue don’t quite reach the same heights as the action. Amalur’s world is certainly interesting to explore (even if the beautifully rendered backdrops occasionally clash with the more cartoon-like character models) but its quests are rarely anything more gripping then ‘go there, kill that’ and its characters rarely memorable.
That tends to detract from the game somewhat – imagine playing a game like God of War but having to go over the same area and kill the same bad guys just to deliver item A to person Y over and again. Things do quicken up once the main plot kicks in but never with any real originality leaving Reckoning an aura of the bipolar about it – half over developer, half under.
Still, fans of both action-adventures and RPGs should find plenty to like here providing they’ve the time to truly dedicate to it. Monsters keep on changing, the initial boggarts replaced by much sturdier specimens as you progress through the game’s many hours, while the range of weapons, constant growth of your character’s powers and ability to redraw your power tree (should you feel the need) compensates for the occasionally dull quest or tedious conversation.
It might not be Skyrim, but then Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning never tries to pretends to be – it is however monster slaying fun interspersed with the usual trials and tribulations of the RPG and at such it’s largely a success.