Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning High Level Preview

While we came to Reckoning’s final pre-launch playtest to experience the level 20+ game, the question on our minds is how well Reckoning compares to a certain other single-player game that’s casting a long shadow across the RPG genre. Early impressions on that question and much more in our Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning High Level Preview.
For our last hands-on preview of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning prior to its February 7th release date, our character began approximately two-thirds of the way through the main story at a crucial turning point. Evil Gadflow and his Tuatha forces have besieged the Elven stronghold of Mel Senshir, and the defending forces have devised a plan to break through the pickets and strike at the heart of the enemy, the towering (and I do mean towering) Niskaru Lord Balor. Needless to say, you’re the lynchpin.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning High Level Preview

Characters from one of four destinies were prepped and waiting for us. I was still foggy on what destinies are, so Andrew straightened me out. “We don’t like to say that destinies are our version of classes- they’re our answer to classes,” he quipped, and went on to say that destinies are unlockable and hot-swappable packages of spells and abilities that compliment your playstyle.

Depending on how you spend points in the balance between might, finesse, and sorcery, different destinies are available to you that help describe the kind of player you are. For example, the all-might character I spent most of my time with was a Warrior. Other options for this hands-on session included the all-sorcery Mage, the all-finesse Ranger, and the finesse-sorcery hybrid Warlock.

Putting my warrior through its paces, I had my first answer to what I’ll hereafter refer to Skyrim question; is there room in the market or a reason to play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning in the wake of Bethesda’s game of the year contender? Combat, in both mechanics and visuals, is an absolute treat.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning High Level Preview

With over half the game presumed under my belt, the Warrior had only 4 abilities – easily swapped into the right mouse button via the number keys – and a half-dozen or so intuitive, keyboard-friendly go-to combos.  Remembering to shield block, using the spacebar to roll out of danger, and triggering the time-slowing Reckoning mechanic was key, but combat never grew stale, helped in no small part by smooth, believable animations and a visceral variety of finishing moves.

Most of the action took place within the Elven fortress of Mel Senshir. Ranks of Tuatha archers drew close, backed by trolls and something far worse, with none of the faux puppet patterning we usually see with massed troops in character-driven RPGs. Ladders slammed into place on battlements, locked in place by spiked supports that, if one is paying attention to the ongoing dialogue, you have to destroy to collapse the ladders and move to the next area. Fail to do so and you’d be fighting an interminable wave battle.  An early boss encounter with Balor, a lobster clawed, ray-eyed, cycloptic beast that could swallow my character whole and pass as a final boss in most games, led to the untimely death of a familiar NPC.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning High Level Preview

The upshot of that first Balor encounter was the Balor escaped his Tuatha handlers and your humble protagonist had to face the unbound fury of the creature not twice, but three times.  The second encounter evoked memories of the Scarecrow encounters in Arkham Asylum as I had to race and hide to escape Balor’s evil eye.

Fighting past more of the Tuatha forces , I scraped by several trolls and a Niskaru captain by dodging hamfisted attacks and leaning heavily on potions – thankfully there’s no cooldown, though supplies are limited if you aren’t one for alchemy.  Speaking of alchemy, after the showdown with Balor, I explored the crafting system in light of the Skyrim question and was pleasantly surprised. Crafting is better organized in Reckoning, with an open-ended, wizard driven approach and, better yet, a weightless and sortable components bag for each of the crafting professions you train.

The no spoilers take on the final encounter with Balor; it was a multi-stage encounter with interactive cutscene aspects – i.e. press the key when prompted while the baddie is in a down state or the encounter will regress a stage. Other EA published titles could learn a thing or two from Reckoning’s treatment of the time-honored concept – the amount of time to hit each key was urgent but not uncomfortable,  and the penalty for missing a keypress isn’t overly punishing. For a little extra drama, I was down to my last potion in the final stage but prevailed, reveling in a finishing animation that surely must have made Todd McFarlane spawn a grin. Mel Senshir, and the outlying swamps of Klurikon, was now open to exploration.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning High Level Preview

At the very least, our final Reckoning preview event underscored the level of polish going into Big Huge Games’ big huge name-dropper of a title. With 2 months prior to launch, Reckoning is story-complete and feature-complete, “it’s just not a finished title,” explained Producer Andrew Frederiksen. They could have fooled us. In four hours of admittedly staged play, I didn’t experience a single bug, cosmetic or otherwise.

With game production already in its final stages, what’s the team working on? Andrew wouldn’t say that DLCs are on the agenda (though a splash screen tip told players where to pick up their DLC content in the world of Amalur, confirming that downloadable content is on the way), but did say that imbalance issues and fine tuning are still making the holidays merry and bright at the Baltimore-based studio.

So will Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning answer the Skyrim question well? The jury is excused until February, but what I can tell you is this: If there’s one clear difference, having played both games on Xbox and PC, I have to say I like Reckoning’s PC interface and control scheme much better.  Swapping in right-mouse abilities with the number keys and having a separate key to block (apart from two attacks) was refreshing. Also, Forgotten Realms’ stark and unforgiving north and its people will strike a little too close to home for me in snowy February, and Reckoning’s vivid hues and slightly caricatured character models will be as welcome as an ergonomic shovel.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning High Level Preview

Yet both Reckoning and Skyrim tell compelling stories, both offer dozens of hours of content and plenty of free time-devouring side features like crafting and housing, and both deliver the epically sweeping über hero experience. Because both do so in such different ways, I can safely say that if I only had the budget for one fantasy RPG this winter, I’d buy both.

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