Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review
A decent first step on the road to greatness
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.
...and become the ultimate instrument of death.
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.
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.
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.
- Dynamic and fluid combat
- User-friendly crafting system
- TONS of quests
- Generic and forgettable universe and characters
- Insufficient enemy variety
- No challenging late-game content