Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review (PC)
38 Studios and Big Huge Games are hoping for a big win with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Fans of Copernicus the upcoming MMO set several hundred years in Reckonings future are too, since solid sales will lead to a much smoother launch of 38 Studios premier MMO.
Is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning a true twist of fate - a great action RPG experience and a story-rich introduction to the biggest new IPs of 2012? Find out in Ten Ton Hammers latest review!
Reckonings realistic fantasy violence has a fair amount of blood, but ascribes most of its realism to the Todd McFarlane touch. Execution animations are less gore and more realism pull off a spiders head or drive a Brownies body onto a spike of fate energy and you can almost feel the cartilage and tendons snapping.
Gameplay - 95 / 100
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, like any RPG, is defined by quests. What makes Reckoning a star of its genre is that the sheer number of quests - and, as importantly, the pacing of quests - is just about perfect. Side quests and faction quests are interesting enough the House of Ballads faction quest was particularly affecting and the main quest never felt urgent enough to make me rush through the side attractions.
The boss fights usually the underwhelming pitfall of a game this size - have been surprisingly varied, incorporating both standard scripted encounters, staged God of War-style gargantuan boss fights, and even a few novel affairs such as a running gunfight of sorts.
Reckoning aptly sets the stage for its surprisingly varied boss fights.
Combat, coupled with fluid and imaginative animations, is half of Reckoning’s formula to keep a very lengthy game from ever becoming a grind. The moves (combos) are simple enough for just about anyone to master, and are just enough to keep the game out of pure button-mashing tedium. Weapons such as the chakrams, the daggers (coupled with stealthy CoD-style execution moves), and hammers add style points and variety
As for the other half of Reckoning’s patented anti-grind formula, Big Huge has put together a surprisingly varied slate of quests. While many quests were accessible and familiar to RPG or MMO players, few ventured into the droll territory of traditional fetch or kill-x-troll-shamans quests, and the ones that do keep you moving forward through Amalur’s gorgeous and varied landscape enough that you probably won’t notice.
Having too many quests isn’t a problem, but not being able to see multiple open quest markers on the world map quickly becomes irritating. Unlike a newer MMO, where you can see a number of quests in a given area and plan your evening accordingly, Reckoning forces you to dance between the quest log, the local map, and the world map to determine which quests can be done on the way to what you really want to do. It’s a stumpy process that can lead to a fair amount of backtracking.
UI problems carry over into crafting. On the whole, crafting in Reckoning is a modest improvement over other RPG games: skill determines the likelihood and opportunities you have to gather ingredients, the combining process is simple, and the outcome is never in question. I like that components weigh nothing, so you only need make what you need for your next dungeon run. Several UI inefficiencies start to get peevish not being able to see what open sockets are available for gem shards as you’re Sagecrafting, for example but the overall process is far more comfortable and straightforward than in other games of Reckoning’s ilk.
Character development has its own twists as well. It’s largely a matter of distributing points one into non-combat skills, five into combat skill trees (finesse, might, or sorcery) per level then choosing a destiny. A destiny is sort of a class you choose after you’ve allotted your combat skill points., which seems backwards from most RPGs but works nicely; heightening the powers you’ve already elected to take.
Graphics - 95 / 100
We first heard the term “stylized realism” from 38 Studios’ own Thom Ang at Comic Con 2008. Since then the term has come to be closely associated with World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, but the term could easily apply to a number of games pre-dating WoW: Fable, Black and White, and Zelda: The Ocarina of Time just to name a few.
So while comparing Amalur to Azeroth is tempting, both games offer a visual style that belongs to gaming, not just Blizzard. Reckoning comes into it’s own when you look at its innovative character models (boggarts, leanshes, and trolls) and devastatingly kickass combat animations in particular.
True, Reckoning uses a bright palette like all of the above-mentioned games (and in stark contrast to the greys and browns of Skyrim), but Amalur comes off as a much more warm and inviting setting than most games in its genre. From story to environment design, R.A. Salvatore promised a world we’d want to save, and Reckoning delivers.
