Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
The phrase 'too big to fail' has been bandied about a lot in recent times but, with the number of top notch names attached to Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning it is hard to see how it can't be more apt to describe the debut title from 38 Studios.
Kingdoms Of Amalur is an action RPG from the collective minds of bestselling fantasy author R A Salvatore, Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane and Oblivion and Morrowind designer Ken Rolston. There are usually only two possible outcomes from a confluence of talent like this - quiet success or abject failure.
At first glance, Kingdoms of Amalur looks like the bastard son of Oblivion and Fable III sharing the latter's visuals while adopting scaled-down versions of the alchemy, smithing and levelling up systems featured in the more recent Elder Scrolls titles. Todd MacFarlane's distinct artistic style has led to Amalur having a darker edge to it than Lionhead's Fable series and it feels much better for it.
As you progress further into the game it becomes very clear that while the looks may evoke memories of playing the Fable series the darker undertones and the visuals begin to feel closer to BioWare's Dragon Age series and there are definite points where BioWare's influence is felt heavily with their conversation wheel even popping up on occasion during important stages of certain conversations.
The dark edge shows right from the very beginning of the game with the main character waking up on a pile of rotting carcasses in a cavern. It's a fairly monumental event as this makes the game's hero the first mortal to come back from the dead, to have their soul revived in a new body.
It transpires that you, the game's hero, are the only successful result of a grand experiment to grant immortality to mortals in order to help gain ground in a brutal war between the mortal races of Amalur and a violent sect of immortals (the Fae) known as the Tuatha that has riven Amalur apart for the last ten years.
Amalur is a lot bigger that you might expect. Amalur spans several kingdoms (hence the name Kingdoms of Amalur) and in this respect it does owe a lot to its Morrowind and Oblivion influences. There is a lot to do here and there are numerous quests and side-quests available in every settlement. There's also a good few factions to join as well, each with their own quests from the becoming the first mortal to sit on the Fae Court of Enchantments to joining the mercenary Warsworn. Each faction has, not just a range of quests but their own sub-plot that makes joining and playing these quests more compelling.
For the sheer scale of what is available in Kingdoms of Amalur there is no real feeling that it is an exceptionally heavy RPG. Combat is all action and it uses a surprisingly nuanced single button system relying on timing to execute different moves. Rather than having heavy and light attacks Amalur has a primary and secondary weapon feature that allows for more immediate tactical flexibility in battle. For instance, if you're getting creamed by an ogrish Ettin in a fight up close you can simply switch to using a bow or a ranged magic staff by pushing a different button. This feels very natural and actually makes fighting in Amalur much more easy to get to grips with that in Skyrim.
Character creation and levelling up is very nicely handled too. There are three classes of character to choose from - warrior, rogue or magician - and a skill tree associated with each. Might, finesse and magic skill trees are all fairly simple to choose from and players can mix and match their skills from each tree to create a custom class of character of concentrate fully on one for a more old-school RPG experience. Amalur also features a Fates system which supplements the levelling up. Each class has a progression of Fates available to them that open up as players level up. Each Fate grants skill bonuses for a specific class. The Hunter Fate, for example, grants rogues above a certain level bonuses to stealth, ranged attacks and other roguish skills. It's a neat way of helping players get the most out of the game while still playing the way they want to play.
There has been a lot of talk of Kingdoms Of Amalur being influenced by a variety of big titles but, while these influences are all very evident this is very much a game of its own rather than a bunch ideas borrowed from elsewhere and carelessly cobbled together. Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning is actually a very beautifully crafted RPG in its own right and it sits very comfortably in between the most accomplished of its peers occupying a niche all of its own.
Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning is a fantastic debut for 38 Studios and a great start to the year for RPG fans. It's arrival is perfectly timed to pique the interest of those who are starting to tire of Skyrim. This is something new and hopefully it is the beginning of a saga every bit as epic as the games that have inspired it.