Having followed every shred of information since Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was first announced, my deepest desires were fulfilled when I was given the opportunity to review this title. A fresh take on the action/RPG from Curt Schilling, all-star pitcher turned game producer, who wasn't sold on the fantasy offerings from other studios and decided to make a game he'd enjoy playing. A dream every dedicated gamer would love to have if only they had the funds and resources to make it a reality.
So I buried myself in Mr. Schilling's world of Amalur, whiling away dozens of hours without a thought or care for any other game. But even the brightest gems eventually lose their luster, and now after spending over a hundred hours of game time, new imperfections have surfaced and the original flaws have become much more noticeable.
My main criticism in the review still pains me like a thorn I can't quite pull out, which has to do with the lack of personal connection you have with your created character and the emotionless demeanor he or she exudes in the game. Engaging in conversations via one-word topics and replying with inconsequential morality choices—all while standing stiff as a board in front of your converser—truly separates the individual from the world. You are supposed to be the Fateless One, not the Oblivious One.
It's a flaw made more apparent by the fact that the history and politics of Amalur are so rich, thanks to the creative mind of R.A. Salvatore and his gifted team of writers. If you race through the main quest just to say you've beaten the game, you're depriving yourself of some remarkable faction storylines and lore worth pouring over. Despite my character's lack of conviction, I personally found it truly gripping to weave back together the threads of the Summer Court of the Fae after their Tellings were altered by the Maid of Windemere, who herself nearly convinced me during the final confrontation that her plight was worth my pity. This was just one of the many storylines not relevant to the campaign but worth your time to pursue.
Of course, knowledge isn't the only reward for straying off the beaten path. Some unique and powerful weapons and armor await those persistent enough to follow through the side stories, as well as permanent stat bonuses. With several different weapon types, it's fun to watch each in action, and as with all loot-centric games, I scrutinized each new piece I acquired. But as the tedium grew, most eventually ended up in the junk pile without a second glance, and the rest in another pile to be broken down for crafting components.
Crafting turned into a separate aggravation. First, I needed to constantly refer to a wiki to see which items had useful components for my mage's equipment set. Most materials did nothing besides clutter a lengthy list in my inventory. I'm still waiting for an RPG with a deep crafting system where even the most mundane component can be turned into something useful. Suggestions, anyone? This ties into another RPG issue, which is potions and their lack of usefulness. It would be nice if effective potion use would turn the tide of a battle, but more often than not your attacks and powers are potent enough without aid that it renders potions superfluous. The non-combat skill boosts with these tonics are the most useful, but the length of their effect needs a serious increase. And with such limited use, the fact that they take up precious inventory slots makes them more of a burden than anything.
Fortunately, the combat, which was hands down the highlight of the game, remains exceptional when you're hundreds of hours deep. Even when you've found a combination of ranged and melee attacks timed perfectly with class powers for maximum effect, it never feels repetitive. This is thanks to the silky smooth controls, which rival any other action title on the market. The animations are gorgeous and impactful, and the weight of each weapon is given proper respect. The scaling and tactics of the enemies also shake things up. Handling a mammoth troll one-on-one may not cause you to shed a single bead of sweat, but add half a dozen bandits pelting you with arrows or lightning wielding Tuatha spellcasters into the mix, and your entire strategy must be revised on the fly. It's an exciting formula that lasts till the end of your journey, whether that's thirty hours or three hundred hours.
There are other small gripes, such as stock artwork for many different pieces of equipment, a skill tree that mostly augments lower-tiered powers rather than presenting new ones, retooling of the non-combat abilities for more useful effects, and a fixed NPC dialogue that does not alter the reference no matter what race you've chosen, delivering oddly racist remarks in many situations.
Despite 38 Studios being mostly comprised of seasoned artisans in their particular field, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning should still being given the latitude of being the first foray in a very tough genre. From the outset, Schilling and his crew have promised that Amalur will embrace other mediums, and we know there is an MMO in the works, codenamed Project Copernicus. Reckoning itself has already launched its first major DLC, with another one coming very shortly. They offer new adventures with unique atmospheres, but don't necessarily address any of the mechanical flaws. Hopefully the developers will look at the remarks of myself and others as constructive criticism and deliver an even grander experience with a sequel, which I will be impatiently awaiting for however long that takes.
Date: April 19, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*