Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – Review

Title   Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Developer  Big Huge Games
Publisher  EA
Platform  PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre  RPG
Release Date  7th February, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning shouldn’t be this good. The demo was promising without being amazing, it’s got a stupid name (AND a sub-title despite being the first game in the series HNGHHH!) and it comes just a few months after the genre-defining behemoth Skyrim came and swept the games world off of its feet. The world really doesn’t need another RPG anyway. After all, even the best ones are just re-telling Lord of the Rings if we’re being honest.  Indeed, Amalur’s plot certainly has the doughy smell of bit of cookie cutting. To summarise: you play ‘The Fateless One’ a recently-resurrected, previously quite dead chap who can’t remember what led him to his original sorry fate, but in the meantime he’s got a war to worry about because, as is always the case, there’s a race of evil faeries led by an overpowered bastard who wants to destroy the world.

Throw in all the side quests you can eat – the usual stuff: “help, I’ve lost my necklace”, “help, I’ve been stabbed”, “help, my husband’s been kidnapped by trolls” – and you’ve got a solid storyline, but it’s not going to change your world. Here’s the thing though: it’s a game. Sure, it’d make a fairly generic adventure movie but like Grandpa used to say “games are for playing. You want story? Go to the cinema you little bastard.”

On first impressions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the story and adventuring elements would be an afterthought anyway. This is because once your hero or heroine gets going, the first thing you’ll notice is that this game really doesn’t skimp on the combat. Throughout the game’s starting section (which is a glorified tutorial), you are introduced to a wide range of combat techniques. Those of you who like to get up close and personal get the swords and hammers to play with, as well as various armour types. If you like to pick off your opponents from distance, bows are an option (not a great one though) or, more excitingly, you can get into the various ice, lighting and fire choices associated with the Sorcery skill tree. If that’s not enough for you, there are stealth options for those of you who want to sneak around and knack people with daggers.

Where Amalur excels is in the way that you can seemlessly switch from one form to another on the fly. Melee combos, ranged attacks and magic are all available without resorting to the menu button and everything flows so sweetly that Amalur actually outclasses many of the dedicated hack and slash button-mashers that are currently available. Add to that a host of special attacks and new abilities that are unlocked through skill tree choices and leveling up and what you have is a substantial and deep twat-’em-up and that’s before you even get into the myriad of options for equipping and customising your weapons and armour.

This is Amalur’s greatest strength. It melds exquisite, deep, exciting and (dare I say it?) arcadey combat with highly credible RPG credentials. A steady flow of improving loot which covers all the usual areas (armour, helmets, robes, cowls, greaves as well as rings, amulets, shields and, of course, various weapon archetypes) with the expected enchantments (mana and health regen, elemental attacks and resistances and various stat boosts) giving the game the addictive qualities expected of any good RPG looter. If you want to get deeper with it you can level up your abilities in blacksmithing (for creating new armour and weapons) and sagecrafting (for creating gems that give your equipment various enchantments). Amalur doesn’t skimp on the good stuff but, equally, it doesn’t overwhelm you with a million unnecessary options either. Less time fucking about with stats, more time fighting. Exactly what Sacred 2 didn’t do, which is why Sacred 2 can fuck off and why Amalur can happily marry my sister.

Amalur specialises in that kind of ‘getting to the point’ gameplay that makes the whole thing a joy to play. You’ve got four races to pick from when rolling your character. There’s none of this halfling chaotic-neutral elf bollocks to worry about and the leveling up is always relatively guilt-free too. Putting more points into alchemy than you wanted to is never going to be game-ruining and when you pick from the combat skill trees, you can’t break anything because the combat isn’t about two stacks of numbers fighting it out. With decent movement and parrying you can be a match for much more powerful foes. You just need to fight smarter. And anyway, Amalur loves you so you can re-spec if you need to. Yep, Amalur rocks.

After the snow-covered wilderness of Skyrim (the last RPG I played prior to reviewing this), the vibrant colours and varied landscapes of Amalur are a welcome change, and despite a few rough edges, the game world is a very nice play to be in. Character models are a little basic at times and NPCs can occasionally have the waxy, dead look of a Kylie Minogue but the overall world is pleasing to look at and easy to navigate, mixing an open-world layout with a degree of linearity in terms of having roads, paths and valleys to keep you mostly on-track. The score, sound effects and voice acting are solid but not spectacular but there are some entertaining moments in there to keep you listening.

It’s not all hot sex in your mouth though. My big criticism of the game is that it’s just a little too easy. I started and finished the game on the Hard setting and it was smooth sailing until the last couple of hours where you are deep in ‘bastard territory’. Even then, smart use of potions and combos kept me alive and saving up my fate stash for a few timely rage moments was enough to see off the bigger enemies and sub-bosses without excessive leveling up grinding.

When it comes to enemy types, you’re not going to see much innovation during your time in Amalur which is a shame given that Todd McFarlane was involved in the game’s artwork and, presumably, some of the character designs.   Despite that, however, there is a nice sense of impending darkness in both locales and enemies faced as you wander East towards Evil Bastard Faery HQ and thankfully the illusion all holds together well, with the bare minimum of glitching there to spoil the party.

