There’s no doubt that the past year of RPG gaming has been an interesting mix. Notable releases include the obvious: The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Witcher 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and FF XIII. It seems that the RPG market is suddenly overflowing with quality and a sense of rejuvenation. Enter debut developer 38 Studios and their bold plans with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
In case you were unaware, 38 Studios was founded by former professional baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, who has, on his staff, Todd McFarlane- the man who brought us Spawn- and they are planning on using their first title to break a few of the RPG genre’s oldest rules.
After a few hours of hands-on time with the game’s demo (available now) it is clear that the world of Amalur and the characterization of its people have been carved out in painstaking historical detail. As a result of this work, Amalur is not just epic in scale- it contains five massive areas including Forest, Coastal and Desert regions, along with more than 150 hand-crafted dungeons) - but ambition too.
As par for the course, the game begins in conventional RPG fashion- choosing your character from four playable races. In Reckoning players can choose from the Human (Almain), Elvish (both the Dark Dokkalfar and Light Ljosalfar), and the nomadic Varani – all of which having specialties with certain attributes (combat, magic, etc.).
After choosing your hero the avatar can then be customized for appearance, before embarking into the game's mammoth single-player challenge, which is estimated to last more than 40 hours- and that’s excluding the hundreds of optional side-quests.
All this brings us to the combat elements of the game. Combat in Reckoning is, by no means, the game's most distinctive feature- but it just may be the feature that gamers will be talking about the most.
Reckoning uses a combination of simple hack and slash combat (controller buttons mapped to weapons such as swords, bows or magic staffs) with quick-time events for boss battles and finishing moves. The result of this combination is a hybrid combat system that will have many players describing it as very “God of War” esque.
Granted, this system of combat may not please hardcore fans of RPG gaming, but it's a system capable of some impressive combos. Of particular note is the use of this combat within the game’s "Reckoning Mode" - time slows down, moves can be chained together, and players can expect some serious in-game eye candy.
However, while a lot of game time will inevitably be spent in combat and questing, Reckoning's most innovative feature is its creative mythology- specifically the inclusion of concepts such as “Fates” & “Destinies” which allow the player more choice in the game’s environment, but carry the potential to have a profound effect on the gameplay depending on how they are approached.
With elements such as these, Reckoning takes a different approach from most RPG character progression models. Players start the game able to take three main paths – Might, Finesse, or Sorcery. Each of these paths contain around twenty upgradeable abilities. However, at any leveling-up point players can choose to specialize areas other than their main focus- allowing for the creation of hybrid characters that may combine abilities from all of the three paths.
Now, it remains to be seen whether such a dynamic form of character development will empower or over-complicate gameplay, but the developers believe it enforces a kind of open world realism and flexibility which has so-far been unseen in main-stream RPG’s.
This flexibility even extends to other areas of the gameplay. There are, for example, also nine non-combat skills – some which have unexpected affects on the gameplay., For instance, improving a character's stealth abilities does introduce some incredible stealth kills, but it also opens up career paths like pick-pocketing, which are more corrupt in nature.
So, how pleased are gamers of the “immediate gratification” generation going to be with a game that so easily thwarts simple summaries?
I don’t want to prophesize that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will “raise the bar” or completely “innovate” the RPG, but the game does bring something different to the genre. It’s a world of beauty and horror – it presents gamers with a frightening situation that is worth fighting against and gives players the tools needed to stand in the fight.
To me, Reckoning sounds like just the kind of game to get 2012 off to a good start- at least in the realm of RPG.
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