Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is full of potential [Preview]

26 Jan 2012  by   John Robertson
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It’s our final pre-review look at Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and a chance to find out whether this latest section of the game is superior to what we’ve seen before. Whereas we’d originally seen it as a somewhat complicated edition of Lionhead’s Fable series, the truth is that it’s deeper, bigger and looks as though it will stand up to steep expectations of genre aficionados.
The potential it holds as an RPG is far superior to the trail of broken promises supplied to us by Peter Molynuex and company.
Set two-thirds of the way through the game (so we’re told), our 90 minutes or so took place in the castle city of Mel Senshir set on the south west of Reckoning’s expansive world map. The mission we find ourselves plonked in the middle of involved the fortress hard at work preparing its defences for an attack from a large army – yep, it’s all very Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Spearheading the attack is a giant slug-like Cyclops that answers to the name of Balor. Ol’ Balor, it turns out, is controlled by the wizard Malwyn. Rather than join the common rabble in fighting the amassing hordes, it’s our job to kill Malwyn and then attempt to control Balor ourselves.
Before we talk about that, though, let’s talk combat. After all, that’s the area which developer Big Huge Games are trying to be better at than every other RPG on the market, past and present.

Whereas we’d previously played as a full-on warrior (complete with giant armour and stupidly heavy sword), this time we set ourselves up as a rogue/mage hybrid. The ability to create hybrid classes is one of Reckoning’s key features, and on the evidence here it could well be the best way to play – compared to playing as a pure warrior, the hybrid character opened up a wealth of options.
In basic terms, the mage specialises in spells and the rogue is focused on stealth. Join them together and you’ve got a stealthy wizard, in theory. For once the theory seems sound as a stealthy wizard is exactly what we felt like. The crippling physical and melee attack weaknesses of most games’ mage classes were offset by the rogue speed and modest hand-to-hand skills – meaning getting up-close-and-personal doesn’t lead to instant death.
Reckoning’s designers have likened the game’s combat to that of the God of War series. Such a comparison is certainly an exaggeration, but it is true that action is fast paced and does a lot to rid the genre of the negative associations of lacklustre fights and even more lacklustre animations.
The correct timing with a shield block sends your enemy off balance, initiating slow-mo for a couple of seconds and allowing you to get off some free hits. Such a mechanic is indicative of the type of flair and reward Reckoning associates with real-time inputs.

Further to direct combat, the rogue abilities allow you to set traps and perform one-hit stealth kills. On the other hand the mage has attack and defensive spells and a particularly useful ability to summon skeletal warriors to fight alongside you. Add the warrior to the mix and there should be a decent class-type on offer for most of us.
Of course, the problem with levelling up your character evenly across two or three of the available class-specific skill tress means that you’ll inevitably miss out on the very top level abilities related to each. In a bid to make up for that, special skills are dished out to hybrid classes depending on which of the pure designs you’ve used. For example, choosing a warrior/mage hybrid will reward you with a different set of skills at the top level than if you go down the rogue/warrior route or even a mix of all three.
If this works properly it could result in some potentially very interesting class builds that curb the usual stick-to-this-path routine. On the other hand, if it’s bodged (and balancing hybrid classes cannot be an easy design task) the system will surely have us begging for a return to comparative simplicity.
There’s also something to be said for the fact that RPGs have existed for a long time without (for the most part) such a class design system and that the players of such games have been perfectly happy up until now. Perhaps it’s not enough to aim ‘merely’ at those kinds of players anymore…

Back to the Balor.
The entire hunting down of Malwyn and his oversized gastropod is remarkably set-piece like – again, it’s hardly God of War, but for an RPG it can certainly be classed as a controlled sequence. Combat takes place over a number of sequences set in different locations, with the Balor at different stages of duress throughout.
Included among these moments is one in which you must combat both Malwyn and the Balor at once, which is incredibly difficult (on normal difficulty setting) and curbed many of my suspicions regarding the game being too easy. Later on there’s a quick-time event heavy number that is a great deal easier but looks great. It’s that kind of difficult-to-reward pacing that set-pieces will live and die on – especially in a game of this size.
What happens to you, Balor, Malwyn and the residents of Mel Senshir? Well, I wouldn’t want to spoil that for you now would I?  
 

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