In the all-too-orderly world of action RPG development, you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. If you stray too far away from reputable formula the margin for error substantially increases; pander to it and you’re in danger of churning out an also-ran clone, rendering your vision entirely irrelevant to all but the undemanding, unchosen few. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a game that, on the surface, doesn’t take a single creative risk. Visually it’s one part Skyrim, three parts Fable and two parts World of Warcraft – massively derivative properties themselves – and combat aside, the gameplay is an affable mixture of those same three titles. What makes the game so memorable – and against all odds, Amalur really is memorable – is the way that every single aspect of it is treated with the same degree of attentive care and consideration.
That old Hollywood adage – about how pinning a great script to a great director almost always results in a great movie – is well worth a citation here, because the dream team of Todd McFarlane, Ken Rolston and R.A. Salvatore is essentially what makes Amalur so palatable. Before being fully unveiled the property almost seemed to have been custom built to dissolve from people’s memories, but this trio have clearly grafted overtime to imbue it with as much flavour (and content) as physically possible. If you didn’t know that Amalur was originally supposed to be an MMO it’d only take you a few seconds to arrive at that conclusion anyway; looting plays a huge part, you have to be up for a grind and the amount of faction and side-quest content is best described as being preposterously plentiful. There is easily as much to do on the fringes of Amalur as there is to do on the concourse.
It may take most of its inspiration from innumerable superior games, but Amalur does bring something fresh and hands-down brilliant to the table; a perpetually adaptable fate system. This is a pleasure that endures right up until the campaign’s final beats: an ability to completely restructure your character on a whim. Amalur’s skill trees are entirely flexible, so whenever you feel like a change (or access to new moves and weaponry) you’re fully accommodated. Whilst the default difficulty tier is far from arduous, reworking your own skill set (in order to take on a powerful enemy, say) does lend a quiet air of strategy to the experience. Conversely the combat has an unashamedly arcadey frisson to it, and it’s seriously good fun right from the get-go; thankfully, Amalur isn’t one of those games that forces you to extensively level up before you can start playing with its wide selection of very cool toys.
Visually Amalur is slick and inviting throughout, although Todd McFarlane’s knack for creating memorable characters is undone somewhat by R.A. Salvatore’s apparent lack of similar skills. Whilst the dialogue is functional and the lore boundlessly comprehensive (and unusually compelling, especially in the run-up to the finale) noteworthy characters are at a very significant premium throughout, and it’s difficult not to frequently zone out during the many NPC conversations. Whenever lulls like that emerge in Amalur though, the action is always there to save the day and with its timed parries, emphasis on evasive manoeuvres and relentless speed, it’s genuinely a combat system to cherish. Curt Schilling (the founder of 38 Studios) at one point described Amalur as a cross between Oblivion and God of War; it isn’t as special as either of those two, but as a summary of what this game actually is, it’s far from misleading. Overall, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is about twenty times better than anyone could have been expecting, and it comes unquestionably recommended.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is available now on Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3.
Watch the “Skills & Crafting” trailer for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning below: