The purpose of my Knee-Jerk Reaction blogs is to give a perspective of the first hours of a game, the ones that help define whether you will continue playing it or put it down in favor of something else. These are not any form of FINAL opinions on the game, but merely early observations that could or could not change through the course of more gameplay.
Total game time so far: 5 hours
Kingdoms of Amalur takes out the stale combat of many RPGs and looks at it from a fresh standpoint like most action-oriented games would. If anything, I think the closest comparisons that can be made is a limited version of the systems found in Bayonetta with a flavor of the feel from El Shaddai. You have your primary weapon and secondary weapon, as well as spells, and you can pretty much combo those in any way that you want to take down an enemy. This type of "free-form combat" is something that many RPGs could take note of, as it would easily lift them up to a higher status.
The game also does a great job of realizing its world. Despite the relatively linear way that things seem to feel (it's a bit more Fable and Dark Souls than it is Skyrim), the immensely large world is vibrant and well-stocked with some interesting people to talk to and enemy types that feel original. We've all seen kobolds before, but these kobolds don't feel like many of the others we typically see in RPGs. You can tell that Big Huge Games had a lot of fun developing the art assets for this game, as they are creative and unique to the world.
The other great thing about Kingdoms of Amalur is in how it handles classes. The Destinies system was one of the major selling points, and this could've been an easy hit-or-miss scenario. Luckily, having the ability to free-form my own class with the skills that I want and not have to rely on strictly being a warrior or strictly being a sorcerer is incredible. The actual Destiny cards themselves are little more than some stat bonuses (more crit chance, more melee damage, more spell damage, etc), but you feel unique regardless of it all. Kudos to the developers for this.
There are a lot of little things that Kingdoms of Amalur also gets right. There are bags already given to you for holding onto reagents, crafting materials, and other things to help keep your inventory space a bit freed up. Also, there is no encumbrance in the game, but instead it is handled by inventory spaces (you start with 70 and can buy different backpacks later with more spots available). The dungeons are well-designed and rarely feel like you are walking into something you've already seen. The faction side stories are just as well-told as the main storyline, something that Skyrim cannot say for itself. I also give mad props to the developers for having a plethora of different weapon types to play around with. Despite having points in greatswords and faeblades at the moment, that hasn't stopped me from playing around with chakrams, bows, daggers, longswords, and even staves. Giving a player variety in a game focused on role-playing is necessary to keep a player intrigued in your combat as well as the gear they pick up.
None of that is to say KoA doesn't have its problems early on. While the combat is more action-oriented, it never feels like the breakneck pace that you WANT it to be. There are also times where you feel like something should've connected in your combo, but it didn't. Some of this could be faulted to the relatively wonky camera that the game uses, as it gets rather scatterbrained and never seems to focus on the combat at hand. This leaves you swinging at things that are somewhere off-camera and wasting precious time fiddling with the camera angle rather than kicking ass. That same camera also could do for being pulled back a little bit, as the up-front style of it really makes me think of Fable a little more than I'd like to.
My other major issue with Kingdoms of Amalur is that a lot of the game feels like it is filled with all the tropes of an RPG...solely to be filled with those tropes, like there was a checklist that said "yes, we have crafting...yes, we have socketing...yes, we have alchemy...yes, we have persuasion and lockpicking and blah blah blah". Some of that stuff is very under-realized. The lockpicking in particular feels a bit clunky and generally easier than you would find in a Bethesda game. I can think of only three times that I've actually had to move the lockpick from its starting position. The magic lockpicking (called dispelling) feels like it was added as a form of variety to the traditional lockpicking mechanism, but it becomes rather irritating because of what feels like a relative amount of inaccuracy when trying to activate the lockpicking runes in the little mini-game it presents.
I should also mention something about loot here. I love loot. Loot in games is one of the biggest reasons I play RPGs. Yes, I dig the stories that they present and want to know about the world and the inhabitants of that world. However, when it comes down to it, we all just want to look like badasses and chop heads off. The biggest problem with many RPGs comes in devaluing the "carrot-on-a-stick" mentality that most RPGs need in order to continue progressing. For example, I should not have purple gear by level 10...from doing story quests. That's just a bad way of handling your color grading, and in turn, you have now devalued the color grading completely by giving me these epics at a low level. I also should not be getting "set bonuses" by level 10. Throwing out sets all willy nilly at early levels makes a lot of other armor completely worthless to a person. Someone took time to program that stuff, and it will more than likely never be seen now. In turn, this means you as a developer have now made it to where people are going to say "I'm not going to replace my purple with a green, even though that green has some more damage than this does".
There are also a lot of other things that hold Kingdoms back from giving me that super tingly feeling of absolute, unadulterated awesomeness. Jumping is handled via a Zelda-esque "jump point" function, meaning that you can't just scale up a few rocks to get to the path you want and instead have to travel an arbitrary distance. This is also something that helps make the game feel a bit more linear than it actually is. The inventory system is relatively clunky, as if it were designed sometime around the end of the PlayStation 2 era. It's serviceable, but there have been great strides made in something as simple as inventory management. There's also an unnecessary density of side quests that feel like little more than menial tasks that you would find in an MMO - get this many of this item, go fetch this, go do things for me because I'm goddamn lazy. Mind you, there are plenty of times that the NPCs you receive those quests from will make fun of the fact that they won't go do these menial tasks themselves, so the self-awareness is nice. However, there's this feeling brewing up in me that thinks all the side quests are eventually going to feel like artificial padding for gameplay time. Maybe it's because I'm not approaching Kingdoms of Amalur like an MMO, which a look at the world map will tell anyone who has played an MMO before exactly the design philosophy of the game. Crafting feels nigh useless so far, especially if we go back to the whole idea of "devaluing" your gear by giving out epics through the main and side storylines. Even then, it never feels like the crafting system is superbly explained, and something that feels completely unexplained are the different diseases, curses, and other status effects that pop up on the right hand side of your HUD. I know that I'm picking up these buffs from different shrines around the world, but what the fuck do they do? TELL ME WHAT THEY DO!
I like it...a lot. Despite all the negatives I can give about it, it's an RPG and I'm only five hours in on a character that is melee-focused. The combat and world more than make up for dealing with nearly decade-old mechanics. The Destinies system raises the bar for all RPGs beyond this to give players more freedom in their "role-playing". If anything, I think that's what I can best classify Kingdoms of Amalur as for me right now: it's a game that's more about playing your role and kicking ass than it is about all of its "RPG checklist" systems. We'll see if these opinions stay the same when I hit over 50+ hours in the game.
What about you? How are you feeling about the game? What are YOUR knee-jerk reactions? Do you agree or disagree? Keep the discussion going.
Until next time, piece.