April 20th, 2012


Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

I'm going to say a lot here, but it all boils down to one conclusion: fun, but forgettable. 

This game bills itself on being a epic fantasy RPG where the action is intense and the player has a great deal of freedom to create the kind of character build they want within the traditional warrior/rogue/mage framework. Unfortunately, while the game doesn't fall completely flat, it doesn't exactly deliver on that promise, either. The combat is fairly fun: most of what I did was hack at things, frequently interspersed with the rolling dodge to either avoid enemy attacks or get into range of the next guy after finishing one off. However, I hit something of a problem about halfway up the level progression: the game got too easy. This is certainly better than being too difficult, but by the end of the game, continuous upgrades to my weapons and especially armor had rendered me all but invulnerable. My health bar barely ever flickered down from full during the entire final level, including the boss fights at the end. And when it did get hurt, I regenerated so quickly that I was usually healed up again before the next shot. While it's kind of nice to stride the earth as an unstoppable colossus, it isn't exactly a tense or engaging gameplay experience. 

The world, as the marketing blurb mentions, was designed at least in part by the famous author R. A. Salvatore. I did find bits and pieces of it interesting, as I usually do, but by and large it's pretty forgettable. There are two varieties of white humans, and two varieties of dark elves. The elves in particular earned my ire because everybody in the game except me seems to be able to tell members of the two groups apart at first glance. In addition to this, there are fae, which are distinct from the elves and are representations of various sorts of natural magical forces. The fae, at least, are very distinct, both from everything else and also between the two major varieties you encounter.

Minor spoilers ahead, not that I think most of you should be concerned. Thematically, the game is supposed to be about fate, death, and rebirth. The main character has, through experimental arcane processes, just come back from the dead with a handy dose of amnesia to explain why they don't know anything. The character is "outside fate", the only creature or spirit in the world that is. As such, you have the power to change the world and the way things will be, especially important because fate has not been kind to the world at large. This doom has been widely prophesied: there are a group of people in the world called fate weavers that can read destinies, knowing with accuracy what will be. In the game, these characters provide a handy service: they can "unbind your destiny" for a fee, which lets you rebuild your character, almost from the ground up. This allows players to change their character to explore different play styles and correct for any mistakes while learning the game. I actually used this twice, and the first time in particular it was very handy. However, the fluff of the game is that for most people, fate weavers have no power to change things. One of the earliest re-curring characters you meet is a fate weaver morose about his impending death. The obnoxious thing about this is that I as a player have no power to know what I'm changing, except when the game tells me because it's relevant to the main plot. If I, say, meet a gnome on the road who is trying to stir up shit between some ogres and fishmen, I don't have the option of realizing that he will succeed anyway and going on to something more important. Sure, eventually the game brings out the "you've screwed everything up so much that now fate reading doesn't work" excuse, but that isn't until almost the end of the game. 

To talk even more screwed up, one of the central points of the game is that the fae can't really die: as a magical part of the world, they'll eventually reincarnate if their bodies are destroyed. But the game really goes back and forth on this: most of the time they can't, except the sometimes where they can. This really came to a head for me in one quest line, where they talk about "the fall of the house" just because all of the members get killed. But it doesn't carry any dramatic weight, because they never explain that there is anything stopping the slain members from reincarnating. Disjointed moments like that spring up all over. 

Dialogue in most of the game is a chore. The main character is a mute, which is something that I find increasingly difficult to excuse, especially given the fairly sizable list of voice actors for a game of this size. Also, even when you're given a choice in dialogue, it's usually not an interesting choice. I learned that the "persuasion" skill, as in most games, is absolutely critical since so much of the time both of the standard options don't actually get you anything, but a successful persuasion might. The main members of the supporting cast are especially bad at conversation: I never saw a reason to care about them (it doesn't help that one of them is effectively a Sidereal Exalt, who mostly exists to move the plot), and some of their characterizations don't make sense. 

Artistically, the game favors the big and the bold. Sometimes, this works: I especially liked Rathir, one of the two biggest cities in the game, which is supposed to be impressive. Sometimes, the game sacrifices function for form, especially in a non-combat environment. The best example of this is the last house in the game, which has basically I all of the services I wanted in the same place, but unfortunately that place is the size of Versailles, and most of the services are in different wings. So if I wanted to get a curse removed, make a magical gem, and then make that gem part of a magical weapon, I'd have to go to three separate wings. That's a substantial amount of time commuting. Other places are like this as well: they're gargantuan just for the sake of size. 

Not that the game really does anything small. At the end of the game, not counting a few tasks I hadn't completed, I had completed about 175 quests. And while I was doing almost every quest that I came across, there were at least two whole quest lines that I didn't touch. Even so, that is a whole hell of a lot of running around. 

I have to go, so I guess I'll leave this as is. I'm not sad I played it, and I certainly got good value out of the game, but I can't really recommend it.