Updated Thu, Jan 26, 2012 by Shayalyn
38 Studios and its subsidiary, Big Huge games, recently paved the way for the early February launch of their premier title, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, with the release of a PC and console demo. We sat down with Mike Fridley, Executive Producer, Ken Rolston, Game Designer (of Elder Scrolls fame) and some other members of the BHG team to learn more about what players can expect from this single-player action RPG.
2011 produced powerhouse titles like The Witcher 2 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Given the competition, one might wonder how a new fantasy IP will wedge itself into the hearts and consciences of gamers who have come to expect great things from the open world RPG genre. According to the team from Big Huge Games, the thing that sets Reckoning apart is combat.
Ken Rolston explained that the four pillars of role playing games are exploration, narrative, achievement and combat. “The Elder Scrolls did a pretty good job with exploration,” he said with a chuckle, paying humble homage to a franchise whose cornerstone has been the ability to explore massive, open worlds. “Some esteemed colleagues also did great things with narrative,” he added. “And we can’t fault Blizzard on the quality of their advancement and achievement stuff. [But] combat had never been done well.”
And what makes Reckoning’s combat a cut above the rest? Rolston says that one important factor is “discoverability”—the player’s ability to constantly find new, interesting, and inherently badass ways to fight bad guys through the simple act of messing around with different abilities and combos. “I love the idea of discovering some of the great things in combat just by playing around with it,” he said.
Rolston said that discovering combat in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has not unlike making discoveries via exploring in an open world setting. “You feel so smart for figuring out how things work,” he said. “You just play and play and play and learn. You’re in the shallow end of the pool with combat [in the demo]. When you get into the deeper end of the pool…there’s a quantitative and qualitative shift in your sense of ‘Oh, my god, I have so many things to do!’ It’s an open world of combat.”
Not only is combat full of new and interesting discoveries for the player to make, the team from BHG also described combat as requiring the player to be an active participant in tactical strategizing. Reckoning aims to strip away the notion that combat is primarily a numbers game, focused on gear and statistics.
”No matter how great our combat is, my real motivation was to [give the player the ability to] move tactically,” Rolston says. “One of the things that has always blown in role playing games is that you could kind of move tactically, but you were moving like [you were playing] a board game. Moving was so slow and awkward that it was frustrating.” Rolston went on to explain that the team’s goal with combat was to create tactical scenarios where the player could use things such as flanking and rear positioning to their advantage and exploit enemy weaknesses.
”And then, the Fate Shift is just a wonderful mechanic which I use to solve bosses,” Rolston added enthusiastically. “I make sure I gain a lot of fate, which you can harvest by killing things that need to be killed—wicked things—and then you harvest fate and it loads up in your meter and suddenly you’re a living god and time is dilated and you can beat the crap out of things.”
Tactical positioning? Running combos? Fate shifts? We wondered if that meant the action-oriented combat would be twitchy.
“I don’t think it is,” said Mike Fridley. “I’m crap at action games—I love God of War, I love those types of games, but I’m terrible at them. Yet I ran the E3 demo [of Reckoning]. I was able to be the guy who was showing off the combat, because it really is fairly intuitive. When people pick up [this game], they have to be able to have a good experience, not just get by.”
The team explained that the early game play experience gives players plenty of structure to help them learn the ins and outs of combat as well as acquire some gear. Once you’re out in the wild, however, you’ll need to develop your RPG gaming skills and employ solid strategies in order to succeed. Just because the game gives you an early leg up doesn’t mean you’ll have your hand held all the way through.
With all this discovering going on, both in the game world and realm of combat, you might wonder whether you’ll have time for questing, or whether you’ll pay attention to the main quest line at all. Rolston admits (and his fellow devs tease him about it), that his game play style is a little…unorthodox.
“The way I play,” he says, “I leave the tutorial and start running for the edge of the map, and as I do that I immediately run into more and more things that beat the crap out of me, and it is SO much fun.”
”He just runs off and starts punching something,” Fridley jokes.
And yet, Rolston admits that the main quest line in Reckoning is going to be very apparent to even the most hardcore run-off-and-punch-things types of players. Although not completing the main quest line shouldn’t interfere with your enjoyment of the game, Rolston believes you’ll be pulled toward the main quest because it’s well sign-posted, something he referred to as “the Yellow Brick Road” approach.
”One of the problems with Morrowind was that we didn’t give the user enough guidelines to get to the main content,” Rolson says. “What we wanted to do [with Reckoning] was to have a user experience where players always know where the main quest is. For some people, that will make it feel like it’s compulsory. It’s not. You can immerse yourself in the main quest, or go at right angles to the main quest.”
Does that mean there’ll be side quests and factions, much like the beloved factions, such as The Dark Brotherhood, found in The Elder Scrolls?
“Yes, it does,” Rolston said. “I admit that I’m very fond of [faction-related side quests]. They’re like alternate main quests…many main quests so that you can be experiencing progression in another direction. Also, faction quests can be tailored more particularly to a specific type of game play style. So, they’re [in the game], and they’re too much fun.”
”You’re not necessarily locked out by any of the faction choices that you make, though,” adds Fridley. “If you’re a straight fighter and you want to play the rogue quest line…you won’t have any problems doing that. We don’t want to lock out any content from any player based on what choices they’ve made.”
Head on to the next page for details on character development, replayability and more...