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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Xbox360)

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After the legendary Ken Rolston subversively berated videogame marketers and reviewers for the clichés they use in their descriptions of games during an awesome presentation at EA’s press conference ahead of gamescom this year, El33tonline had the chance to attend a demo for Rolston’s latest masterwork, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Ian Frazier

We were taken through the demonstration by lead designer Ian Frazier, as well as Big Huge Games studio general manager Sean Dunn, and while we were told that it was difficult to reveal everything that’s in the game in only 30 minutes, together the pair did a great job of introducing us to the massive open-world RPG stylings of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

‘Fate’ and ‘Destiny’ are both important to the story of Reckoning and this duality is brought into stark relief with the revelation that the character that you play as has not only already died during a brutal battle, but has also been brought back to life by a fantastical invention called the ‘Well of Souls.’ As it turns out, you are this contraption’s sole successful test subject, and as you step from a pile of corpses that remain after the battle and informed of your unique situation, you’re able to begin customising your character to your liking.

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Choosing between a male or female avatar, there are lots of customisation options on offer to help you craft an in-game doppelganger (with tattoos, piercings, skin tones, four different races and more to select from), which is also very important to the team at Big Huge Games to allow players to invest themselves in the narrative. Another critical aspect of Reckoning is that narrative, and with the help of (award winning writer) R.A. Salvatore, a deep history has been carefully constructed over a number of years, which tells of the return of ‘Magic’ to the world of Amalur during the ‘Age of Arcana,’ and in the midst of a ferocious war between the Humans and the Immortal Fae.

It is during a battle in this war that the main character is killed, and by being brought to life, you are freed of any predetermined fate – a dangerous weapon in a world where the future is thought to be set in stone. Reckoning uses a ‘Destiny’ system as its way of explaining different ability classes in the game and there are over forty destinies to be achieved, each in different ways. You won’t simply pick a class, or Destiny, from a menu and start the game, but instead you’ll unlock different classes depending on how you play and where you spend your experience points. The Assassin Destiny was demonstrated at gamescom, but opportunities to be a mage, warrior, warden, wayfarer or a mix of anything in-between will be in Reckoning.

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To further blaze your own unique path through Reckoning, there will be six different factions to join within the game with the promise “hundreds of side quests” to keep you busy as you work your way through the sprawling singleplayer story. The environments are truly enormous with a distinct open-world feel about them, and combined with that assurance of more than enough side missions is the guarantee of over 100 hours of potential gameplay and 120 crafted dungeons (i.e. not randomised, like in other action RPGs).

In addition, a whopping 60 abilities will become available as you level up (including passive abilities, ability buffs, auras and triggered effects), while cool weapon effects can also be unlocked to make your chosen damage dealer (which range from swords to hammers to circlet blades, or chakrams) look all the more impressive during combat. Nine non-combat abilities will also feature (with skills like persuasion in conversation, trap disarming with dispel, ‘detect hidden’ to find secrets and stealth named).

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Weapon crafting is also available, and you’ll be given the chance to use different ingredients that you find in the world (or recover from broken down items) for Blacksmithing, Alchemy and Sage Craft, with the option to place created items into special weapon sockets to effectively enhance that weapon’s talent for destruction, or to modify its properties to do fire, ice or poison damage, should you wish.

You may be forgiven for thinking at this point that Reckoning is a massively multiplayer online game, but it’s in fact singleplayer all the way! Played from the third-person, you’ll explore the beautifully realised fantasy environments of Amalur to further the story, find side quests and destroy enemies, with a visual style that’s more reminiscent of the stylised Fable or World of Warcraft than the more harsh and realistic aesthetic of Lord of the Rings. It’s a fantastic looking world with bright, saturated colours, flashy magical effects and menacing enemies, the design of which was all touched and guided in some way by (acclaimed comic book and toy designer) Todd McFarlane.

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The most interesting aspect of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, for me personally, was the surprisingly fast-paced and multi-tiered combat system in the game. You won’t be hovering a cursor over an enemy and inputting queues of actions but you’ll instead take direct control of your character with what seems to be a very robust fighting system. I witnessed the main character pull off chains of combat abilities in a smooth sequence of actions, both magical and melee, with what looked to me like the ability to cancel one attack and move straight into another as the requirements of battle changed – a feature that I later confirmed to be present.

The team at Big Huge Games claim that the combat in Reckoning is “the best in an RPG” and combines ‘visceral’ action and RPG elements together to form a greater range of experiences for players. During a roving boss fight with a particularly tough gnome, the main character pulled off ranged arrow attacks (aided by an intelligent targeting system) as well as up-close melee swipes and magic abilities in quick succession, while rolling and dodging back and forth to avoid incoming enemy attacks.

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Also demonstrated were the special ‘Reckoning Mode’ attacks. Every foe you destroy in the game will net you ‘Fate Energy,’ which appears just below your health and magic bars. Once you’ve collected enough Fate Energy, you can enter Reckoning Mode and unleash even more devastating attacks as time slows down to help you gain an advantage over your enemies. As you attack your hapless victims, they will begin to ‘unravel,’ and every enemy attacked while in Reckoning Mode will contribute to a massive experience points bonus. At the end of this special period of combat, you’ll be able to perform a Fate Shift move (an incredibly powerful attack) guided by a series of simple Quick Time Event button presses.

The last very noteworthy aspect of Reckoning that I saw was the dialogue system – all main and certain side characters will be fully voiced and your conversations with these important people will be controlled as you choose dialogue options to further (or end) an exchange. You can listen to as much or as little speaking as you want in order to either discover more about the world and your missions, or simply to get to the action again.

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There’s more of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to see and talk about (like the fact that you won’t be able to pause the game if you’re actively being attacked, how Big Huge Games always want you to be aware of your progress and how awesome the special attacks look), but we’re sure to find out more about it as we get closer to release early next year.

We were told at the beginning of the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning demo that everything we were about to see was from a pre-alpha build of the game, but despite such an early state, Reckoning already looked incredibly complete and smooth, with none of the bugs that we were warned about.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning releases across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on February 7th in the US and February 10th in Europe and the UK.

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