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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning creates an interesting world and gives you good combat options, but the whole thing overstays its welcome a bit.

Some abilities let you close the gap on your enemies.

In very broad strokes, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is comparable to games in the Elder Scrolls series and, to some extent, games in the Fable series. It's easy to want to think of it as "Oblivion but third-person with faster, more combo-oriented combat," but that doesn't quite fit. You'll be able to call the names of other games out as you see the various things contained in Amalur, but it has a different style and scope than the games you're most likely to compare it to. That's just enough to give it a feel all its own.

The main quest line and the world surrounding it is probably the most gripping thing in all of Reckoning. You begin the game on a slab, as a corpse that marks yet another failed experiment at the Well of Souls, a dark science project designed to let humans and the other less-resilient races of the world come back from the dead, just like the Tuatha--evil elves that reincarnate after death--do. Amalur is also a world governed by fate, with fortune tellers ("fateweavers") all over the world able to let individuals know how things will end up. As the first non-immortal to be resurrected, you also re-appear as a blank slate to those weavers. The natural order of things is being upset, and by inserting yourself into various situations, you're literally making a difference in the world. This starts as a quest to figure out who you were before you died and returned--a detail you've conveniently forgotten--but quickly blows up into a quest to save the world. This certainly isn't the first game to deal with these sorts of ideas, but it's done well here just the same.

At the outset, you'll get to choose your character's race and basic appearance, but there's no class choice at the beginning of Reckoning. Instead, you'll place skill points into three different skill trees as you gain experience points and levels. The trees conform to the basic warrior, rogue, and mage archetypes and they'll give you active abilities--like spells and traps and stuff--as well as passive bonuses and additional combat options. As you spend points in the trees, you'll qualify for various destinies. Equipping a destiny gives you a stat bonus that corresponds to the way you've already been spending your points. So if you go strictly into the warrior tree ("Might"), you'll get bonuses that help warriors. Spending in the rogue tree ("Finesse") unlocks destinies that give you better ranged damage, and spending across multiple trees unlocks destinies like Battlemage, which give characters a boost to magic as well as straight-up fighting. In the end, I found the cross-class destinies to be the most useful, mostly because none of the high-level abilities in any of the trees are all that exciting.

Weapons with magical effects glow to let you know what they're going to do to your foes.

Every time you gain a level, you''ll also be able to spend one point in a separate section of passive skills. This is how you get better at crafting, potion-making, persuasion, detecting hidden objects, picking locks, and so on. You can also find trainers in the world who, for a fee, will give you an extra point in one of your categories. Though some are more useful than others, by the end of the game it was simple to have maxed out every one of these stats.

The game is, as you might expect, broken up into quests. You'll start with quests that are part of the main storyline, but there are also faction-specific quest lines to pursue as well as scads of side quests and tasks strewn throughout the kingdom of Amalur. As a general rule, the better quests are the ones that show up higher in your quest log. The main quest line is pretty good, and it takes you across most of the game's world on its own. The faction quests are also quite good, for the most part, with the House of Ballads quest line probably being my favorite. That line is one of the best at demonstrating how the Summer Fae--these are also immortal elf-like guys, only they don't all want to murder you--view the world. They keep reenacting world events again and again, retelling the same stories for each generation. But with the world changing and fate not being as certain as it used to be, these tellings have gone completely off the rails. Your part in the quest line, if you so choose, is to play a role in these reenactments, killing the ones that need to be killed, saving the ones that need to be saved, and so on. The line serves as a great introduction to what the world is all about, and without it, you'll probably be left struggling to figure out what all this Fae business means for the world around you.

