BRR: Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning Review

The game industry, along with nearly other modern entertainment industry, seems to be suffering from a lack of innovation.  As such, new ideas are anticipated and demanded by the consumers, who cause a fit whenever they get wind of a new intellectual property, or IP as people often call it.  Today I am reviewing one such example, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the least original new IP I’ve ever seen that has a tie in with a well known trilogy, even though it was just some free DLC, and an all-star staff.

Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning Review
Release Date: 7/2/2012
Platforms:  Xbox 360(Reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Price I Paid:  $39.99

Said super staff contains Todd McFarlane, the creator of the Spawn comic series, as the Lead Artist.  Ken Rolston, the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III and IV, working as this game’s Executive Designer.  R. A. Salvatore, a fantasy author with over 20 years worth of best selling novels, as the creator of the game’s 10,000 years of lore.  And Grant Kirkhope, the man behind the of majority of Rare’s games, namely Banjo-Kazooie, which has some of the most enjoyable tracks of the Fifth Console Generation, as the composer.  While I am not a huge fan of all of these men, due to my lack of knowledge regarding most of them, I can still respect them, and it does seem like a wonderful mix of talent, that could result in a truly wonderful title, which it doesn’t, it does not at all.  

Now, I think it could be due to the fact that one of the developers behind it, 38 Studios, which is making its debut with Reckoning, while Big Huge Games only ever made RTS titles, and never worked on a western style, somewhat open world, fantasy RPG.  But I am a stern judge who does not accept the excuse of, “It’s my first time doing this, so I made it very generic.”  They clearly have experienced developers, and I have the same quality standard for all games that launch for $60. 

So, let’s start with the story of the game, since it only seems like logical entry point.  After a brief introduction featuring a big bad and a ton of the fantasy equivalent to techno-babble.  You begin the game by creating your character, who apparently just died, but was revived thanks to a magical gnomish pool of rejuvenation known as the Well of Souls.  Once your Elf/Human character climbs out of a pile of corpses, you are sent through a small dungeon where you learn the basics of the game’s combat, which revolves around utilizing four abilities and two weapons of any combination of the big three warrior, rogue, and mage trees.  

Shortly afterwards, you encounter the gnomish professor who brought you back to life, but can no longer help you, since a sect of the Fae, a species that was created before mankind and cannot die, decided to raid the place.  Upon escaping, you learn how everyone in this world has a fate forged from birth, except for you.  Since you died, you are now Fateless and the universe lacks plans for you, you actually can help everyone fight these evil immortals and ultimately save the world.  That was literally all of the plot that I could understand.  Other than I’m the chosen one and I need to slay the easiest final boss since Yu Yevon from Final Fantasy X.

Now, I admit that I phased out the story and dialog of this game after 20 hours, but I gave it 20 hours to hook me on the lore and mythology of the world, and immerse me into this massive conflict.  But I lost interest and skipped nearly all of the dialog in the later 70% of Reckoning.  But the dialog system itself has some problems, since the characters only occupy half the screen, the lip syncing is okay to horrendous, and none of the dialog or delivery are memorable.  Now, I appreciate story in games, I love being introduced to, and interacting with, characters who enhance the world the designers created.  I enjoy hearing plots both conventional, and unconventional.  In Reckoning, I only remember the faction leaders, main story characters, and a wolf turned man.  I remember the beggars in the city streets of Skyrim, but I remember no one’s personality, if there even was any, in Reckoning.

I believe that my difficulty with following the game’s story is due to Reckoning’s Popcorn structure.  Popcorn structure is the term I use for a game that offers a lot of little things, but lacks any substance.  It is nice how there are nearly 200 side quests and five regions, each of which feel like they are 2-3 square miles long, but After the first region, I was on autopilot.  I just went through areas doing numerous tasks, but never obtaining a sense of accomplishment.  Good items are incredibly rare, enemies repeat with no real difference except they have more health and experience.  I never thought that I would be complaining about how a game does not use recolors, but I should not be fighting stronger versions of the first enemies I fought, when I’m nearly 70% done with the game.  

