Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Score: 88%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: 38 Studios / Big Huge Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Conceptually, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn't very original. It's a role-playing game set in a pseudo open world with a rather standard narrative at the center. However, it's not my job to review concepts. My job is to let you know how good the final game is. Well, hear me: while Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn't original, it's a damn fine role-playing game that's well worth your time and money.

Technically, Reckoning isn't really a stunner. There isn't a whole lot of realism to be found, and not even in the "realistic fantasy" sense. Clearly, the artistic development of the game was given much more attention. And rightly so; while the world of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is somewhat vanilla in terms of fantasy, it's still an attractive, colorful place -- no doubt, thanks (in part, at least) to artistic lead Todd McFarlane. The enemy designs in particular really stand out; they all look and animate well. Oh, did I mention the violence? Reckoning might feature elves and gnomes and the like, but they can lose heads and sprout quarrels from their chests with just as much blood spray as the average Joe. All the animation work that leads up to said blood spray is fantastic as well. There are some mild camera problems here and there, but it usually gets the job done.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has a ton of voice work in it, but none on the part of the player character. Most conversation-capable NPCs are prepared to have lengthy discussions regarding who they are, what they do, and where they live (among several other topics). Maybe I'm spoiled on Mass Effect, but having a player voice really does wonders for the cinematic element most RPGs strive for. I generally like to learn about fictional worlds and lore, but it's got to be done right. Here, it's essentially a series of disjointed lectures that ultimately fail to provide a good hook for the player. But taken at face value, the sound design is adequate; the voice work is solid and the soundtrack is nice and epic. There are some audio/visual sync problems here and there, but not enough to cost the game as a whole.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is another of those "tabula rasa" (no pun intended) role-playing games in which you assume control over a voiceless customizable character in a large, heavily-populated fantasy world and shape his/her destiny through the art of questing. The world it sets up is vaguely interesting, but it fails to completely immerse you like in legendary role-playing franchises like Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls. The lore is there, and some of it is genuinely interesting, but for the most part, it lacks that identifying spark that would have otherwise set it apart from other high-fantasy settings. Not that your own personal story isn't interesting, because it is. After all, casting you as a recently-deceased and freshly resurrected person isn't something the game can run away from.

Lots of people have been asking me what Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning plays like, and I always catch myself giving the same half-assed answer: "It's like Fable, but better." I know what you're thinking, and yes: that is unfair. Reckoning is very similar to Fable in several distinct ways. It's got the same behind-the-back third person perspective and allows your character to be a jack-of-all-trades in terms of combat. It's an experience that sells the illusion of being set in an open world while maintaining a high degree of control over where the player is allowed to go. So it's got the play style of Fable, while having the character growth of classic Western RPGs and questlines that wouldn't feel out of place in an Elder Scrolls game. And why not? After all, the lead designer of the game is Ken Rolston, who was lead designer on Morrowind and Oblivion.

Reckoning differs from Fable in two meaningful ways: it's deeper and far more satisfying. There's much more to do, and the diversions offered usually have a bigger impact on your game. Naturally, veering off the beaten path will result in some kind of recompense. The promise of new gear and more experience is as powerfully alluring as it is in other role-playing games of this sort. And that's the primary force that will keep you playing Reckoning.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning starts off challenging, hitting the sweet spot between difficult and easy. If you end up being put to the sword (tooth, fang, or claw) towards the beginning of your playthrough, it's usually because your reflexes were off or your were otherwise poorly prepared.

It's always a good idea to harvest everything you see and stop at an alchemy lab to craft some consumables. If you lack the skill, you can always use gold to buy some. Becoming skilled to the point where you don't need potions is satisfying in and of itself, but the combat system is too nuanced and deep to let you get too good too quickly. New enemies often call for new tactics. Some enemies can only be dealt with by evading attacks and taking potshots, while others can be felled by a series of arrows.

Reckoning doesn't remain challenging throughout, however. This is indeed one of those role-playing games that allows the player to become all-powerful. It's gratifying at first to carve effortlessly through the Tuatha hordes like a hot knife through butter, but once you get to this point, the game starts to feel a bit like a grind.

Outside of the combat, Reckoning is designed to keep you progressing forward. Waypoints are incredibly accurate and extremely helpful; even if a quest isn't being actively pursued, its respective waypoints remain on the map. That way, you won't have to tinker around with the map or interface every time you stray off the beaten path to investigate something.

Game Mechanics:
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has the single best combat system of any role-playing game I've come across. And I've played a ton of them. I love Skyrim as much as the next gamer, but the constant flailing leaves something to be desired. Reckoning's combat plays like something out of a really well-designed third person action game. It's all about well-timed defense, brutal combos, and constant movement. Secondary weapons, special combat abilities, and magic spells are seamlessly woven into the mix. Stealth, ranged, and melee combat are all viable options for most enemy encounters. You can thin out an enemy encampment's numbers by stealth-killing one or two of them, pull out your bow and one-shot another, and pull out a longsword to finish the rest of them. And in between all of that, you can chuck a lightning bolt or two. It's great.

As your enemies fall to your sword, hammer, dagger, faeblades, staves, scepters, and other tools of destruction, a special meter is filled. Once it tops off, you can enter Reckoning Mode. Time slows to a crawl and you do much more damage than usual. Killing enemies in this mode causes their fates to unravel, and you can choose to perform a fateshift on an unraveling enemy. Doing so initiates a simple quick time event and subsequent gory finishing move. Any unraveling enemies immediately drop dead, and depending on how well you did in the quick time event, you'll earn a hefty experience bonus.

Building a character is one of the most important parts of a modern role-playing game, and Reckoning is positively stuffed with great options. Every time you level up, you are given the opportunity to unlock and upgrade the active and passive skills of your choosing. There's a ton of variety here, and both the hardcore and casual RPG fan will eat this stuff up.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn't perfect, but it gets the important parts wonderfully right. Its storytelling isn't up there with the greats of the genre, but its gameplay's flexibility and tremendous fun factor are more than enough to merit a strong recommendation. All told, it's a great start to what I hope becomes a successful franchise.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.