38 Studios recently released their demo for Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning, and I must say it sounds pretty interesting. It certainly has enough big names behind it as well – Ken Rolston, lead designer on Morrowind and Oblivion; Todd McFarlane, responsible for the comic book series Spawn; R. A. Salvatore, creator of the famous Drizzt Do’Urden, are just the three most commonly named.
The game has been marketed as an RPG with an increased focus on enjoyable, action-based combat, something that the studio believes has been lacking in the genre. When the game was announced last year at E3, I mostly noticed it because I heard the name R.A. Salvatore was connected with it, and I’m a fan of his work. I saw the trailer and researched a bit, and the more I saw the more I liked. Deep RPG mechanics, with amazing combo-based combat, similar to that of say…God of War? Oh, and the extra Mass Effect 3 gear didn’t hurt either.
The very first thing the game did was throw a cutscene full of lore at me. Makes sense, too. The world of Amalur is a complicated place. The most distinctive aspect of the world that I saw were the races – there were a couple different kinds of humans, gnomes (not playable, sadly), a couple different kinds of elves, and then another set, fairly unique to Amalur: Fae. Somewhere between immortal Tolkien-esque Elves and fairies, these are beings that are connected to nature in some way that… I haven’t seen yet. Continuing on, there’s two kinds, Summer Fae and Winter Fae, and they have an interesting dichotomy going, but there’s a problem. This one Winter Fae named Gadflow and his followers, the Tuatha, decided to kill all the younger races – everyone but the Fae, basically. These seem to be the main antagonists in the game.
That should be enough to give you an idea of the complex world that’s involved. Let’s talk about something a little… flashier, shall we? Combat sounds good. Like I said before, it’s combo based. There are three main archetypes, the classic warrior, rogue, and mage. You can be any combination you want, including all three (more on that later). It’s also very fluid, with an odd-looking block system (hit the block button and your shield pops out of nowhere), and a quick-dodge system. You can literally dodge or block at any time except on a finishing move in a combo or during a spell. Mages aren’t the only ones to use spells, either. For example, early in the warrior tree is “Quake”, where you slam the ground with your fists, basically causing a mini earthquake to pop up in front of you, up to three times in a combo (This can be gotten as early as level two). The combo system is pretty flexible, with plenty of combos taking into account things like a delay between one attack and the next. It doesn’t have weak/strong attacks, though, which seems a little odd for this kind of system. Finally, there’s a “Reckoning” system, which basically pulls you into overdrive, ramping your damage way up and ending with a spectacular finish that increases your xp for enemies killed during, based on how much you… button mash. Overall, it wasn’t bad at first, but it quickly became a lot more complicated, enjoyable, and spectacular. It was also plenty diverse enough that I made a second character using a different playstyle and had fun with it, though they weren’t as diverse as they would be in, say, Skyrim.
A related topic is the abilities and destiny systems. Like I mentioned before, there are three ability trees; might for warriors, finesse for rogues, and sorcery for mages. Each tree has passive and active skills, with tiers that require a certain number of points be invested into the tree before you can use the next tier. This combines with the destiny system to make the character classes as dynamic as they are. Every time you level up, the game prompts you to choose a “destiny” card. These cards are earned based on requirements in the ability trees and, though this isn’t in the demo, on what you accomplish in the game. There are cards for any combination of the three, with 6 tiers with successively better bonuses. For example, the Might destiny cards start out with just increased physical damage and blocking capability, but before too long you can get a bunch of other abilities. The final Might focused destiny, for example, automatically resurrects you with 20% health when you die.
There’s also skills, which are crafting, lockpicking (which is very similar to recent Fallout and Skyrim, though much slower), and things of that nature. This system actually reminds me a lot of Dragon Age: Origins – the skills are similar in nature, you only get one at a time, etc. etc. You can craft whatever you want without them, I believe, but they give you bonuses and make it easier to get materials and things like that.
Graphically, the game is… well, it’s quite similar looking to Fable or Dragon Age 2. The proportions and things like that are ok, but the textures (especially the characters) have that almost cell-shaded look to them. The environment, at least after I got out of the caves, looks spectacular, though I didn’t see any variety at all. In combat it looks especially fancy, as even extremely early in the game you can have explosions and things all over the screen. I’m not sure if this was because its a demo and not the final version, but it didn’t seem optimized well at all. My computer was having at least as much trouble running it on low settings as Skyrim.
Lastly, I do want to mention that this game feels more like a console game than a PC game. The third-person action-oriented gameplay is much more suited to a thumbstick than a mouse, as much as I hate to say it. Even the interface seems to me like it would be much easier to navigate on a console.
In summary… try the demo. What do you have to lose? You can get it on any console, completely for free, and you get bonus stuff for Mass Effect 3. What’s not to love? I know I enjoyed it, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a copy come February 7, when the game is released. This combination of RPG and twitch-based combat is rare, so try it and reward them for trying something a little different.