Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Eyes-On

14 Jul 2011  by   John Robertson
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On the face of it, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning looks like a fantasy geek’s wet dream come to fruition. You’ve got best-selling fantasy author RA Salvatore handling plot and character, comic book and action figure supremo Todd McFarlane directing the visuals and revered game designer Ken Rolston (of Oblivion and Morrowind fame) handling gameplay and design. My level of expectation is high. Justifiably high.
This is the second time we’ve been sat down and taken on a ‘behind closed doors’ walkthrough of Reckoning and it’s the second time we wished we’d gotten a chance to play it for ourselves. The main reason for that is down to the message being pounded into us at every available opportunity – that this is an RPG but (P.S.) the combat doesn’t suck. 
In the words of Ben Smith, the EA Partners producer for Reckoning: “We hope that an action gamer will pick up the controller, ‘get’ the combat, and find it really fun before learning that they actually really like the RPG stuff that’s behind it.” It’s an RPG for action game fans, then?

Well, from what we’ve seen, yes and no. In terms of combat, the game has supposedly been designed in such a way so as to allow players who are particularly adept with the control pad to be able to take on enemies a few levels above themselves. Conversely, RPG players who have levelled up their characters in an intelligent manner will also be able to tackle the guys stronger than themselves by employing their well crafted stats and abilities.  
It’s an intriguing idea and one that is clearly designed with a view to trying to please as big an audience as possible but, how many times have we seen such a broad outlook fail to provide enough depth in any specific area? The result a game that ultimately pleases no one as fully as they would like.
The combat itself does seem to possess many a quality that is more readily associated with the action genre. For example, enemies can be parried, snuck up on, juggled in mid-air and hit with real-time combos that requiring specific timings to get right. To many a D&D fan’s probable dismay, there doesn’t seem to be a dice roll (visible or invisible) in sight. 

Our walkthrough was conducted with a character that had been built primarily as a magic user so the bulk of the powerful attacks we witnessed involved rocks being thrust into enemies’ torsos and flaming meteors falling from the sky at great speed. However, you wouldn’t recognise that his skills reside with spell casting by his appearance alone given his brawny sword and shield combination and his heavy duty looking armour (a ‘special’ armour set that, when complete, greats stat bonuses to a specific trait). There was not a peaked hat, wooden staff or ill-conceived beard to speak of.
Indeed, like the combat system, Reckoning’s class system is rooted in providing options rather than having you commit to a specific path. Upon starting the game you’re not assigned any particular class, instead you’re abilities are entirely dictated by what you decide to unlock and assign on your skill tree. Clearly, the idea is a result of two goals… Number one: allow players to define their own styles of play that fall in between the traditional warrior, rogue, mage archetypes. Number two: do not alienate action games fans that would probably object to having entire swathes of the game locked away from them.
Just how well this works is something we won’t know until we get some serious hands-on time (which will likely not be for quite some time) but the idea that I can play my preferred class of warrior but incorporate some underhanded stealth abilities sounds appealing – no, I’m not interested in spell casting.

The quest we witnessed took place in a system of interconnected caves and tunnels complete with fantastical fauna and flora of the otherworldly variety. Walking through bushes of luminous blue plants caused them to react to our character’s presence (by lighting up and reaching out towards him), something that only happens when you’ve concentrated on your magical abilities. It’s a nice touch that doesn’t add much (if anything) to the gameplay but breathes a little extra vibrancy into the world.
Rather than a main story mission (details on the story are being kept tightly sealed away), this segment is from a ‘faction quest,’ an optional thread included purely as a means of earning more loot, more gold and more background on the world and its inhabitants. Factions are never going to be directly opposed to one another so, no matter whose quests you embark upon, there’s no way of locking missions out by incurring the wrath of a rival tribe/group/posse/troop (a la Fallout: New Vegas). Again, we’re told, this goes back to the idea of not wanting to keep any content out of the player’s hands.
This quest was provided by the ‘Warsworn’ faction and involves you recovering the ‘Heart of Sibun’ which, unsurprisingly, is being guarded by a tougher-than-usual enemy. In this case instance, the tougher-than-usual enemy is a mid-sized fire-breathing dragon with a strong jaw line (we’re talking David Coulthard strong) and wings that have been ripped of everything but their bone structure. The long and short of it was that it was ugly. That’s all you need to know. 

A few attack spells and skilfully dodges flame attacks later and the beast falls to its knees in a pathetic display of submission. Of course (this being an action-RPG), there’s no room for sympathy so our walkthrough host performs a ‘Fate Shift Kill’ on the beast – a flashy finishing move made flashier depending on how many times you can smash the ‘A’ button in a given time limit. Boss vanquished, item found, job done.
The David Coulthard monster seems to only be the tip of the iceberg however, a new teaser video playing after our walkthrough showing a giant slug/Cyclops-thing named ‘Balur’ that shots lightning out of its eye. Again, ugly. It’s a safe bet to assume that most of the Reckoning’s bad guys are going to fall on the wrong side of the attractiveness tree, just once I’d like to fight a beautiful baddie… 
No RPG (‘action-RPG’ included) worthy of any merit would be seen dead without loot, dialogue and, nowadays, mini-games/puzzles. The only such mini-game/puzzle we saw involved unlocking a door by timing button presses to coincide with a rotating ring; the idea was to hit six runes on the ring as it spun around them, hit all six in one spin and you win. As with anything of this nature, these moments are going to have to be varied and present something approaching a fair challenge in order to be anything other than irritating after the first one or two.

The loot system was touted as being similar to that of Diablo in that items are procedurally generated as opposed to being specifically placed by level designers. Presumably, items will spawn that are useful to you and your chosen abilities; something that is going to need skilful and well-balanced tweaking to prevent pick-ups being too narrowly, or too broadly, focused. 
What has been narrowly focused is the dialogue system. There are a number of dialogue options to choose from during conversations but none of them seem to affect the direction of the story, your character’s standing with NPCs or the actions of others. For players that want to get through these moments as quickly as possible the ‘key’ option is highlighted in blue – selecting it will get you through the scene without any extra-curricular rambling. Anyone wanting more depth can indulge in the other options and learn more about the world, the characters and the quest that you’re on.
There’s always a lot to take in when we see Reckoning in action. If Big Huge Games can strike the right balance between action and depth then they’ll be on to something big, huge and… games-y? Others have tried and failed to walk where they’re looking to tread however but, considering who’s on board for this title, if anyone can…

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