Thank you, GamersGate, for sending us this game for review!
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of those games, that when reviewed at this late in the game, is somewhat of a tragedy. 38 Studios, the current owner and creator of the property, has since gone bankrupt, and been liquidated. So while later reviews might often not be so bad since it can direct people towards a game they may have forgotten about, in this case, only the publishers (and presumably, the players) can benefit. Nevertheless, this game is definitely still worth reviewing, since it's available on Steam, Origin, and the various consoles.
In Amalur, everyone finds themselves tied to fate. No one can escape their fate, and fateweavers have a special tie into the thread of fate, where they can read the fate of themselves and others they choose. The world is in the second decade of a rather large war, where a subset of immortal creatures called the Fae have been corrupted by their new leader, Gadflow, into becoming a bloodthirsty horde called the Tuatha, with a desire to slaughter all mortal kind. And it's made doubly difficult because these Fae don't just die once; they are reborn again and again, all part of what they call the Great Cycle. And while this has normally kept the Fae in balance between them, the Tuatha short-circuited this balancing process. wreaking devastation behind them. The fateweavers of the world agree that mortal races are doomed to lose this war.
That is, until you arrive. After your body is dumped into a large pile of rotting corpses, you find yourself not dead, but somehow alive again. It turns out that you live once again thanks to a strange invention called the Well of Souls. And curiously enough, fateweavers can no longer see your fate. You quickly come to be called the fateless one by fateweavers and others. Can you break the web woven by fate and save all of mortal kind from the Tuatha? Apparently enough people think there is a slim chance, as you are quickly attacked by small regiments of Tuatha even as you try to leave the tower you are in.
As you leave this introductory area, you quickly find out that not only do you not have a predetermined fate, but you can influence the fates of others. Many people you meet are stuck in ruts they are destined to remain in, as well as factions that are badly in need of heroes. As you rise to the challenge, you not only save the day, but free people from the chains of fate.
As a result of this, you can also choose how your character progresses. As you gain levels, you can put points into several skills, as well as general branches of discipline. These include might, finesse, and sorcery. As you level in each, you can choose fate cards which give you special bonuses. There are different ones depending on if you choose to specialize or diversify. You can also reset your fate for a small fee at any fateweaver.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning takes this fairly solid beginning and builds it all into a fairly competent Action RPG. It has many of the trappings of typical open world RPGs, like hit points and mana, experience points, levels, skills, inventories, lots of loot, and a whole lot of places to go, and puts all of that into a really enjoyable action combat system.
While it may be easy to try to compare this to other open world RPGs like Skyrim, it's really not the same. The view is 3D third person, where you see your character walk and attack at all times. The combat is also very fluid. You swing your weapons, cast your spells, and roll around the battlefield with real momentum. I have to say that this is an area that this game really gets right. While I can understand how it could get repetitive after a while, I always enjoyed battles in my nearly one hundred and forty hour experience with this game. Most battles were generally pretty easy; I highly recommend setting the difficulty to hard at the beginning and leaving it there.
The occasionally challenging bosses I enjoyed fighting, though they were typically not all that hard thanks to the reckoning system. Each enemy you defeat adds to your fate meter. By pressing and holding a particular button during battle, you enter a limited-time Reckoning mode. In this mode, all enemies are slowed down, all damage doubled, and if you can finish your opponent before time runs out, you can earn up to double experience points after a rather gruesome, and cinematic, finisher.
While Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is technically an open world RPG, it is not in the same sense as other entries into the genre. The game world is very large, and there is a lot to explore, but it's also fairly linear. Each region has only a few exits to nearby regions. The levels of enemies seem to be locked to the level you were when you first explored the region, which can kind of discourage too much exploration if you want to prevent sudden jumps or drops in difficulty. There were a few times when I walked into battle confident that I could handle those enemies only to realize this group wasn't five levels lower than me like the last group was. This happens most when going on a quest into a cave you have not explored yet, and the monsters are now your level, whereas outside they might be weaker.
And of quests there is no end. While technically this is not true, there are a lot of quests. I mean a lot. I completed almost all of them at over two hundred quests. If you talk to everyone and always say you will help them, and explore everywhere, you are likely to find most quests easily. While many are kind of humdrum, I really enjoyed most of the faction quests, as well as the main quest line. Faction quests also reward you with Twist of Fate cards, which help make you more powerful. Unfortunately, besides a few notable exceptions, the world rarely changes in any meaningful ways, so your choices feel somewhat empty.
And that's a major complaint I have. While it didn't really keep me from enjoying the game, the characters are somewhat forgettable. And, despite a fairly decent-sized cast, with a world with this many people in it and full voice acting, repeats are inevitable. And the only characters that you can actually have a conversation with are those that somehow progress the story or have something interesting to say. So while there may be fifty to one hundred people in a large city, there are probably ten to twenty you can actually interact with other than a passing greeting.
On the other hand, the graphics, animation, music, sound effects, and yes, even voice acting, despite the vocal re-use, is all really well done. Some of the vistas are gorgeous to behold, though I wish draw distances went farther. Despite that, it really looks great. And on a fast enough system, the animation is really fluid. The music is quite good, with fully orchestrated pieces. While the voice actors themselves were reused often, each character that was not filler, that actually had their own lines, were all unique. And plot line characters sound just great.
