|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC*|
|Dev: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games|
|Pub: 38 Studios, Electronic Arts|
|Release: February 7, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Suggestive Themes|
by Sean Engemann
The RPG genre has its major players—Bethesda, BioWare, and the like—with big ticket entries saturating the media and intimidating smaller scale developers. What typically spawns from the lesser-known studios either flops from poor execution or is clever in design but lacking in content. But every so often we are welcomed by a new studio with the mindset of making a game fun first, which then tackles the technical. The company in this case is 38 Studios, founded by former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, who has enough personal resources to put together a game he'd enjoy playing.
Sparing little expense, Schilling enlisted fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and cartoonist Todd McFarlane, both giants in their respective fields. Schilling also purchased developer Big Huge Games, which was set to be cut by THQ, forming a capable team, along with designer Ken Rolston, to create the world of Amalur. Their first product, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a deep single-player fantasy RPG with a heavy, action-based combat system, a gorgeous world ripe for exploration, and an open class system sure to have every RPG fan praising the heavens.
The story revolves around the Crystal War in a tiny fraction of the ten-thousand-year history created for Amalur, where a dark Fae cult called the Tuatha threatens the land. A casualty of war, your body has been transported to a gnome-run facility in the far west, which houses the Well of Souls, an apparatus designed to resurrect the fallen. The Well has failed in every attempt to bring a soul back. Until you arrived, that is.
Your unique 'rebirth' breaks the link between you and your destiny, much to your advantage. Thus the game features a Destiny system that works in tandem with its open class design. Instead of choosing a class right from the start, you'll earn points as you level up to place into the skill trees of either Might, Finesse, or Sorcery, building a warrior, thief, or mage type, respectively. Points can be placed wherever you like, so if you prefer ice spells but also want to cleave enemies with a massive greatsword, or pickpocket an unsuspecting Tuatha and then smash him with a mighty hammer, you are afforded that luxury. As you invest in particular trees, you will unlock new destiny cards that give your particular skill set a class name, but also award you with boosted statistics and special abilities.
Non-combat skills are also included, with blacksmithing, lockpicking, alchemy, and mercantile, just to name a few. You are granted a single point at each new level to place into one of these skills, and each can be improved ten times. There are also trainers who can upgrade your skills, albeit for a hefty price.
But if after a hundred hours of playing a pure fighter you decide you want to try your hand at spellcasting, don't fret. NPCs called Fateweavers will (for a price) reset both your combat and non-combat skills, allowing you to completely re-customize your character.
The combination of skills is impressive, and, from your first to your millionth foray into battle, you're probably not going to get tired of it. That's because unlike many other fantasy role-playing games, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning delivers possibly the most addictive action combat yet. Dodging and blocking, timing your attacks, and learning each enemy's tactics require a quick mind and quick hands. Perfectly mapped actions mean you can switch between primary and secondary weapons, bash with your shield, launch a meteor storm, and drink a healing potion without having to pause or enter any menu screens. But the fluidity does nothing to diminish the intensity, as you'll often find yourself flanked and overwhelmed by monstrous foes. The killer move occurs when your fate bar becomes full, allowing you to enter Reckoning mode. Here, time slows and your attacks strengthen, climaxing to a random but thoroughly satisfying finishing move called a Fateshift, which also bears additional experience points.
Although the combat truly shines brighter than any other RPG in the past, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is still an immensely robust adventure with hundreds of hours of content. Considered an open world experience, Reckoning is more bound to parameters than you'd think. You won't be able to, for instance, finish the tutorial dungeon and immediately set your auto-run to the other end of the continent. Instead, each zone is contained, with a few narrow paths leading to adjoining areas. However, each of these zones is a relatively circular free-roaming environment, so you'll never feel like you're being guided down a narrow corridor. Within each region you'll find many towns, or perhaps a city, each offering you a place to relax, shop, ply your trade, or take up a plethora of quests. While some will inevitably feel like fetch or kill quests, there's enough lure and promise of rewards to keep you interested in every one.