Repetition also occurs with the area design, the game struggles to craft dungeons that don’t feel exactly the same, with sections being incredibly recognizable by the second of five regions.  Speaking of regions, I do not believe that I have ever seen such a lack of creativity with designated regions, the five regions of the game all have the opportunity to be diverse and unique, but they all blur together, with a forest area, a plains area, a desert land, a jungle zone, and a Gray linear wasteland that is filled with crystals for no good reason.  NPCs suffer the same problem, with all of them looking like preset characters, lack in depth, and just add to the overall feeling of blandness that lurks within this title.  However, the game does look very pretty, and remains colorful for the most part.

I cannot say that the game fares better in the audio department, it is a very generic fantasy score, and a complete waste of talent.  I understand the desire to be epic, but often times, cheery things can be far more memorable.  Banjo-Kazooie often lurks in my head, and Donkey Kong 64 felt very dramatic during the boss battles, but it still maintained its memorable score.  It is a waste of talent, and, in my opinion, the worst part of Reckoning.  

But there is always the gameplay aspect, and this game set out to reinvent RPG combat, and I must admit that it is fun, but also very flawed.  Let’s jump back the the skill tree system where you obtain abilities.  The game encourages you to experiment with all three, and mix and match with set ups until you like one.  My problem is the tier system within the skill trees, I understand how you will not allow early players to start anywhere they want in any given skill tree, but if I’m at the maximum level and want to invest in Longbow skills, I shouldn’t need to upgrade my dagger skills to unlock the next ability.  

The game’s promotion also lied about the idea of mixing and matching skill trees however you want, in reality, you only have 7 classes, each of which have 6 levels, but if you want to specialize in multiple trees, you pretty much need to make it even.  There are also other skills that you unlock as you go on, you can craft potions, equipment, and stupidly powerful enchantment stones  all of which work well, but Potions never felt like they were needed.  You can also gain the able to find everything worth seeing on the minimap, which is hampered by hard to distinguish icons for trainers, merchants, and crafting tables. There are also two skills to help you unlock chests, one which requires trial and error, and one that requires inhumanly good reflexes, but I had the majority of my stats maxed out, so I never saw an unlocking minigame during my last 15 hours of the game.

The main combat of the game is sadly underwhelming, I mostly used 4 attacks and rolled a lot, because I don’t have the patience to lay down frosty mines to lure enemies into.  I just want to freeze, electrocute, or toss flaming hula-hoops at enemies until they break and I need to use a repair kit, which can be 1% of the price of a repairing NPC, but is portable, and only loses points since it occupies valuable inventory space.  However, I never overflowed and had to make a vital decision between awful staff A and unusable helm B.  

The loot system in Reckoning is flooded with copious amounts of useless items that only serve to get more money, but I had enough money to buy a mansion by the end of it, but there are no mansions, only inferior items.  I had HP regenerating faster than the enemies could dish out, and an endless supply of Mana, which still remained full, even when I restrict 30% to cast a shield that had spinning satellites.  The system was incredibly exploitable for a gem crafter, who could turn any armor with 3 sockets into something worthy of legendary status.  I also had equipment that was far too good for a rouge and mage hybrid, so good that most enemies did not do more damage than a disgruntled Nat would do to a statue made of steel.

The combat never felt hard to me, when I was getting my ass handed to me, I always had a stockpile of potions and a shield that I could try to use, even though it makes more sense to avoid attacks than to shield against them, but that’s just me.  There was one optional instance where I had to fight against 10 dive bombing, homing missile launching, stagger-resistant foes, but they were hard because I could not focus against all of the flying buggers, let alone see homing missiles.  

But all worry can easily be ignored, due to the fact that you get points added to a bar that allows you to enter Reckoning mode, in which time slows down, you do far more damage, and you get extra experience points for mashing one of the face buttons.  It is as broken as it sounds, you basically destroy everything in your path if you suck too much, or the game likes being a prick, and in my case it always felt like the latter.  Only one boss was hard enough for me to resort to the maneuver, and that was due to the same annoying enemies I mentioned a few sentences ago.  Every other time I used it was to get an achievement, or kill a boss right before I would have killed them anyways, since I wanted the exp boost, only to realize that the button mashing automatically happens when finishing a boss.

