Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – First Impressions
I’ve spent the past two nights playing around with the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning demo available on Steam. It’s one of the more interesting-looking new IPs scheduled for release in 2012, so I was rather eager to try a nibble or two. I may have also been looking for an excuse to prove to myself that I am capable of playing anything other than Skyrim.
After a brief introductory cutscene in which two gnomes discuss your cadaver, you get to select how that cadaver should look. Character creation is fairly limited, which expedites the process for those who aren’t all that concerned with character appearance, but obsessive nose depth tweakers will find the experience lackluster. The gnomes toss your pretty corpse into a chute, and there your adventure begins.
After climbing down from atop a pile of corpses, you pad your way through a cave until you meet up with one of the gnomes from earlier. He whispers and shouts you through the tutorial as you battle rats, spiders, and Tuatha soldiers. Despite sounding like reject soldiers from Star Wars, the Tuatha are war-crazed Fae bent on destroying humanity. While nobody explicitly states it (at least as far as I went), it comes across fairly clearly that you are the Chosen One, the only one that can put an end to this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.
Upon escaping the doomed laboratory, you find yourself in a lovely spring glade, the sort where gnomish centurions stand guard or writhe in agony here and there. Running along down the path, you soon encounter the game’s first human, a drunk
en Tarot card readerfateweaver who tells you that he can’t see your fate at all. Unsure of whether this is because you are the only person in the history of forever to be revived via the late great Well of Souls or if he’s simply had too much to drink, he tells you to make for the isolated shack of another fateweaver for a second opinion.
At this point, I chose to pick up some side quests, and they consumed the remainder of my 45 minutes of play time. I only finished one–rescuing some poor sot from falling in with thieves–because the next quest made me angry. It was easy enough to steal a book of scriptures from a monastery. However, when I returned it to the questgiver, she only cowered before my now-terrifying visage and would not accept the book or give me my payment. Other villagers treated me with similar fear and trembling, and the guards suddenly found great sport in trying to arrest me. Figuring that stealing the book was not how I was supposed to go about it, I attempted to make what peace I could with the injured villagers before leaving town.
Having concluded my adventures thus, my time ran out and I slept.
Things I enjoyed
-Combat is fluid, responsive, and fun. Mixing magic with melee is simple (on standard PC bindings) and helps mix up the standard stab-me-rip-stab-stab MO of the rogue archetype. I haven’t yet played as a warrior or mage archetype, but I imagine their play styles offer similar fluidity and variety. The ability to combine classes as you see fit should also add some dynamic.
-The art direction feels like a stepped-up version of Torchlight. After spending over a hundred hours in the hyper-realism of Skyrim, running through a colorful, stylized world was refreshing. One can hope that the whimsical appearance belies a main story that doesn’t take itself way too seriously (see: Fable). The all-caps EPIC nature of the trailers may indicate that it will fall into Molyneux’s folly before the end, however.
Things I Didn’t Enjoy
-The combat tutorial happens after you select a race, meaning that you may be locked out of (admittedly trivial) racial bonuses if you end up favoring a style different from the one you expected to play. This can be easily remedied by rerolling your toon, but wading through the opening sequence again could get tiresome.
-Dialogue with NPCs features the all-too-ubiquitous dialogue wheel. Personal opinion, but I fucking hate dialogue wheels.
-Gameplay would sometimes freeze mid-combat for a few seconds, and animations would occasionally blur way out of proportion. I haven’t verified that this is a problem with the game and not my computer, so this may be a moot point. Actually, given the number of bugs still present in Skyrim nearly two months post-launch, I doubt very much that these will be addressed prior to Amalur’s ship date. We have grown accustomed to imperfect games, it seems.
Verdict: this won’t be a day-one purchase for me (given my budget, very few games are), but I do plan on picking it up at some point. The synthesis of Fable-style combat and Torchlight-inspired visuals fleshing out a skeleton of Elder Scrolls design is very promising, and I’m hungry for a new take on fantasy WRPG games.