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The Game Effect Review

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review

A decent first step on the road to greatness

By Nate Gillick on 3/1/2012

Somewhere in a dark, cramped room, Curt Schilling, Ken Rolston, R.A. Salvatore, and Todd McFarlane sit hunched over a table, scheming together to design an RPG with enough addiction hooks to be the new digital heroin. Salvatore scribbles notes on a pad as he thumbs through pages of his own fantasy novels, while Rolston runs raids in World of Warcraft, the whole time discussing his experiences helping make Elder Scrolls titles Morrowind and Oblivion. Well, that’s how I like to imagine Amalur’s origin. Together this group of all-stars certainly got all the ingredients right for addictive entertainment, creating a solid foundation for an enduring franchise, though they didn’t quite get the mix right in their debut outing.


Enter a generic fantasy world...

As the evil fae Gadflow and his Tuatha army spread like pestilence across the realm of Amalur, the mortal races struggle to hold off his legions, and avoid extinction. To this end, several gnomes have been experimenting in a way to avoid death themselves, and, in one instance, succeed in restoring a dead person to life. No longer bound by fate like all other mortals, you’re in a unique position to achieve the impossible, and turn the tide of a losing war against a seemingly invincible foe.

The lack of fate serves as an interesting narrative hook to explain why players have godlike power compared to everyone else, but beyond the setup, there’s little in the story to keep players hooked. Amalur builds so much off of fantasy convention that it fails to distinguish itself as a unique fantasy realm. No character or plotline stands out as memorable, and the writing team plays it so safe, if you think you know how a quest is going to end, you’re probably right. In the same vein, while multiple quests offer a choice on who to side with, player decisions have no real impact on the world, making these choices superficial and largely meaningless. While Amalur struggles to find any identity within its universe and story, its combat system is strong enough to compensate.

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...and become the ultimate instrument of death.

Amalur features a combat system so strong that, without the traditional RPG elements of equipping armor and leveling up, the game would still stand on its own as a competent action game, a feat few other action-RPGs can lay claim to. From longswords and hammers to bows, staffs, and chakrams, Amalur features weapon variety for every play style, from melee fighters who want to hack-and-slash their way through like it’s Dynasty Warriors, to frantic spell-slingers, and everyone in-between. With three different branches of skills to invest in, each player can find their own ideal combination of sorcery, might, and finesse techniques, and skill points can be reset and redistributed for a modest fee at the right NPC, making it easy to change play styles of things aren’t going well. Amalur’s designers want players to feel powerful, and meet this goal well, as I felt like a dominating god of death before I even hit level 10.

Completing quests and exploring the world make up a large part of the gameplay for any decent RPG, and in this regard Amalur’s world design and quest progression structure follow well-established standards within the Massively Multiplayer space. Players will advance in a semi-linear fashion across the world, with each zone housing progressively stronger monsters. Most zones feature a central quest hub to get the exploration rolling, with more quests scattered around the countryside. In fact, the world of Amalur is so crammed full of side-quests, completionists can easily become over-powered for a region, finding that by the time they advance the story, monsters are already weaklings before them. Such a wealth of content ensures there’s always a reason to go check out a new cave or see what’shappening in a new town.

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Many RPGs feature crafting systems, though most tend to be more trouble than they’re worth, due to complicated recipes, time consuming item gathering, clogging limited inventory space, and other issues. Amalur provides the genre a fresh example of how to do things right. Players can gather up as many ingredients as they want without clogging the inventory, and each type of crafting has its own bag, to make inventory searching efficient. Rather than have to remember or write down recipes, the game conveniently guides players though the crafting process, showing learned recipes, and offers a preview of what the final product will look like before it’s created. The user-friendly nature of crafting makes it an appealing avenue to create some of the most powerful weapons, armor, and potions in the game, hassle free.

As the hours ticked on, tedium settled in, where I reached a point I felt the developers ran out of ideas and simply threw in more of the same. An RPG of Amalur’s scale desperately needs greater enemy variety to break up the monotony of killing the same boggarts and kobolds over and over again. Rather than introduce new and more intimidating foes to the late game, high-level zones feature palette-swapped and slightly renamed versions of the exact same enemies encountered in the first ten hours of the game. Exciting! Even worse, the excitement of finding cool loot slows to a halt, as quality upgrades become exceedingly rare, forcing crafting as a means to grow stronger. All would be forgiven if Amalur featured some challenging end-game dungeons, but there’s nothing here to test the mettle of powerful characters. Hopefully, future DLC will remedy this, as the view from the top of the XP mountain couldn’t be blander.

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Overall Impression

The big names of Schilling, Rolston, Salvatore, and McFarlane knew the right ingredients to have for an epic and addictive RPG, and have it right with the fluid and dynamic combat, but rolled a critical miss on establishing a memorable universe and characters. Kingdoms of Amalur provides enough content to last well over 50 hours, though limited enemy variety and a lack of challenging content could make the proceedings stale before everything’s done. Despite its shortcomings, Amalur provides more than enough thrills to be worth checking out for RPG fans,and provides a solid foundation for future sequels to improve upon.

The Good
  • Dynamic and fluid combat
  • User-friendly crafting system
  • TONS of quests
The Bad
  • Generic and forgettable universe and characters
  • Insufficient enemy variety
  • No challenging late-game content
7.8
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ardjoena on March 26, 2012
awesome... :D
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SpicyBaeg on March 07, 2012
I am in the muddle of this game. I have invested about 25 hours and find myself not able to proceed. I find that weak weapons make the game more fun because the enemies can last though them. I think if they used guns instead it would feel a lot like borderlands. 

I really got hooked once I started fighting but it makes me wonder what hooks me into stories. Why do I want to finish them? What stops me from "reading"? In truth I got this game because I though the story would pull me through but I think that these side quests pulled away from the main story line, so maybe I'll try a rundown to try and see what story was prepared.
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Dualsmg14 on March 01, 2012
Pretty fair review, I myself am 50 hours in with probably 20-30 to go. I agree the setting feels pretty generic, except for the Fae. I feel the Fae are a unique and interesting race, with their culture and focus on Ballads and storytelling. In terms of gameplay, they got it perfect for me, really fun combat and amazing Diablo style loot (so many great looking armor sets/weapons).

Also I want to note the great voice acting in the game. From main characters to people you only talk to once, the voice acting is solid. The problem is it sometimes gets ruined from it not lip synching properly.

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