The lights are on
Gameplay is one of the most important features of a good game, especially when it comes to the action/RPG, so why is it that it is often the weakest part of an otherwise amazing RPG? Mass Effect's combat falls somewhere between great third person shooter and great RPG, but never quite reaching either one, and Skyrim's repetitive weapons swings and spell casts can make every battle feel the same. Luckily for us, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning refuses to let boring combat be its downfall, instead creating an awesome gameplay experience that stays fun throughout the entirety of the game's long story.
You are dead. So begins your story in the world of Amalur. Lucky for you someone has resurrected you using an experimental machine known as the Well of Souls. Unluckily for them, the well is destroyed shortly after, making you the project's only success. Your character soon discovers (with the help of a drunken fate weaver) that as a result of being brought back, you no longer have a fate. This is a big deal in the world of Amalur, where everything is predetermined, and as a result, you are tasked with saving the world by changing how things are supposed to happen. The story is driven by the threat of an impending apocalypse, but its premise is very unique. It managed to catch my interest and keep it, something that doesn't happen very often with stories as big as this.
Once the story gets started, you are prompted to make a character. Character creation begins with a choice between 4 races. Each have different skills they specialize in (resulting in a permanent bonus), as well as other passive bonuses. Customization isn't deep, but it is functional. You won't be widening your jaw and shrinking your nose, but you will still be able to create a unique character with a variety of faces, hairstyles, and tattoos to choose from, as well as a number of color options.
The real meat of character customization comes when you start leveling up, investing points in the ability trees and skills, and choose your destiny. There are 3 ability trees, each offering a different style of play. Might is for those that prefer brute force, high defense, and simple hack and slash combat. Finesse adds the option of stealth attacks, and relies on a mix of melee and ranged, with a focus on dodging. Sorcery is pure magic. Weapons like staves and chakrams at the option of melee combat, but you will mostly be flinging spells and trying your hardest not to get hit. Your destiny options will depend on how many points you have in each ability tree. Destinies offer a set of passive bonuses specifically geared towards your ability tree. The more points in a single tree, the better destiny you can get for that tree. However this is slightly disappointing because each destiny is just an improved version of the one before it, instead of an all new set of bonuses. For the adventurous, there is also the option of mixing trees to create a hybrid class, complete with hybrid destinies to choose from. You even have the option to reset your skills and abilities at any time, allowing you to try out many different character types in one play through.There is one pretty big issue though. There are only 4 ability shortcut buttons, and you will likely find yourself with 5 or 6 skills you would like to use. This means you will be forced to pick your favorite 4, and deal with it.
One of the three ability trees
Along with getting new ability points to spend, you also get a new skill point with each level. Skills take the place of professions (Such as Blacksmithing and Alchemy), as well as some other minor perks (Such as Stealth and Persuasion). What skills you pick will be very important, as each one can make your game much easier. For example, blacksmithing will help you get some of the game's best weapons and armor, detect hidden will show nearby enemies and treasures, and mercantile will make you richer faster. However, not all skills are created equal, and some are obviously much better than others. For example, lockpicking will make the lockpicking mini-game (which is exactly like Fallout 3's) easier. However, lockpicking is easy to get the hang of, and even very hard locks are easily solved with no lockpicking skill.
Now that all of that is out of the way, lets talk combat, the game's strongest feature. The game's combat is reminiscent of the Fable series, with a mix of Devil May Cry. You have two weapon buttons, and can equip any weapon to either slot. Simply mashing the button will result in a 3 or 4 hit combo, ending with a powerful finisher to knock your enemy down. You can mix these combos up by switching to your other weapon mid combo, or casting a spell at the end of a string of attacks. Longbows and Sceptres, the game's two ranged weapons, allow you to pepper in quick ranged attacks (much like Dante's pistols) mid combo. The targeting system is free and fast, allowing you to switch targets on the fly and keep many attackers at bay, preventing yourself from being overwhelmed. Throw in dodge rolls for quick escapes, and blocks and parries to augment your defense, and you have a pretty deep and skillful combat system that will keep you entertained for hours.
But that isn't all. Perhaps the most satisfying part of the game's combat is Reckoning mode. When you fill your Reckoning meter by killing enough enemies, you can activate Reckoning. In this mode, the world around you is slowed down, and you deal massive damage for a short time. Enemies killed in Reckoning mode will remain alive until your Reckoning runs out, or you perform a finishing attack. These cinematic executions end in a button mash that determines you bonus experience, up to 100%, applied to all the enemies you killed while in the mode. This allows you to tear apart a large group of enemies for extra experience, or defeat particularly difficult bosses with ease. The only complaint I can make about the game's combat is the staggering. Being hit by any enemy is likely to result in a stagger (even while in Reckoning mode!). These staggers will break up your combos and spell casts, and become especially annoying in battles against many quick enemies, such as a group of wolves.
The game world is absolutely stunning. Straying away from realism, the game instead has a more cartoon-like fantasy world that will likely remind you of Fable or World of Warcraft. The environments are extremely detailed, and varied, ranging from lush forests to desolate deserts. They are also full of quests, so many in fact, that you will likely feel overwhelmed at times. If hitting the max level too early is a concern of yours, then you may want to stray away from many of these side quests, and instead focus on the main story and faction quests, which provide the most interesting stories and best rewards.
Take a moment to admire the beautiful environments
Most of the stories quest givers have to tell are pretty interesting. Whether you are helping a wolf turned human return to his previous state, or assassinating a prophetic god for the thieves guild, you will likely find these short tales charming, and care about listening to the dialogue. Sadly, the dialogue is plagued by the same problems seen in many similar games. NPC models looks stiff while talking, never really showing any real emotion, and the lip syncing isn't always perfect. You will likely find yourself just reading the subtitles, and skipping through the voiced dialogue most times.
The only major complaint I can levy against this game is the bugs. As with any game of this size, you are sure to run into a few of them. Luckily, any bugs I saw were few and far between, and usually of little consequence. Sometimes a quest event would fail to activate, forcing me to return to the quest giver or a specific area, and on occasion Reckoning mode wouldn't give me my experience bonus. Worst of all were the two game crashes I experienced. Good news though, the game auto-saves frequently, and each crash only resulted in about 5 minutes of lost gameplay. These bugs aside, the game runs almost flawlessly, with very quick load times (after install), and no slowdown during play.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of the best open world RPGs I have ever played. The unique story and vast world were enough to pull me in, and the spectacular gameplay had me enjoying every second of my 50 hour play through. Despite a few minor complaints, Amalur's overall package is a sweet one. If you have any love for RPGs, Kingdoms of Amalur is the game you have been looking for.