I walked into Amalur without preconceptions, without awareness that its world even existed. And I walked out all the richer (in that high fantasy nerd region of the brain); developers 38 Studios and Big Huge Games seem to have a well-rounded RPG up their sleeve. One that even gamers intimidated by the titanic clash within the genre – Skyrim and Dark Souls stand tall – can enjoy. I’ll tell you what makes that so.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is quite the eye candy. Todd McFarlane – the cartoonist behind Spawn and certain Spider-man sagas – lends his box of crayons to the project’s artistic direction, and the result is a bucking of those sober, pigeon-dropping color pallets so prevalent in recent RPGs. If you’ve a soft spot for pretty hues difficult to name, you’ll like the magic and the flora of Amalur.
But I was tasked with a little more than travel and visual indulgence. Reckoning cast me as a survivor of war, and not a typical one. Death (and disposal) did in fact come knocking, but an arcane, gnome-made construction known as the Well of Souls brought me back to the world of flesh and blood. My second mother, essentially, is gnomish ingenuity; no memories, no identity, and no destiny (the story often reminds me) carry over from my first life. I storm the halls of my would-be crypt, picking up shoddy weaponry and putting them to immediate use.
Combat in Reckoning is beautifully intuitive. I swap between two equipped weapons on the fly, stringing melee combos together with a single button. A fire-imbued staff soon shows its efficiency at frying jumbo spiders, and makes a spectacle out of it. This game seems to avoid those awkward blemishes where NPCs stand idly, just outside of aggro range. Everyone (and thing) is implicated in a fight that plays out like a dance of colors and effects.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning wants me to kick ass. I jump into the level-20 file that must have been left off by Samuel L. Jackson. I look like the guy, and I’m rocking some of the game’s less conventional weaponry: a pair of chakrams by the name of “Solstice.”
These bad boys are as fiery as they seem, and deal more DoT than does initial impact. In lieu of a class system, Reckoning has me evolving in three categories: Might, Finesse, and Sorcery. My progress therein factors into my skill with specific weapons (chakrams correspond to Sorcery), unlocks new abilities, and even determines the nature of the evasive dash move. When the game hits on February 7th, 2012, I think I’ll be going Finesse-heavy with a healthy dash of Sorcery. Whatever you choose, you’ll soon become a bona fide dynamo of elemental, arcane, and martial offensive.
Regarding the game’s peace-time features, it’s as if the developers’ brainstorming session started by jotting down everything that comes to mind when one thinks “role-playing game” – hub towns, a crafting system, resource gathering, branching dialogue, skill trees that grow as you play, etc. – and decided they wanted it all. Rather than break the mold, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning seeks to generously fill its every nook and cranny.Again, it’s the combat that gives the strongest impression, and the creators know it. I was glad to hear Erik Caponi – the game’s principal narrative designer – claim that “we have the best combat in any RPG in history.” A bold claim, but only game makers that stand by such answers can ever hope to live up to it. The verdict, as always, will have to wait until Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning‘s release on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on February 7th, 2012.