It takes artistic skill to make a corpse pile look pretty.
While Reckoning nails the setting, character models, and combat animations, the game’s facial animations during NPC dialogue (not cutscenes) are awful. Reminiscent of Geoff, the robot skeleton sidekick on Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show, the jaw moves as the character speaks (albeit barely), but the rest of the face remains lifelessly fixed.
Considering how natural and fluid animations are throughout the rest of the game, lackluster facial animations are especially jarring. Since KoA: Reckoning uses the same facial animation software (FaceFX) as titles like Batman: Arkham City, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, this might be an error in implementation that can be ironed out in future patches.
Sound - 82 / 100
Composer Grant Kirkhope has been away from the games industry since 2008, and we’re lucky to have him back. More classically trained and focused than many composers in his field, Kirkhope happily reintroduces mood-inducing elements of his craft. For example, lower woodwinds such as the bassoon were musical agents of the fantastical ever since Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (or Looney Tunes, if you prefer). Somehow game composers have largely forgotten that in an avalanche of Wagnerian brass, but thankfully Kirkhope (along with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra) weaves these and other underused elements into his musical tapestry without the sound seeming cheesy or dated.
While Reckoning’s two and a half hours of orchestral music is perfectly paired with scenery changes and boss fights and other elements of the game’s audio design shine (the steady wet thump of mill grindstones and the lute music peeling out into village squares from taverns, for example), but Reckoning’s voiceover dialogue borders on immersion-breaking.
Voiceover should have been the value added portion of the story experience. Throughout development, Big Huge touted the game’s 30,000 lines of dialogue (despite a mute protagonist) and VO direction as a strength of the game. Instead, too few actors covering too many parts, but overdone accents, neighborly-sounding Tuatha foes (did the ghost of Mr. Rogers voice these guys?), and a general lack of grit and gravel in voices (coupled with the facial animation problems mentioned above) all of these frequently take away from an otherwise compelling story experience.
Value - 87 / 100
The launch price point of $US 59.99 might seem like a lot to pay after the game glut of holiday season 2011. But 76 completed quests and roughly 40 hours in, I was just on the cusp of the Siege of Mel Senshir what Big Huge Games described as just a little past the halfway point of the game and I was already experiencing a good problem: quest overload.
Reckoning somehow always avoids that 'another dungeon, another hundred corpses' feeling - an acheivement for an aRPG.
Reckoning simply gives players way too much to do at any given time, and there’s enough quality in Reckoning’s quantity that I want to do it all. Considering that most action RPGs barely stray from the main quest, this is a very positive development.
Lasting Appeal - 82 / 100
Replayability is always a consideration with single player games, but with playtime estimates in the hundreds of hours and little reason to reroll , it’s hard to imagineou can always visit a fateweaver to respec or a mirror to re-customize. The only features of your character you can’t change are your race and the deity (or non-deity) you worship. These beginning features seem largely inconsequential to your character - I've yet to find an NPC that makes reference to my Verani race - so even with Reckoning’s limited selection of humanoid characters, I’m not sweating a lack of replayability since the game’s jammed packed with plenty of worthwhile quests and side quests.
Pros and Cons
- A gorgeous and engaging world with plenty of hooks for DLCs and a future MMO.
- Reckoning is an absolutely engaging fantasy experience where the main story and nearly every side quest winds around the idea that you’re character is not just disrupting - but improving - the fate of the world.
- The RPG genre has never had more fluid and interesting combat animations, and, owing in large part to mindblowing visuals, combat itself never becomes stale.
- Occasionally lousy camera angles sometimes make flanking attacks and exercise in click and pray.
- Facial animations and voiceovers are stumpy and forced.
- Several UI blunders - only one quest is viewable on the world map at a time, items cannot be equipped or junked with a single click when looting, etc.
On its own, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a fun, nuanced, and well-told story with fluid combat and mesmerizing visuals. As the lead-in for a grand new fantasy IP, the writers make a stretch or two (Roman Gnomes make me think of a Travelocity commercial), but Amalur is a world I hope to visit again.
Overall 90/100 - Great
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