When it comes to appropriateness issues, this game is decidedly a mixed bag. During a majority of your playing time, battles are violent of course, but not bloody or gory. Backstabbing, Reckoning mode finishers, and a few other thing can spew blood, but it's not common. There is one bleeding NPC who was attacked by bandits, and you can choose to help him. There is also plenty of magic use, by both the player and enemies. There is also one opportunity to have your character become demon infused if you decide to betray a faction for power. For a vast majority of the game, the language is also just fine. But there are those exceptions. And a few of them are pretty bad. Fortunately still rare, but present.
Some of the problems I have seen include some foul language like *ss, son of a b***h, h*ll, d*mn, and wh*re. Others include adult topics like flirty, suggestive conversation (which doesn't go anywhere), aphrodisiacs, and a character talking about her former life in a brothel. Other choice phrases include 'safer to take a greatsword into bed than her' and, after a defeat, 'you bent me over the anvil right proper'. There are other cases where you are asked to do things like steal to help people, and one time you have the opportunity to get someone drunk to get a better deal. And there are other quests of questionable morality, like where you are asked to give a ruler a cursed ring which will kill him, so they can get a new leader that will help the people.
The worst offender from the sexual front by far is the quest 'Recover Til's Books'. This quest involves you gathering the ten books that some old monk had, and requires collecting them from literally around the world, to return them to their rightful place. This quest is the longest running quest in the game, and easily spans three quarters of the game to finally complete. The problem is that these books are basically mini romance novels. And some of them are quite trashy. The worst of them include homosexual encounters.
One of the monster class types, the bansheen, is a large, ugly, female monster that has rather large, saggy, female-like breasts. Full nipples are included. The creature is the farthest thing from sexually appealing, and given that the monster clearly is not human I am not sure how I feel about it, but I totally understand how it may be a problem for many.
There is one section where you encounter missionaries from one of the game's many polytheistic gods, in this case the god of death, Belen. These missionaries try to 'save' people by killing them, including you. Of course you stop them. There is another quest where a prophetess of another god was enslaving a Fae and stealing her power so she can help heal people. You end up having the option to free her, at the expense of the prophetess's healing powers, of course.
There were some quests with positive moral messages, though. One family in particular was being taken advantage of by local people in power, and had their family farm destroyed. As you help them, this family shows remarkable strength in adversity that I found to be admirable.
Outside of appropriateness issues, this game is relatively problem-free given its massive scope. There are only a small handful of bugs that I noted throughout my extensive adventure. There are a few small quest bugs, most of which I did not run into. I did get stuck in the ground once near Tala-Rane, though. Another quirky bug was when I had to battle a large amount of enemies at a time in one small room. Being the magic user I was, I casted a large spell and one hit killed them. This left a rather large pile of bodies in one spot, which caused some pretty strange twitching, and eventually, my only crash to desktop, in the form of an appcrash.
I played most of the game using my old monitor, at 1920x1200 resolution, and the menus all appeared perfectly. After I upgraded my monitor to a larger one with the 2560x1400 resolution, I started noticing a quest menu bug where I could not see the quest details if all quest categories were expanded. Once I retracted a few of them, I could read all of the text I expected.
Another bug that was annoying, though I didn't run into it very often, was on the abilities screen where you assign skills to hotkeys. You can assign action skills to the number keys, 1 through 0. This interface is incredibly buggy, and took a lot of tries to get the icons to properly drag and drop onto the various hotkey locations. Fortunately, it is one of those 'set and forget' items for the most part.
One of the small things that kind of bugged me about this game was that given all of the loot this game has available, including unique armor sets that can be found as you explore Amalur, is that there is nowhere near enough space to store them all. You start with 70 slots, and can upgrade to 120. Also, you eventually get a house where you can get 150 more in your 'stash'. And this stash is not upgradable in any way. While this may sound like enough inventory space, it really isn't. In your character's main inventory, this can quickly be taken up by quest items, scrolls, accessories, potions, keys, reagents for making potions, gems for sagecrafting, components for blacksmithing weapons and armor, and more. Even with a well pruned inventory, it becomes very difficult to keep much around. And that stash can quickly be filled with any armor or weapons that you may want to keep for any reason, especially set items.
As I was trying to get through this game in a reasonable time frame and stop agonizing over every little item to keep vs. sell vs. break down for crafting, I ended up hex-editing my save to allow a virtually limitless inventory size. I would have much preferred to increase the size of my stash, but there is no known way to do that, so it had to be my character's inventory. I did get to expose a few bugs this way, which is to be expected, but I was able to find workarounds for all of them. When you are carrying around two thousand items, you need to collapse some item categories to be able to see the others. That's a sacrifice I can live with.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a really ambitious game that ended up accomplishing much more than it had any right to. It also has a pretty robust crafting system that I have not really gone into here. And yet it is not without flaws. This game could have probably easily attained an ESRB 'Teen' rating with just a few small adjustments to the content. The characters are mostly forgettable. The game is more linear than you might expect, though you can do most of the optional side quests on your leisure. The combat is a lot of fun, though it can easily get repetitive since a few spells really do kill almost everything, if you go the sorcery route. At least the spell effects and animations are satisfying. In many ways, this is an action game with an open world RPG bolted on. If that sounds like fun to you as it did to me, then I think you may like this game.
This is a game that I put around one hundred and forty hours into, which is more than I have put into any game in a long, long time. And there are two DLCs that I would be willing to pick up and play sometime. While Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning doesn't do a lot of things better than anyone else, it does do a whole lot right. Too bad they had to put just a few small hours of content in there to make this game a whole lot less family friendly.