Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning PS3 review

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Developer(s): 38 StudiosBig Huge Games
Publisher(s): 38 Studios, Electronic Arts
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Platform(s): Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
  
As far as Action RPGs go, Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning has the potential to compete with the industry giants, and in terms of gameplay, it very much crushes its competition.  However, the incredibly weak storyline and inconsistent visuals make it a no more than above average adventure, falling not too far behind Skyrim and Dragon Age.

The Good
- Super fast, responsive combat
- Huge game, a ton of content for the money.

The Bad
- Unoriginal and uninteresting storyline and characters 
- Graphics are a mixed bag 
- Awful voice acting and dialogue

Let’s get the bad out of the way.  In my opinion, the success of an RPG is largely measured by the story, the characters, by the immersion the world creates. I’m willing to overlook weaker gameplay elements (ehm Skyrim) if the world is engrossing and makes me feel like I can make an impact. In TheReckoning, the story gets off to a good start. During the opening cinematic, you die on the battlefield and soon find yourself waking up on a pile of dead bodies. You are re born as the fate less and begin your journey searching for answers.

This is as good as it gets. Beyond the premise, the story goes nowhere. You will spend 30 or maybe even 100 hours (depending on how many side quests you choose) doing repetitive fetch and kill quests, which include mini boss battles every now and then. Even after establishing your status as a hero amongst the townsfolk of Amalur, you are still left with the exact same quest structure, where only a few missions really stand out.


To keep things interesting, there are various factions you can join and they are the only places that offer variety. Towards the end, it does get a bit more interesting, but once the game is over, you won’t even remember the names of most characters because of how uninteresting everyone in the world is. And yes, one of the most common enemies is called The Brownie.

On the game’s box, we see big letters of R.A. Salvatore, who is best known for The DemonWar Saga and the Forgotten Realms novels. While Salvatore has a huge following, I couldn’t stomach the incredibly cheesy dialogue and lack of originality in the lore. With that said, just like Dragon Age, the game will appeal to a certain group of people. Those in love with high fantasy might even argue that the story is excellent. Personally, it is one of the game’s major downfalls.

The Definitive Combat System

Now on to the good stuff, the gameplay. Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning sets a new standard for combat in the Action RPG genre. It redefines it, polishes it and perfects it. The moment you take control of your character and start going though the tutorial mission, you will notice just how responsive, quick and smooth the combat feels. It reminds me of The Darksiders with a bit of God of War and even Dark Souls.

You can equip primary and secondary weapons, each mapped to the square and triangle buttons. Any weapon in the game, including Hammers, Magic Staffs, Great Swords, Long Swords, a Bow and Arrow and even Chakras (Xena’s weapon of choice) can be a primary or secondary weapon. You can chain insane combos by combining the two.  Holding down R1 allows you to use all four action buttons on the controller for various magic attacks. The circle button is for rolling and the L1 is for the shield. It is super simple but incredibly effective.


Shooting a lighting bolt, then rolling forward and slashing the enemy with your sword just to finish him off with a massive hammer is incredibly exciting. Kratos would be proud. Combining your various attacks will also fill up the fate meter. Once the meter is full, you can hold the L1 and R1 triggers and activate a slow motion mode. For a few seconds, your attacks are faster and more damaging, allowing you to quickly demolish weaker enemies, saving the tougher ones for the finisher. During the finisher, you are treated to a super violent finishing move/cut scene that allows you to gain additional exp by rapidly tapping the onscreen button.

After a few hours, you will feel invincible. And I mean this literally. You become powerful very quickly and the only way the game becomes more challenging is by tossing more enemies onto the battlefield. Even on the hard difficulty setting, the game doesn’t provide very much challenge. You can easily massacre groups of enemies without ever feeling overpowered. This is a minor gripe to an otherwise flawless combat system. Just like the recent Batman games have set a new standard for combat in action games, all future action RPGs should borrow from The Reckoning.

When you toss Skittles at the Screen, you get…

Visually, the game is a mixed bag. The game is too saturated and too colorful for its own good. Why Tod MacFarlane was chosen for the art direction is beyond me. Don’t get me wrong, I love his work and I’m a huge fan of the Spawn comic books, but stylistically high fantasy is really not his strength.

The first five hours are very underwhelming and unimaginative. From the extremely repetitive environments that look like they have a World of Warcraft filter on, to the very generic character models (including a very limiting character creator), the game does a very poor job of drawing the gamer into the world of Amalur. Once you leave the woods, things get much more interesting. From the vast, open deserts to dark valleys filled with giant, purple, mountain sized crystals, the visuals become more interesting the further you explore.


The most annoying visuals are the outlines of every interactive object in the world. Everything glows, sparkles and shines, just like in an MMO. It makes the world feel even less “lived-in” and even more generic. On a positive note, the game runs extremely well. Aside from a few small frame rate drops during crowded battles, the game ran perfectly without any glitches for the 35+ hours that I played.

Torturous Banter and Grizzly Roars

In the sound department, the game juggles between typical fantasy orchestra and some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. The spoken dialogue is so bad that it makes it difficult to follow the story at times. Everyone speaks like a tour guide, lacking any sort of personality. Walking into a village feels like walking into amuseum that displays interactive statues. Characters with quests have giant yellow exclamation points above their heads that float around each village. Once the dialogue is initiated, it cuts to an awkwardly cropped, Mass Effect inspired cut scene. But since your own characters lacks a voice, you literally feel like you’re listening to a broken tape.

While the music is light years better than the voice acting, it’s not very original or memorable. Luckily, the weapons sound fantastic. Each weapon has its own unique sound as it cuts through the enemy. The monsters sound vicious and you can hear the thumping of the brutes as they rush at you from the distance.


Weak story aside, The Reckoning is a Great New IP

As a whole, Kingdomsof Amalur: The Reckoning is a great game and a step in the right direction. This is Studio 38’s first and unfortunately last release. (The studio was shut down months after the game’s release). Many describe this game as an offline, single player MMO and that’s exactly what it is. With a more substantial story line and a more consistent art direction, it would have come closer to claiming the RPG throne. As it stands, The Reckoning can be praised for its fantastic and innovative combat, but not for anything else.

Review by Tin Salamunic

Final Score “Very Good” 7.5
Graphics
Once you get past the first few hours, the environments become incredibly varied. However, sometimes they are too colorful for their own good.
8.0
Gameplay
Super fast and responsive. The gameplay is the game’s strongest area. Bravo!
9.5
Story
Incredibly cheesy storyline that will only appeal to hardcore fans of dark fantasy.
7.0
Sound
Some of the worst voice acting around. The music is decent, although fairly standard, but the weapons sound great.
6.5

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