Walking into a small room in Darling Harbor I was greeted by a scene from a medieval play, except of course for the line of TVs and Xbox 360s taking up the centre of the room. There was clearly some PR magic going on here setting the scene for me to get my first taste of a game that I have been following closely for some time now, Kingdoms of Amalur. I sat down with my 12 companions and listened as lead designer Ian Frazier and producer Sean Bean walked us through some of the game’s features. They outlined a unique character system, their goals for the combat mechanic and showed us some of the more complex abilities that will be on offer later in the game.
After the presentation was complete I picked up my 360 controller, put on an enormous set of headphones and began my journey. Starting at the beginning of the game I was shown a cut scene that set up the world well. The basic story is a God of Death worshiping elf is waging war on all of the mortal races of Amalur and is slowly winning the battle. I was then transported to the character creation screen. This seemed to be fairly typical of the genre, allowing the me to create my own avatar in traditional methods. To be honest I didn’t spend a lot of time here as I was keen to see as much of the campaign as possible in my allotted two hours. So I pressed the random character button and plunged into the game.
Like all good RPGs the start of the game is a nice, easily followed tutorial. What Kingdoms did differently was it gave me a taste of the three different skill trees. I got to handle magic, melee weapons, archery and stealth, all within the first 10 minutes and it wasn’t until I levelled up for the first time that I had to choose a path to follow. The levelling mechanic enabled me to spread my talent points over the different trees. After a moment of indecision I settled on a combination of archery and magic, creating a fighting style I hadn’t seen before yet that felt completely natural.
Exiting the tunnels the tutorial was set in I was taken aback by the colour in the world. A large amount of personality was present with vibrant green trees, deep blue waterfalls and a wonderfully detailed village. The style sat somewhere comfortably in between the cartoony characters of Fable and the dark realistic landscapes of Skyrim. In my two hours with the game I also ventured in to a ruined cathedral, a swamp reminiscent of Dagobah and a cave system that conjured images of Torchlight. All of the environments were beautifully crafted.
The scenery was not the only beautiful thing that I laid my eyes on. The combat was impressive. The game played more like an action game such as Darksiders than a traditional RPG and flashy combos and spectacular spells were the order of the day. A flaming staff I found early in the game made short work of most foes and I was able to combo it with my sword, shield and bow to great effect. As I levelled up, I was given access to more and more combos creating a fighting system that is as good as any brawler I have seen.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream though. The story, while starting with an interesting premise, seemed to take too long to get anywhere. This is obviously hard to judge though in a two hour session with a game that is obviously going to take 20+ hours to complete. There was enough in my time to suggest a complex narrative lays in wait for anyone looking for it, it may just take a few hours to get to the meat and potatoes of the tale. Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the bland NPC characters. Plain and clichéd is the best way to describe the characters I ran into. Elves looked like elves, humans looked like 18thcentury humans and dwarves looked like…. well you get the picture. It’s a shame that a world with so much detail has such average looking inhabitants. The enemies on the other hand were the complete opposite. This is where I could see the influence of famed character creator and artist Todd McFarlane. The evil denizens of Amalur oozed originality, character and personality and were a pleasure to go toe-to-toe with.
In the end my time with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning felt all too brief. I was drawn into the world and was enjoying my stay there immensely. Everything about the game told me that this was made by a team of people that truly cared about what they were creating. When the game was first announced it struck me as just another fantasy RPG but after a couple of hours, I felt like Mass Effect 3 has some competition as my most anticipated RPG of 2012. I only hope that the full experience lives up to my now high expectations.