But I cannot call the combat easy either, enemies telegraph their moves with easy to notice visual cues, and barely harm you when they do hit you.  The combat feel like less of a challenge and more of an endurance run, since it’s hard to fight the same enemies for 70 hours without growing a bit tired of them.  I was being thrown like a rag-doll by mages with their own spells, namely the homing tornadoes and null-ranged-damage barrier they summon all the time.  It is neither challenging, nor engaging, it’s just a thing that looks pretty, but it hard to see since the face-button based combat has a camera that relies on you to control it more often than not during combat.  It looks good, and is well animated, but that sure as hell wasn’t good enough for Final Fantasy XIII, so why would I give this game special treatment because it is utilizing a diverse combat system, when there is no incentive to use it to its full potential?

I could go on and on about the missteps this game makes, like how the interaction and run button are the same, unless you want to use the L3 button to sprint, or how salvaging rarely is worth doing, how I had 10,000,000 gold and nothing to buy, how the combat is on slopes, but is made for a flat surface.  I could go on for hours about the mistakes this game made, but  I don’t want to give it any more effort than it deserves.  The core of the game is still fairly solid, but the needless and repetitive fluff makes it look all the worse over time. 

 It is a waste of talent and represents everything wrong with big budget titles, it’s unimaginative and can easily be overshadowed by games that were released far before it.  Non-immersive dialog and lore that’s thrown at you for no good reason.  Unfulfilling gameplay that feels repetitive due to a limited selection of moves and recycled enemies that remove any possible feeling of progress.  A very pretty world that suffers from a lack of diversity.  A mixed bag of animations, looking wonderful, although repetitive, in combat, but awful in dialog scenes.  A shocking amount of game design mistakes when you consider that the lead designer of two of the biggest RPGs of all time was working on this title.  And a very generic score that is the final nail in the coffin of this dreadfully unambitious action RPG.  It is incredibly sad that when the best thing I can say about a game is how the bonus credit I got for it was spent towards Deadly Premonition.  

This is one of the few games that I played just to get it done, I did not enjoy this game past the halfway mark, and would recommend it only to masochists who need to eat and 80 hour RPG a week in order to breathe.  I regret paying $40 for this, since I got just as much enjoyment out of Torchlight, 15% of the hate, and all for a fourth of the price.

The game is below average and has little going for it. There are the makings of a good game, but it’s hampered by poor execution by the developer.

//Now, I am well aware of the shit that occurred with Rhode Island, funding this game, and moving hundreds of employees, and for those who have no idea what I am talking about, read the full story at this LINK.  It is very sleazy and stupid on behalf of the people who thought that a new IP could make 3 million dollars after one game’s release.  Now, Amalur broke over a million, which in this industry normally means that it can get a sequel and is franchise worthy, at least for this generation.  Reckoning sold about 1.3 million, which caused EA to dub it a success.  Now, while I was very disappointed with the final product, it just made me want a sequel even more, because if a game was crap the first time, that does not mean that it cannot be refined into something better.  Christ, these guys had more DLC packs and an MMO in development when their plug was pulled.  I do understand wanting to create a tech industry in your region, but know about the side of the industry you are investing in, because now your citizens are going to need to pay more taxes for 8 years.  And when you consider just how tiny Rhode Island is, the markup is bound to be pretty substantial, and the people who funded this sure as hell are not going to get elected again. I would think that this series would continue, but EA has the license to create a new Ultima game if they damn well feel like it, and Dragon Age 3 should be shown at E3 2012 with an Autumn 2013 release date, so they have their fantasy franchise right there.  Seriously, just wait for it to happen either the day this post is scheduled to go up, or the day after.  I never like to see people lose their jobs, and have their dreams cut short.  This is a sad story, but thankfully companies were more than willing to give the former 38 Studios employees jobs, which actually makes the industry seem pretty awesome in how it is willing to assist those who lost their jobs due to means  out of their control.  I thought the game was crap, but I can tell that people put effort in making this game, but it was made for investors, and no investor enjoys taking massive risks. 

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