Few games attempt to be so bold as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Aspirations of proving that a massive, open world RPG on the scale of Skyrim can also have great combat were more than enough to keep my eye on Reckoning as soon as it entered public knowledge. My excitement level for the game varied from pants soiling to completely tepid and back again all during preview coverage, and finally it was with eager hands that I unwrapped (pun less than intended) my copy a few weeks ago.
In the world of Amalur, fate has kindly wrapped up the story for us with a neat little bow. Everyone has a purpose, everything is foretold. Until, that is, our intrepid main character is unceremoniously brought back from the dead just in time to wreck fate’s proverbial shop. After a fairly brief tutorial dungeon, you are released into the world to do as you will.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. It is impossible, at this point, to not draw immediate comparisons to that other giant open world RPG that just came out a few short months ago, for good or bad. So, if that happens to be why you’re here, I’ll keep it short and sweet for you. Does Reckoning have better combat than Skyrim? You bet your left chakram it does. Is Reckoning a better game than Skyrim? No, oh no, hell no, not by a long shot. Do not be deterred, however, because Reckoning is not a game that any RPG player should miss.
Still, it all comes down to the final product, and product is one thing Reckoning has in spades. This game is long, even if you avoid side quests. The line heard over and over from developer Big Huge Games before release was that their “speed run” of beating the game with 100% completion took them a short 200 hours. Well, I haven’t played 200 hours of Reckoning, but I see absolutely no reason to doubt them.
As a story, Reckoning does a fine job of spinning a fairly typical, but mostly interesting, fantasy tale. Don’t expect to be shocked by any of the game’s events, and I’d be amazed if you remembered any character names regardless of how many hours you spend in Amalur. Events transpire, and you are reminded at every turn that you are free of fate’s grasp and can do whatever you want (even though you can’t, the game features very little in the way of choice for the player.) Look for tropes upon tropes as you perform every heroic deed imaginable. Seriously. Every single one. At least once.
As a world, Big Huge Games did a passable job of creating Amalur. Unfortunately, coming right on the heels of Skyrim, Amalur just doesn’t feel alive, and it certainly doesn’t feel dangerous. Among the oddities I noticed was an absolute lack of children. Seriously, is the youngest person in the world in their mid to late 20′s? Some people better get busy, or this war won’t mean anything and Amalur will look a lot like Florida in the winter. There is certainly no equivalent to the dragons in Skyrim, which lend that game a sense of constant tension. Reckoning remains absolutely predictable and static. This is a game, not a living, breathing world.
Finally, there is the combat. If Big Huge Games’ goal was to make the RPG with the best combat, well, they haven’t met Mass Effect 3. Still, the combat is good. With a skill system that allows extensive weapon specializations, a variety of special attacks, and a refreshing list of weapon options, this is absolutely where Reckoning shines. The world is pretty, but boring. The story is solid, but predictable. The combat, however, is satisfying. Expect to work on timing your button presses to pull of specific combos, launch your enemy into the air, and generally keep them off balance in order to isolate and destroy them one by one, and expect it to be pretty fun. Also, in a move that I can do nothing but praise, Reckoning lets you respec your character at the drop of a hat. I discovered about 20 hours in that I just didn’t want to be a mage/thief as planned. One quick trip to visit a Fateweaver, and a couple of thousand gold later, and I was a pure thief. This can be done as many times as you wish, though the gold cost increases each time.
All in all, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a success. It does, however, fall into that dreaded category of games that lead me to believe the sequel is where the really great game will be. That is the problem, after all, with Reckoning. It is often very good, but never great. Don’t quit your job or neglect your spouse over it, but should you find yourself with somewhere between 1 and 200 unclaimed hours, then by all means dive right in.