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Time With Demos! Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

The demo for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning sports a surprisingly high amount of content for a demo. I spent over three hours with it in a single play through. That is longer than some full games that I have played *cough* Limbo *cough*. Essentially this means that you get a good look at a near finished version of KoA:R. And what a look it is.

Before anything else, it should be mentioned that if you want to play the demo you will be required to create an EA online or Origin profile and log in online. If you cannot make an online profile with either service, you simply cannot play the demo for KoA:R. Once on the menu screen, you can select the campaign and choose your desired difficulty: casual, normal, and hard. Casual and hard modes are disabled for the demo.

I did this less than an hour into the demo

A couple cutscenes play out revealing information regarding the world of Amalur and what is going on in different kingdoms. The scene switches to a conversation between two gnome-like creatures pushing a cart and then you enter character creation. You can choose between four different races: Almain, Varani, Dokkalfar, and Ljosalfar. The Almain are a warlike and fairly religious people that look basically human. The Verani are Viking-like pirates/merchants and also appear to be generically human. Dokkalfar look similar to night elves and hail from the northern reaches of Amalur; they are proud and deliver swift justice. Ljosalfar are stealthy and persuasive beings who look similar to wood elves. Each race has its own strengths. For example, Almain receive bonuses to blacksmithing while Ljosalfar receive a bonus to stealth. This is also the time you decide your character’s gender. After selecting your race, you move on to choose a deity (or lack thereof). There are six options: Vraekor god of fire, Njordir god of water, Thyrdon god of war, Belen god of death, Lupoku god of mischief, and then the option to have no god at all. Each option provides different bonuses, like additional fire damage or experience. When you finish making your various decisions, it is time to actually decide what your character will look like. For each character that you come up with there will be five different presets that you can choose between. After that you can mess around with their features as you would in traditional character creation sequences. In addition to the expected sliders like how long your character’s nose is, you can alter your character’s accessories giving them different tattoos or jewelry. After all of this tomfoolery, you can come up with your character’s name, the place holding name being “Stigandr.”

When you finally begin playing, your character awakens in a pile of corpses. You learn that your character was previously deceased and brought back to life by a professor using a structure called the Well of Souls (possible Indiana Jones reference?). You learn all of this after encountering a gnome who explains that the complex which contains the well is under assault and you must make your way to the professor who oversaw your character’s resurrection.

You make your way through this tutorial segment learning the basics of the three main branches of combat: might, finesse, and sorcery. Might makes use of longswords, hammers, and great swords and some related close combat abilities. Finesse incorporates daggers and bows, as well as poisons and stealth. Sorcery involves the use of staff weapons, chakrams (weird circle disc things), as well as spells. Each of these schools has a deep skill tree with pretty awesome progression (you can eventually summon meteors, litter the battlefield with explosives, and fling opponents into the air and slam them back to the ground). Weapons also have different move sets that can be unlocked as you become more proficient with that particular weapon.

Portions of the environment are destructible.

Combat is fast paced and more timing based than you typically find in an RPG. Abilities are mapped to mouse button two for quick use; while normal melee attacks are assigned to mouse button one. Different combos can be unleashed by utilizing different timings on your melee clicks. If you decide to attack from long range, it is as easy as maneuvering your character to auto-target your enemy and hold mouse one down to charge your shot and then release it. Certain abilities require timed button presses or button mashing to be fully effective. Magic is fairly creative in the spells available. One of my favorite spells allows you to plant fire charges on a number of enemies and detonate them all at once. Stealth is very simple and reminiscent of sneaking in Skyrim. An eyeball appears above any enemies and slowly fills as enemies become more aware of your presence. If it fills all the way they will notice you and attack, but if you get close enough with daggers, you can score a sweet finishing move or a critical hit. As you use them, weapons and armor degrade and will either need to be repaired or replaced at an armorer. As an interesting side note, KoA:R features no health regen system that I noticed. Instead you restore health by using potions (possibly spells, but I never got far enough into the demo to find out).

Example of a stealth kill

After fighting through a few enemies and making your way to the professor, you are sent to contact a dreamweaver, a person who can see the threads of fate and tell an individual’s future up to the point of his/her death. On your way out you encounter your first boss battle against a rock troll. In this section, reckoning mode is introduced. You fill up your fate meter by completing combos, charging moves, and defeating enemies. Once your fate meter is full, you can enter reckoning mode which improves your speed and damage output until your fate meter is empty. Once you have an enemy down to low life in reckoning mode, you can perform a fateshift maneuver, which unravels any future destinies they might have had and annihilates both the target enemy and any other sufficiently low health enemies in the process. As you can imagine, these look awesome.

