EA’s loading it’s guns with triple A RPG-ammunition; Mass Effect 3 and SWTOR are the two titles most poised to make big impacts this year, but there’s another slightly lesser known game that may prove to be a shot in the dark.
The upcoming Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning recently launched a demo on Steam, PSN and XBLA. Mixing God of War combat with the medieval fantasy world of games like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls. After playing through as much of the game as we can in the demo, here are our thoughts on the soon-to-be released RPG.
The demo opens at the beginning of the game. I won’t get too far into the plot for brevity and to avoid spoilers, but in a nutshell the world in Reckoning is in the midst of a war. Humans, Gnomes (and elves?) are doing their best to combat the Fae, a race of dark elf-like beings who seem to be able to resurrect after they’ve been defeated. In an effort to hold their own against such an unnatural foe, the other races have been developing a way to bring their own soldiers back to life.
That’s where you come in. Your character has died and returned, which gives context to the character creation some games don’t have. Unfortunately, the options available in the creation system don’t have much depth. Your character looks good, but it only took 20 minutes for me to run into an NPC that looked nearly identical to me.
All things considered though, the character design looks good. It’s a bit cartoony, but the animations are fantastic, and the art style works well against the backdrop of such a dark and morbid story.
Once I had made my character and worked through a short tutorial, I was dropped into the world (the demo gives you 45 mins of time to explore and do quests). The game features and open world, though in a form more reminiscent of MMO zones than Skyrim’s enormous landmass. Thanks to the art design, the world has a very unique and artful aesthetic that’s very welcoming; you want to explore this world based of the visuals alone. But while the locations may offer pretty graphics, it’s in the combat that the game really shine.
Unlike other RPGs, the combat is surprisingly visceral. Well-timed button presses, dodging, QTEs, and a unique magick system are the major focuses of combat, and plays similarly to games like God of War or Darksiders. Unlike those other games, equipped items make a difference to the combat. You might be able to hit an enemy twenty times in a row, but if your weapon only does 5 damage per hit, you won’t do well against stronger enemies. Magick behaves similarly — the damage and number of uses depends on certain stats.
During combat, you build up “fate’. Once the meter is filled, you enter hyper-mode of sorts, where you do more damage, and can execute extremely brutal quick-time-events against enemies, resulting in higher XP gains per kill.
It’s an interesting mix and it works surprisingly well. It’s possibly one of the best combat systems I’ve played in an RPG, and still offers the depth and stat-juggling players expect in the genre. What’s more, equipping items to maximize your character is made extremely easy thanks to Reckoning’s fluid inventory system.
With a streamlined design, and an option to move unused items to your “junk” section, players can free-up their inventory so the can view only the items they want, leaving the rest in a spot to quickly access when trading with merchants. Plus, the armor and weapons all look pretty cool.
Where the game really excels, however, is the class system. It makes sense in the context of the story, but your character’s fate is “unwritten.” What this means in regards to the game mechanics is that as you do certain actions (sneak, attack, use magick) you accumulate points. These points are used to unlock ‘cards’. Equipping a card in effect changes your class by altering your stats which allow you to equip certain items and use different abilities.
Each card is attributed to one or more stats. Strength cards are your warrior classes, sneak are rogues, magick are mage types, but there are also combination categories such as like strength/magick, strength/sneak, sneak/magick, and even strength/sneak/magick. While this is great by itself, your can at anytime talk to characters called “Fateweavers” to change your cards and completely respec your abilities, opening you up to every play style on a single character. This gives players multiples ways to play and different ways to complete quests. By far, this is the game’s most interesting feature.
With such a robust class system, fluid inventory, and some of the best combat in an RPG, all wrapped up in a great world, beautiful art design, and intersting story, Reckoning is poised to become of this year’s surprise hits.
My only complaint seems to be exclusive to the demo. I ran into some bugs, graphics stuttering, and even an entire game-ending crash, but from what I’ve heard on the major gaming outlets, this problem isn’t prevalent in the final game.
You can download the demo now on XBLA, PSN, and Steam. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be released February 7 on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, and can be preordered now at all major retailers.