Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - User Reviews - www.GameInformer.com
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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I didn't know what to expect from Kingdoms of Amalur, because I didn't read any reviews before I began playing it. Little did I know, I didn't need to; I'd played it many times before in the previous years. I used the dialogue tree from Mass Effect. I fought like I did in God of War. I tracked down thousands of shiny treasures like in Diablo. I slotted gems like in World of Warcraft-- a game from which Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning borrows very heavily. This doesn't come as a surprise, seeing as how the game is produced by former Boston Red Sox opener Curt Schilling, an avid online gamer who as far as I can tell has no formal education in producing video games.   

To call Reckoning derivative is being a bit polite. Just about everything in the game has been cannibalized from something else, and slightly tweaked. Surprisingly enough though, what it does take from its predecessors, it does so with some dignity; and an impressive amount of polish that games like Skyrim could have used; particularly the load times. I played this on PS3, and had frequent but brief load times to deal with.

As I pushed through an opening segment filled with annoying gnomes, I got into the open world, and the game started to come into its own. Character advancement takes the best elements from Mass Effect's leveling system and and the World of Warcraft skill-tree, with a good degree of freedom. Your typical three RPG classes are available; fighter, rogue, and caster. Thankfully you aren't tied down to any one of them, and you are free to experiment and spend points between all three without much worry, because the 'Fateweaver' NPCs can reset them for a price; and money comes easily enough here to not worry about it. Certain combinations of points open up 'cards' that supplement your style and give you a class.  

The graphics aren't awe-inspiring, but they're a welcome contrast the brown-hued realism that's so prevalent in games these days with vibrant colors and effects. If you like World of Warcraft's cartoonish style then you will be right at home here. Most of the endgame armor and weapons look ripped right from WoW without shame. I had to check the box just to make sure Blizzard didn't have their hand in this game somehow. The user interface is a bit stodgy and dated compared to what other action/adventure titles out there have accomplished, but it serves its purpose.

Of course, none of this is too serious an offense to detract from the solid gameplay. It may be an RPG mutt, but it isn't a bad one by any means. The blatant bastardizations from its genre are at least done well. Going from casting spells to melee combat is a breeze, and timing your blocking reaps a decent counter system if done right. The difficulty on the other hand, is where I had my first real complaint. I started on medium difficulty and practically fell asleep mashing buttons, it was so easy. I don't normally play on hard until I've played through a game at least once for replay value, but I had to turn it up just to keep myself interested. I'm not trying to brag about some sort of elite gaming skills, really. If you are at least an average gamer like me, turn up the difficulty from the beginning, because Amalur is a veritable cakewalk. It even seems like the game is patronizing you, because the tutorials seem to NEVER go away unless you turn them off. I can't recall how many times in the first five hours of play I was reminded how to use potions. I get trying to cater to the lowest common denominator, but it was just annoying. Once I heated things up a bit, things got a little more interesting. There are plenty of moments where I was in the thick of battle swinging my greatsword, and creating distance between me and the hordes of monsters with an AoE magic attack and keeping them at bay with my midrange chakrams while I frantically dodged and blocked. Questing in Amalur is much like what you would find in any MMO. I just wish the quests, of which there are many, were organized just a little better. If they were so set on aping WoW and other MMOs, they could have at least sectionalized the quests by area.

The music is pretty good, but again its just what you would expect, and doesn't raise any eyebrows or part with anything memorable. I can only recall one particular boss fight track that should make John Williams call his lawyer. I usually turn off the music after a few hours if its a repetitive fantasy symphonic score, but I did this only to find that there is virtually no ambient noise from the environments to listen to, especially in the cave segments.

You may have heard a buzz about comic book icon Todd McFarlane and fantasy author R.A. Salvatore working on the script. I've never played any of the games Salvatore wrote for previously, but the story of Amalur is not particularly enthralling or imaginative, and its inhabitants are stony and unfeeling cookiecutter stereotypes; elves, fae (an archaic word for faery), gnomes, and humans. I won't give much away in the story, but it follows most fantasy conventions pretty tightly without letting go; and to be honest, the story is so forgettable I can't recall much anyway.

Facial animations from the NPCs amount to rigid mouth movement and a repetive litany of generic gestures. I understand that 98 Sutdios probably doesn't have the budget of Bioware or Naughty Dog for such things, but a raised eyebrow here and there, or a simple smile would have been nice from someone-- anyone. Even your created character will don a persistent vapid, stoned glare in their eyes. I was more attached to my avatar from 3D Dot Game Heroes. In a game like Dark Souls, with no character backstory or cutscenes, this is fine. In a game where your character is the centerpiece of every conversation however, its hard to become attached to anyone. There is plenty of dialogue to sift through though from most of the NPCs though, if you like hours of exposition and backstory. I can remember hanging on every spoken word in Mass Effect, myself. Now if only Amalur had the intrigue and creativity of a Bioware game, it might actually matter. Strangely enough, after accepting each quest, you get an additional option to ask a really, really stupid follow-up question that restates the questgiver's previous statement in a slightly different way like your character is slow in the head. Seems a little excessive when you can just ask the same question again without feeling like an idiot.

I know this all sounds pretty bad, but Amalur is a solid RPG in its own right. It borrows heavily from other RPGs but like I said, it does it well. This era is hurting for decent action/RPG games, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning might not be a shimmering gem that will pass through the ages in immortality, but its a nice addition to this generation's anemic library.

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