When life gives you lemons you impale life with a giant magic spear for such a crappy gift

When you exit the tutorial area, Kingdoms of Amalur puts you on a forty-five minute timer that is put on hold during conversations and pausing. I tackled around five quests while playing KoA:R. In my questing, I helped a wolf cruelly transformed into a human, reenacted an ancient ballad to summon a troll, joined a reputable band of mercenaries, tracked down a group of Fae (a very secretive and powerful race that is very separate from the world of mortals), and followed the main quest as far as the demo allowed. If the first few quests are any indication of the remaining quests in the full game, they are going to be pretty original and interesting.

Meeting with the dreamweaver answered some of my questions regarding what was going on (and I have to say, the main plot of this game operates on a pretty novel concept) and unlocked another aspect of leveling up which is to choose your destiny. Destinies become available when you have the appropriate number of skill points in might, finesse, or sorcery. Once chosen, destinies confer different bonuses, like increased damage reduction or mana regen or magic damage.

One of my favorite things about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was the leveling system. Every level you can improve one skill, like lockpicking or dispel or detect hidden object, and gain three ability points to spend across any of the three skill trees. I was only level four when I finished my time in Amalur and I already felt like a hero. I leveled my blacksmithing skill and was able to craft a flaming sword which I named Fionna and used to look like a totally awesome bringer of death. I was able to shoot bolts of paralyzing electricity from my hands. Not only that, but I was a boss at finding things called lorestones which are scattered throughout the land. If you find all related lorestones, you receive a permanent stat boost to your character.

I was doing this... at level 2.

In my time with the KoA:R I ran into a number of bugs or glitches that I hope will be ironed out in the finished version of the game (or in future patches). When I initially started playing, the graphics settings did not work well with my computer’s graphics card and no graphics were displayed. After twiddling around with the settings, it worked fine. Even at lower than high settings KoA:R looks great. It is vibrant, and vaguely cartoonish, while still being serious and moody. It brings to mind a more mature version of Fable’s graphics. My one gripe with the graphics is the facial animations which are at times… really weird. Smiles and eyes in particular have a very awkward look to them.

Other bugs also popped up like flickering scenery and textures, animation mix-ups (most notably with the shield equipping animation), and most annoyingly sometimes moving into another area would cause whatever direction my character was moving in to ‘stick’ causing him to run in one direction without being able to stop until interacting with something else. 

I am pretty sure that grass doesn't look like that....

There are other problems that probably will not be sorted out by the time this game hits store shelves. The inventory system is slow to organize and equip things (and it seemed like I was equipping and unequipping with a lot of frequency, but perhaps that was because I was playing the demo) and there was no way I could find of hotkeying different equipment to make it easier. A lot of work was obviously put into streamlining the menu system, but I feel that it will be easier on consoles at the same time being a bit of a hassle for PC gamers. Another gripe that I had with KoA:R is that you have a silent protagonist using the now traditional Bioware dialogue wheel. I can't understand why a new IP that has the funds to voice an entire game would decide to forgo  voice actors for the protagonist. In games like Skyrim, that doesn't matter as much because you are constantly doing and plot is just a nice icing on the cake. Reckoning is a story-driven game. It even brought in one of the best writers in the fantasy business (R.A. Salvatore) to write the dialogue and story. Why would it go with a silent protagonist? Sigh.  While these problems were a bit disappointing, I still enjoyed my time in Amalur greatly and it was delightfully fun to play.

I'm not going to lie, this guy was terribly fun to fight.

There are reasons to play the demo besides enjoying a slice of the delicious video game pie that is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Over the course of playing through the demo, I was showered with virtual loot for both the full version of KoA:R and Mass Effect 3. Here is a list of what I unlocked: Twist of Fate destiny card, Twinned Souls Chakrams, Reckoning themed ME3 armor, Infernal helmet for Reckoning. Although it is obviously a plug from EA to buy both KoA:R and Mass Effect 3 from Origin, it was still a pleasant surprise to see that I unlocked some cool stuff just by playing a demo.

Overall, it was a great romp through Amalur. I enjoyed myself very much. In fact, after I finish this blog, I’ll probably go and play though it again.

That little guy has some cajones. Play the demo to find out why for yourself!

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is developed by 38 Studios and Big Huge Games. It is written by R.A. Salvatore and composed by Grant Kirkhope (best known for composing the soundtracks to many of Rare’s games like Banjo-Kazooie). The artwork is done by Todd McFarlane. It is set to release on February 7, 2012 on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Windows. If they can hammer out some of the bugs that I encountered (which may or may not be in the console versions), it will easily be a contender for best RPG of 2012. The demo is currently available via Steam, PSN, and Xbox Live.

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After ten installments of Time With Demos! I decided it is time to make a hub blog for the series. If you are interested in reading any of my other demo experiences follow the links below to hear about my experiences with games that I would normally avoid as well as what I thought about some better known titles. Without further ado:

EVE Online

Shogun 2: Total War

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Chantelise

Rugby World Cup 2011

Rochard

Voltron: Defender of the Universe

 

 

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