Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Xbox360)

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I love me a good action RPG. When the slaughter is more frequent than the dungeon crawling, the spells cast more beautiful than a night sky and the monsters as varied as a box of Smarties, then I am at my happiest. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is all of this and more! It is the game Diablo III will have to beat!

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Fate is like a piece of fabric, they say. Every life is a thread running through it in its set course. So when you are awoken from your death at the ‘Well of Souls,’ you have seemingly broken the rules and no longer have any fate. A lot of people will not be happy about that.

One of the side effects of being revived from the dead is memory loss. It is a bummer, but also a handy mechanic to allow your now fate-less character to adopt and grow into his own destiny. It also forces you to be very distrustful of some of the characters you meet. Were they there when you died? Did they actually kill you?

Two halves

Reckoning is a game of two halves. The first part is the role-playing. Your character can level up and unlock new skills and abilities. Nothing new here then, but because he has no fate, he also has no ties to any specific class. You can level up your character in ‘Magic,’ ‘Might’ or ‘Finesse.’ Each of these skills allows better and more effective weapons use, as well as active and passive power-ups or spells. You do not have to focus on any one particular skill to choose a class, either, simply because there is no class system.

Even when you focus your character only on Might (allowing him to wield bigger swords and battle hammers) you still unlock certain spells that relate to Might, while a Magic character can still wield swords and wear armour.

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Again, because your character has no fate he gets to choose his own destiny by means of ‘Destiny Cards.’ These cards give bonuses to certain skills while this card is used as your destiny. You can choose to focus on your Finesse and then use a rogue destiny card to further enhance those skills. You also get destiny cards that allow multiple class bonuses.

Once upon a time

The story and dialogue in the game is very good, with branching plots and very interesting characters. Coming from fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore, famous for his ‘Forgotten Realms’ novels, you would expect nothing less. The voice acting and lip sync (a pet hate of mine) leaves me wanting something better, but the plot itself is very well thought out.

Quests and missions do feature some of the usual ‘kill this guy’ or ‘fetch this thing,’ but the reasons for completing these missions all feel new. A wretched troll is infecting the local forest, so you have to get rid of her (all trolls are apparently female, how nice!).

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The world of Kingdoms of Amalur, however, will offer delight and puzzlement in equal measure. Some of the levels had me stop and stare at the beauty – a tree the size of a small town sprawls up into the sky with waterfalls and rivers surrounding it. Other levels had me wondering why the developers couldn’t match the beauty of the rest of the game. The overall effect, however, is that of a massively multiplayer online game with high level graphics. It runs as slick as a greased up baby down a water slide without a single glitch or problem, even though some players online complained of technical difficulties.

Travelling between main centres in the game is made easy by fast travel, but only if you have been to a place of interest before. Did I mention this world is massive? It will take you a long time to travel from one end of the map to the other. It’s not as big as Skyrim, but the developers used the tight levels on the map to squeeze in a bit more detail.

I have to also just mention how amazing the music in the game is. With epic orchestral scores surging through your head you truly feel immersed and a part of this wonderful world. I often left the game in the menus and just listened to the music.

Let the battle begin

The second part of Reckoning is the combat. Where combat in some RPGs is quite a mundane and an almost secondary affair, it’s one of the best and biggest parts of Reckoning. It’s kind of difficult to describe the combat without referencing God of War. It’s the type of action melee combat mixed with magical spells and effects that just feels so natural and easy you soon forget how other games manage without it.

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You can assign weapons as your primary and secondary attack, each mapped as one of the buttons on your controller. Mixing up their use and learning new combos soon sees you wreaking havoc and sewing destruction. Now add to that a magic system that is as easy to use as the combat. The end result is one of the slickest action combat systems I have yet experienced.

Players new to action combat can get away in the early stages with a simple button bashing approach, but when you learn new combos and implement them you just feel as powerful as your character looks.

Easy does it

This doesn’t mean that combat is easy. Often you will face creatures that evade your attacks and come rushing back into combat with devastating attacks. It therefore pays to change your approach depending on who you’re fighting.

The creatures in the game reek of Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn. He also runs a toy company with toys that really should not be sold to kids. Monsters are created with an attention to detailed expected of big name titles and the animations of especially the bigger monsters are very well done.

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The developers even take a tongue in cheek stab at regular MMO and RPG game conventions as the first animal you kill is a giant rat. Throughout the rest of the game there is not a single rat to be found, but you will discover varying enemies from weird mask wearing wood creatures, trolls, wolves, cute fairies with sharp teeth and human bandits – you never feel bored by the enemies you face.

Balanced diet

I know that some gamers and critics will claim that Reckoning brings nothing new to the genre. Some will say it is too repetitive. Some will even claim it is just plain boring. The secret to Kingdoms of Amalur appeal lies not in any single part of it, but like the fabric of fate, made up of various threads that feature in the story, so too does the game come together to be a consistently enjoyable adventure. The intuitive combat system makes it very appealing to the action gamer while the deep RPG elements will attract the more hardcore RPG fans. This truly strikes the perfect balance between the two and is a title not to be missed.

The good: Intricate combat and role-playing system that is still easy for newcomers to pick up; amazing musical score and pretty world; story and characters are beautifully crafted.
The bad: Lip syncing is lacklustre, and yes it really matters!
The ugly: All trolls are female? I knew that!