Then there are the side quests. Though there are a few objectives here and there that are reasonably interesting, this part of the quest log gets immediately clogged with menial tasks. This is where the game's dialogue, which is usually pretty well-written, just gets in the way and the game becomes a factory assembly line of quest after quest after quest. Obviously, these are optional tasks, so my recommendation is to skip as many as you see fit. They'll pad out the game and give you a reason to venture into every little cave in the universe, but they also turn what would have been a terrific 25-hour experience into a 60-hour grind. The other problem I ran into as a result of my completionist tactics was that I eventually became way too powerful. By crafting gems that regenerate health when socketed into armor and socketing them into as much as my armor as possible, I effectively became invincible. Most of the enemies out in the world conned as gray, meaning they weren't worthy opponents (not that that fact stops them from attacking you). In caves and other enclosed areas, enemies appear to scale to your level, but by this point I was so powerful that the interesting combat of the early game boiled down to simple button mashing by the end. Nothing could touch me. The optional combo attacks became totally unnecessary. The game lets you change the difficulty on the fly, but the hard setting doesn't change the enemy tactics to make it more challenging. If anything, it appears that it just gives everyone more hit points.

The bigger weapons really tear people up, but you'll have to take care when winding up.

Up until that point, the combo-driven combat felt pretty good. Each style of weapon has its own spots on the skill tree, and you can spend points there to unlock additional attacks that come when charging a button press, or delaying your taps, or attacking from a blocking position, and so on. The combat feels active, especially when compared to the slow, block-and-strike moves of an Elder Scrolls game. You can equip two weapons at the same time, and each weapon gets its own button. If you like, you can combine fast-attacking daggers with a slower hammer or greatsword, but I found the bow to make an excellent secondary weapon for dealing with enemies at a distance.

Loot is sort of a big deal in Reckoning, and it's color-coded to give you an easy way to see an item's rarity. Some armor has slots for gems to let you tweak it to your liking, but there are a ton of different potential effects, like poison damage, fire damage, extra damage during the daytime, better critical hits, bonus health or mana, and so on. When you loot a corpse or a chest, you can easily take all items, but it's also a great time to compare the item you're considering to what you already have equipped. The game makes comparing loot to your existing gear very easy, and if you grab something that isn't useful, you can add it to your junk pile with the touch of a button. The junk system is nice, because once you get to a vendor, you can sell everything you've flagged as junk with one button press. I ended up flagging a ton of things as junk, mostly because the game seems predisposed to giving you gear made for warriors, which often requires you to have spent a specific number of points in the Might tree. By the end of my time with the game, I had over three million gold. That's... a lot of money.

There are plenty of really great things to see and do in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and that stuff--the main quest line, the faction quests, and the interesting combat--makes the game fairly easy to recommend. But it's hard not to be at least a little disappointed when you start seeing the various spots where the game doesn't live up to the high bar set by its best content. If you finish it fast enough to prevent those doldrums from setting in, you'll have a much better time than the person who digs through every nook and cranny to finish every single side quest.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
95 Comments
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Edited by BananaHace

Heard mixed things about this, still pretty skeptical honestly

Posted by darklink6849

I'll pass.

That quicklook really turned me off.

Posted by Cyrisaurus

Seems like a singleplayer WoW, but good

Posted by Zzzleepy

Apart from the Destiny system I don't think this game has anything that draws me in, it just looks so... bland and boring.

Posted by Sammo21

I have this setting in my car right now along with The Darkness 2. Pretty excited.

Posted by Yummylee

After already hearing Jeff's thoughts across the bombcast and quicklook, this is exactly what I expected. And while I was going to get KoA no matter the review, it's always comforting to have a little extra assurance.

Posted by CJduke

The biggest surprise of this review for me is that Jeff really liked the main story and the faction stuff. I'm really glad to hear that stuff is entertaining and I'm looking forward to playing more of this game.

Posted by Phatmac

Looks awesome, I don't really understand the complaints, but whatever. I'll pick it up eventually.

Posted by sixpin

Great review. I pIcked this and Darkness II up today. I expect to enjoy both titles quite a bit.

Posted by Milkman

Was not expecting such a positive review after the Quick Look.

Posted by shrinerr

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Posted by damswedon

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Ugh. You need to be shot for that.

Posted by mbr2

Weird

Posted by Hot_Karl

Sounds about right, yeah. I'm digging the art style & combat, but it looks a bit generic otherwise.

But hopefully this means we're getting a cool new franchise, and this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Posted by Govannan

The actual review seems more like a 3 star? Don't know whether to pick this up as I rarely agree with Jeff on games, and he's kind of hot and cold on it. Think I'll wait for Brad/Vinny's thoughts on the Bombcast.