It’s just all very well done. Better combat than we RPG fans are used to combined with very solid and credible stat-crunching and looting. Amalur may not be the absolute finished article in every respect, but it has more or less made any adventure game that dares to venture out without this level of combat completely irrelevant. If the industry is smart enough to stop ripping off Elder Scrolls, Kingdoms of Amalur will represent the moment the genre graduated from Diablo-esque click-mashing to something just a whole lot more evolved. +10 to combat.

  • Satisfying, fluid combat that would sit well in a dedicated hack and slasher.
  • Strong RPG elements covering all the usual bases without drowning the player in statistics and guilt-laden choices.
  • A large, believable game world that has just the right amount of side quests and NPCs to play with.
  • Unpretentious story that doesn't try too hard.
  • Not exactly top tier when it comes to graphics (although still a good-looking game)
  • Lacks the grandeur of larger RPGs such as Skyrim
  • A solid story but one that you've heard before in one guise or another
  • In-game stat-tracking covers various parts of the game but not really the achievements, which do seem like an afterthought.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the role-playing game that puts gameplay first and tailors the RPG elements to fit the kind of gamer who just wants an enjoyable adventure without getting bogged down in pages of numbers. That said, it has more depth than you'd think and has enough character customisation to warrant more than just one playthrough. There is a little room for improvement here and there, but Amalur is easily the most playable RPG I've enjoyed in years and is already on my shortlist for Game of 2012.

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  1. Samuel says:

    On the whole I agree with this review, Richie. It’s nothing revolutionary, but Amalur does almost everything as well or better than anyone else. And it takes some manly balls to release a new IP these days, so you have to respect the audacity therein, too.

    I actually like Amalur more than Skyrim. I realise that’s practically heresy, but there it is. The combat is just better, on an order of magnitude that’s outrageous when you stop to consider it objectively. And there’s enough detail and minutia to keep me happy without going too far into the realms of realism expressed as monotonous tedium. And the art style… you’re right that some of the people in Amalur look like waxworks, but overall it’s just such a nicer world to explore and see than Skyrim has.

    I was fully intending to ignore Amalur. It never once grabbed my attention and I didn’t really have the cash. But the demo, which I downloaded as a whim, ruined that plan utterly. It’s not perfect, and on the platform I have it on (not Xbox on this occasion), it’s glitchy as hell at times, but it’s still a damned good game.

    I really enjoyed reading this.

  2. Stu Stu says:

    The demo grabbed me but with FFXIII-2 and ME3 in such quick succession I decided to do the waiting thing and pick it up after ME3 was out of the way when it was about half of the release price. After reading this review I’m half-tempted to pop into town and pick it up – sounds like a corker and right up my street!

    Great review, covered off everything I was wondering about after playing the demo.

  3. Tania Tania says:

    After playing the demo and loving it, I snapped this one up on release and have never looked back. Way more enjoyable than Skyrim in my opinion. Except the dragons. I miss the dragons.

  4. simonjk says:

    I 99.9% agree with you, I still love Sacred 2 and would welcome another installment – you name another RPG that has a whole music video in as a quest reward! – “This world is Sacred!!!!”

    KoA was a much needed change after spending the past few months entrenched in the World of Skyrim with it’s RPG simulator seriousness and (dare I say it) numerous glitches and problems. It’s fluid, light hearted and very muvh a fun and enjoyable game with the added bonus of the option to redo all of your stats if you are not happy. The enviroments are nice and colourful and the voice acting is not grating and flat for a change. The combat is easy to pickj up and I find nearly as fluid as Too Human.

    (I may actually pick up Sacred 2 after Mass Effect 3 and Witcher 2 to keep me going till Borderlands 2!)

  5. Edward Edward says:

    Argh, you’ve twisted my wallet and now I’m really considering getting this.
    Great review, Rich. :)

  6. Ian says:

    I’m tempted by this if only ’cause of your fapping about it. That said, I’ll grab it if I see it cheap (sub £20).

  7. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Do me a favour mate, would you? I’ve watched the presentations, I’ve read all the previews (including my own, several times) and yet I still don’t own this game. IS it as good as I thought it would be, or will it be one of those Fable 2 things where I’ve hyped it up so much in my own head that it will just never live up to the expectation?

    I need to know. Dammit, man. Do I buy it or not?

  8. simonjk says:

    Buy it!!!!! (Homer Simpson shaking fist!). I loved it, the graphics were nice, the game area is large and not as liner as it might have been ( Less than Skyrim, more than Dragonage), the character creation on progression is easy but in depth and usefull and on top of that it make you create an actual character type instead of Elder Scrolls – “Oh level 20 and now I’m an Omni-skill God”. My first playthough took me 200 hours and I believe they have their first expansion pack type DLC out on the 20th March (Rasp to Skyrim).

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