Posted Wed, Jun 29, 2011 by Sardu
Creating a memorable RPG setting is no easy task. And of the dozens or even hundreds created for video games over the years, relatively few have truly managed to stand the test of time. The task becomes even more of a challenge when your goal is to bring a triple-A MMOG to market; a fact that partially accounts for the vast number that have been released over the past 5 or 6 years based on pre-existing IPs. Likewise, smart developers have paid close attention to the fact that World of Warcraft wasn’t created in a void, but carried the torch of a beloved RTS franchise.
So it came as little surprise to me when 38 Studios and Big Huge Games announced Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a single-player RPG set in the same world as 38’s upcoming Copernicus MMOG project. While the reveal still leaves plenty of room for speculation on what we can expect from the MMOG, it has given us a much more solid understanding of what we can expect.
So far this year, the same demo presentation for Reckoning has been shown in multiple venues but unfortunately a playable version of the game is still forthcoming. And while my recent presentation viewing gave me much better insights into what the game is all about, I eventually left with more questions than I started out with.
Chiefly among them is how Big Huge intends to handle the monumental hurdle that I still don’t feel a single developer has managed to properly overcome when it comes to playing an RPG on consoles. By necessity, combat tends to be whittled down to the sword-n-board equivalent of shooter controls, and all the layers of character advancement depth are stuffed not-so-neatly into a never ending pile of menu screens.
Who knows, maybe I’m just spoiled by the ability to instantly access things on my keyboard; M for Map, I for Inventory, and so forth. Then compare that to something like Fable II’s “the game is learning how to navigate the menus” approach and you’ll see where I’m coming from.
From what I was shown of Reckoning’s combat system, it certainly does look epic – kind of like a hybrid between what you’d expect from a fantasy setting and an action game. In fact, if I were going to make any basic points of reference to help describe what I’ve seen of Reckoning’s graphics and combat so far, two games instantly spring to mind for me. Imagine what Vanguard: Saga of Heroes might have become were it given proper development time before launch, and then add in a combat system reminiscent of Arkham Asylum, and that should give you the basic idea.
Perhaps the coolest reveal for Reckoning so far is its adaptive class system. Unlike archetype systems that have you choose from a narrowing list of class options as you progress, instead, Reckoning handles things a bit differently. The game tracks how you approach combat, and allows you to essentially create your class as you progress.
That means you’ll never hit that point when – after 20 or so hours of playing – you realize you’ll have to reroll if you want to switch to playing a caster instead of a melee character. It’s an elegant progression of using a skill-based system to determine combat style and easily the highlight of the demo for me.
However, while I was under the impression that the class system could account for whatever kind of wacky hybrid class you could dream up, the current fact sheet for the game tells a different tale. In particular, it reads “choose one of seven customized classes…” which is a bit of a contradiction from what I understood of the system based on the presentation.
Still, the combat and class possibilities certainly look compelling, and that’s really half the battle when it comes to creating a memorable RPG experience.
Another key ingredient to establishing a memorable RPG setting is crafting a world that takes you to a place you’ve never been before, yet still retains plenty of familiar elements. For example, it’s been proven time and again that – when given the choice – the majority of players always opt to play as a humanoid rather than a more beast-like creature.
Part of that has to do with our ability to feel a connection to our character, but it’s also been beaten into our heads over the years that we don’t go out and seek to become monsters, we slaughter them for shiny loot and quest rewards.
But this level of familiarity typically needs to extend beyond the physical attributes of your playable character. This is also quite possibly the area where Big Huge and 38 face their biggest uphill battle thanks to the use of names so bizarre that the game needs a full glossary, complete with pronunciation keys, to make sense of it. I’ve added a small sampling to the next page to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
The trick with game presentations is that you generally have to take them with a pretty large grain of salt. While everything I was shown for Reckoning was certainly impressive, I also don’t like to weigh in on a game that I haven’t personally played.
With that said, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is worth keeping an eye on, and with any luck there will be a playable demo available for the game later in the event season. In the meantime I can safely report that the gameplay certainly looks compelling, the graphics stunning, and the setting relatively solid, but only time will tell if Reckoning will help establish the next great RPG world for us to fall in love with.
To learn what a Ljosalfar, Varani, or Dokkalfar is, be sure to check out the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Glossary on the following page!