Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the debut title by Big Huge Games and Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios. It’s a game with a lot of pedigree behind it, with Ken Rolston, lead designer on The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, serving as the game’s executive designer. That is, of course, in addition to a world and lore created by fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, and artwork designed by Todd McFarlane, of Spawn fame.
The demo, available now on Xbox Live, PSN and PC (through both Origin and Steam, surprisingly) provides a pretty extensive taste of what’s in store for players in Amalur. So while you’re waiting for that demo to download (it clocks in at a hefty 1.9 gigs), head past the break to see my impressions.
When the demo begins, you’re just a nameless, faceless, corpse on a cart, being dumped onto the pile by a couple of Gnomish undertakers. When the Gnomes lift the cloth covering your face, you’re tasked with creating your character. There are four races to choose from, each with their own unique traits: Almain (Warlike and religious, with stat bonuses in Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Persuasion), Varani (Sea-fairing pirates and mercenaries, with bonuses in Lockpicking, Detect Hidden, Mercantile), Ljosalfar (Grey-skinned Faefolk from the north, with bonuses in Alchemy, Sagecraft, Dispelling), and Dokkalfar (Fae who study magic, stealth, and diplomacy, with bonuses in Stealth, Sagecraft, Persuasion).
After picking a race (I opted for a swarthy Varani), you’re asked to choose a Patron – basically, a god that your character worships which provide him or her with specific stat bonuses. Patrons include things like Mischief, which grants poison damage and resistance bonuses, Order, which boosts health and mana, or you can even opt to follow no Patron at all, which grants a general experience bonus.
Following the Patron selection, the character creation screen contains a fairly robust set of options. I chose the face with the largest nose, as I like my in-game avatars to look as much like my real self as possible when given the option (well, minus the tattoo on my face added for that Mike Tyson-esque crazy fear factor, of course). I hope someone will tell me I’m not the only one who does this.
Once you make it past the character creation stage, you rise from the dead atop a pile of stinking, festering corpses, clothed in rags and with no recollection of who you are or where you came from. All you know is that your current location is under attack and that you need to get out of there. After grabbing your first rusty longsword, you’ll be thrown into your first battle. The enemy? Why, that oldest and most reliable of RPG standbys – a pair of giant, disease-ridden rats, of course.
As you come across more enemies – legions of Tuatha, Faefolk who have been twisted by dark magic and are now led by Lord Gadflow – the game adopts a decidedly action-y feel. Think Elder Scrolls meets God of War. The combat is much faster and flashier than that which is found in most RPGs, and there seems to be an emphasis on skillful combinations of your main and secondary weapons, along with magic. Timing your strikes is also important, and careful, rhythmic button presses tend to yield greater results than simple button mashing can achieve.
The one complaint I have about the combat so far is actually more of an inventory issue. Stay with me here; I will explain. See, you’ve got access to a radial menu, which you can use at any time without opening your inventory screen. The issue is that it seems as though you can only put consumable items, like potions, into its empty slots. That means there is no quick way to change out the primary and secondary weapons you’ve got equipped. Very inconvenient if you want to, say, quickly stab an enemy from behind then switch to a bow and arrow to take out his cohorts across the room. Still, the combat is visceral, intense, and more importantly, unique in the RPG world. That’s got to count for something, right?
Beneath the action lies the beating heart of an RPG as true as any of the genre’s heavyweights – you’ll know as soon as you level up. Each time you do, you’re granted a skill point to spend on one of 9 skills: Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Detect Hidden, Dispelling, Lockpicking, Mercantile, Persuasion, Sagecraft, and Stealth. Each skill tree contains various Milestones, which grant you new abilities as well as the expected stat upgrades. From there, you’re given points with which to upgrade your combat abilities. These exist on 3 separate skill trees: Sorcery, Might, and Finesse, each containing a number of branching paths to further specialize your character.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning really does seem to have a lot going for it, and it represents a unique and interesting blend of gameplay styles. Whether those styles will ultimately form a truly cohesive whole? Well, that remains to be seen. One thing I do hope, however, is that the final game receives an extra layer of polish. I managed to crash the demo twice – very aggravating when you consider that demos don’t save your progress. Still, I am willing to give Big Huge Games the benefit of the doubt here ad assume that the demo is based on an older bit of code.
In any case, I’m looking forward to the final product, as the demo provides a tantalizing glimpse into an interesting and well-crafted universe, bolstered by solid combat mechanics. But you don’t have to take my word for it. The demo is available right now, so go try it out for yourselves!
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be released on February 2nd in North America, and February 10th in Europe for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. These impressions are based on the Xbox 360 version.