Posted by kiwi_whisker

Picked it up on steam today, was really unsure if I should buy it launch - but I like what they were trying to do and it seems perfectly serviceable. I think ill be playing it on hard mode to get a little more challenge.

Edited by IAmNotBatman

@shrinerr: Find your nearest petrol/gas station, buy some matches/a lighter, cover yourself in the flammable fluid and set fire to yourself.

This looks to me like Xenoblade with a better combat system and graphics.

Posted by BelligerentEngine

@Govannan said:

The actual review seems more like a 3 star? Don't know whether to pick this up as I rarely agree with Jeff on games, and he's kind of hot and cold on it. Think I'll wait for Brad/Vinny's thoughts on the Bombcast.

Do you think they'll have a lower opinion of it than Jeff? Vinny and Brad tend to be a lot hotter on RPGs than the other members of the crew, Vinny in all practical senses gave Dragon Age 2 a 3.5.

Posted by beard_of_zeus
@sixpin said:

Great review. I pIcked this and Darkness II up today. I expect to enjoy both titles quite a bit.

Yeah, I just picked up Amalur, and really wanted to get Darkness II as well, but I'm gonna hold out for a sale on the latter even though I really want to play it. 
 
@Abyssfull said:

After already hearing Jeff's thoughts across the bombcast and quicklook, this is exactly what I expected. And while I was going to get KoA no matter the review, it's always comforting to have a little extra assurance.

Yup. I enjoyed the demo a lot so I was probably going to get this either way. I do appreciate Jeff's advice about avoiding completionist tendencies, though, because that's definitely me.
Posted by ABK_92

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Goddamn you man. GODDAMN YOU!

Posted by joshth

Glad to see this game turned out pretty well.

Posted by JoeyRavn

@Cyrisaurus said:

Seems like a singleplayer WoW, but good

This is exactly why I'm interested in this game. I've always played MMOs as if they were singleplayer games, but the lack of overarching story in most of them always made me get tired of them pretty quick.

Posted by Beb

I was expecting a 3-star review from Jeff on this one.

I didn't enjoy the demo and will be passing on this for now, but I am glad to hear that the game is 'better' than it seems. Maybe I will pick it up during a Steam Sale.

Posted by Rookwood

The combat may be fun but those animations are terrible. Stiff, almost early PS2 era quality :(

I'm already getting taken out of the experience and I haven't even touched the game.

Posted by mrcraggle

@Govannan: Richard Mitchell over at Joystiq gave it a 5/5 and Gabe from Penny Arcade seems very into too.

Posted by BaconGames

The only thing holding me back is the art style really. It's easy for me to treat this like a linear loot-based RPG more or less but man I wish that art style wasn't so generic.

Edited by Seppli

I'll try hard not to go the completionist route. Then again, I'm the type that can enjoy arduous amounts of menial tasks. The whole overleveled/overpowered deal kinda soured me on Skyrim though (albeit 100 hours in), so I am wary of the problem and will try to keep this specific design flaw from spoiling the fun prematurely.

Really wish they'd have put more effort into the hard difficulty. I think a genuine challenge could make a game like KoA:R a truely break-out experience. That said, I'll definitely enjoy this powertrip. Hopefully it'll last all the way through all the meaningful main and faction quest content.

Posted by hollams

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

I reckon so....

Posted by Ulfghuld

@Milkman: Yeah, me either!

Edited by what

It sounds to me like it has the exact same issues as the elder scrolls but packaged in a different game. The problem these games always run into is providing a thousand things to do that are interesting without making you into superman. Health regen in this sounds kinda like chameleon in elder scrolls. You can get a 100% chameleon and have no one see you but its a damn boring way to play the game. And lets be honest in all of the oblivion games the side quests get kinda samey eventually. This game sounds pretty good all around and I'll probably get it eventually.

Posted by algertman

You know, I loved Fable 1 and didn't really care for the other 2. I think I will give this one a go.

Posted by Phototropic

The quests sound very similar to Skyrim which had extremely boring Miscellaneous quests on top of the fact that you no longer get any XP for completing them.

I'm willing to give this game a shot while limiting the extraneous quests.

