I always feel like a total jerk when I try to reduce new games down to simple equation, but in the case of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the combination of these two specific things makes for a pretty exciting notion.
What if you took an Elder Scrolls game and added a solid foundation of combo-based attacks? As far as I'm concerned, the big stumbling block in games like Oblivion was its funky, stilted melee combat. It certainly didn't make that game unplayable, but it was something you sort of had to put up with in order to get to all the amazing quests. So what if you tossed in a more fluid system that feels like something slightly closer to a God of War-like character action game? Cool, right? Yeah, it actually looks like it could be very cool.
The demo I saw opened with a bit of in-town exploration in the city of Rathir, with a showcase of the ability to pick the pockets of various townsfolk. As you might expect, this requires a bit of stealth, and if you're spotted, the guards aren't exactly happy about it. Getting caught by guards pops up the game's dialogue wheel with multiple options on it. You can start a fight by resisting arrest, lose some XP by opting for jail time, or pay a fine to clear your crimes and get a fresh start on things. From there, the mage/rogue mix found himself a quest. Specifically, a man in town wanted you to go after his daughter, who went out to stop the Ljosalfar elves from infiltrating Rathir, which is inhabited by the Dokkalfar elves. Elf-on-elf violence, man.
Things pick up in a cave, where you find the guy's daughter and agree to help her find three switches that will stop the invading elves. Yeah, hitting switches. Heavy stuff. But this still gave us a good look at the game's combat, which allows you to equip two weapons at once and sort of switch between them on the fly, but the real combos come from putting points into mastering specific types of weapons. So, for example, if you drop a ton of points into daggers, you'll be able to mash out much longer combos by slamming the dagger button. It's not all mashing, though, as you can delay some button presses to branch your combos or hold the button down to charge up some attacks. Other weapon types include things like hammers, swords, and chakram--which are crazy sharp hoop-shaped blades. Different attacks can launch enemies up into the air, setting up juggle opportunities.
Like when you're pickpocketing, stealth can be a factor in combat. Toggling your sneak mode on puts meters above enemy heads that let you know how close they are to detecting you, and getting up close and nailing someone behind without being seen leads to stealth kills. You can also use abilities to regain a stealthy edge, like smoke bombs that confuse nearby enemies.
It's hard to get a feel for character building during such a brief demo, but it at least sounds pretty cool. The game, in case you haven't been keeping up with it, attempts to use a class-free system that lets you grow into something that resembles a class by putting points into the aspects of the game that interest you. So if you want to go straight mage, you can pump your spellcasting full of points. If melee is more your speed, there are plenty of weapon skills to use. Or you can use some mixture of all of these. As you grow, the game will present you with destinies. These are fates that you can equip by visiting a fateweaver, and they give bonuses to the stats used by each particular destiny. So if you're building out your stealth skills and your spell abilities, you might find yourself presented with the "shadowcaster" destiny. Equipping this replaces your default dodge move with a blink-like teleport and adds to your elemental damage. You might find yourself with multiple destinies, and you can swap these out as you see fit.
It's hard to say how the overall game will turn out without seeing more of the story and the quests that go along with it, but a lot of the right pieces appear to be falling into place. I was already paying some attention to Reckoning, but getting this new look at it has definitely moved it up a few slots on my radar. It's due out in 2012.