Posted by Encephalon

Was not expecting 4 stars at all.

Posted by Vodun

@damswedon said:

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Ugh. You need to be shot for that.

Do you....reckon that's a fair punishment?

Posted by fini_fly

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

I... reckon it might be.

Posted by Corvak

This game sort of popped in under the radar. Despite being relatively unknown, its got some really good talent behind it, and I decided to pick it up after seeing it getting good scores from across the internet.

Online
Posted by Cincaid

@Vodun said:

@damswedon said:

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Ugh. You need to be shot for that.

Do you....reckon that's a fair punishment?

ENOUGH

Posted by spazmaster666

Despite the combat not being very challenging in most cases, it's still a hell of a lot of fun. It's true that creative combat is not a necessity in most cases (depending on how you level of course) but that doesn't mean you can't get creative in the ways that you dispatch your foes. I do agree the side quests are kind of a grind though, but I can't help but want to complete them whenever I come across them. Hence why I'm already quite a few hours into the game and haven't even touched the main quest.

Posted by Brackynews

@Cincaid said:

@Vodun said:

@damswedon said:

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Ugh. You need to be shot for that.

Do you....reckon that's a fair punishment?

ENOUGH

Don't make a Big Huge deal out of it.

Posted by Brackynews

Because I heard some very specific recommendations against how the demo was put together, I'm going to give this a rental instead. Spending money to determine if a game goes on my wish list is usually a pretty good sign!

Congrats 38 Studios on all the positive vibes.

Posted by benspyda

Doesn't sound any different to Skyrim with the becoming too powerful. I guess rpg developers have a hard time balancing armor and weapon enchantments. Which is why leaving smithing and enchanting till later in the game made Skyrim a more enjoyable game.

Posted by AxleBro

this is great news. i could tell it wasnt 5 stars but in the quickoook you focused to much on the negative, overall i think the quicklook alone is a poor representation of how you feel about this game. but after reading this i understand why the quicklook was so negative. maybe you should record it while you will enjoy the game, makes the overall content of the video better.

Posted by Ghostiet
@Brackynews said:

@Cincaid said:

@Vodun said:

@damswedon said:

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Ugh. You need to be shot for that.

Do you....reckon that's a fair punishment?

ENOUGH

Don't make a Big Huge deal out of it.

You deserve to be a shot with a .38.
Posted by fox01313

Nice review of this, even though I'm still undecided on getting it right now. Figure once I get done with a bulk of Skyrim I'll take this on though not in a huge rush for getting it on day 1. Good to know that when I get it in a few weeks that it's going to be a fun time in this game world even though it's missing the defeated (or something close to it) text when you do finally die.

Posted by Mystyr_E

@Ghostiet: That's a very seductive but delicious way to shoot someone

Posted by TheHT

Hm, beefing up enemy hit points on hard wouldn't make combat more interesting, just longer.
That's not a good thing.

Posted by Kiri90

Yeah, I think I'm passing on this one as well. I'm really interested in playing The Darkness 2 now, since I had a lot of fun with the demo.

Posted by bkbroiler

@Ghostiet said:

@Brackynews said:

@Cincaid said:

@Vodun said:

@damswedon said:

@shrinerr said:

I guess the question is, "Is Kingdoms of Amalur... beckoning me to play it?"

Ugh. You need to be shot for that.

Do you....reckon that's a fair punishment?

ENOUGH

Don't make a Big Huge deal out of it.

You deserve to be a shot with a .38.

You guys should all be hung by your Electronic Arts.

Posted by Finch

My initial reaction to this game was Torchlight with a different camera. Especially in the UI I think the comparison really rings true. Surprised more people haven't made the same connection.

I like the look of this game but with the QL and now this review I don't think it's going to find its way on to my self any time soon.

Edited by SagaciousJones

Jeff: This starts as a quest to figure out who you were before you died and returned--a detail you've conveniently forgotten--but quickly blows up into a quest to save the world. This certainly isn't the first game to deal with these sorts of ideas, but it's done well here just the same.

I'm glad people other than obscure RPG fans are recognizing that this premise is ripped directly from Planescape: Torment. (Except from the "saving the world" part--P:T was all about your personal story)

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