Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (hereafter referred to as Amalur, because that name is longer than a seismosaur’s neck) is an RPG. It’s an RPG player’s RPG, and it tries to be a really good one. It tries to stand up and say, “I’m awesome! I’ve got the most and I do the best!” It’s like a giant, juicy, fresh cut steak that was cooked without seasoning. It’s bland.
When talking about my play time with a fellow dino, I described Amalur as “RPG of RPG: The Reckoning” because that’s what it looks and feels like. I started the game and watched a cinematic about some great evil force that once went to war with a prosperous kingdom and was finally defeated but may be immortal (or something like that; honestly, I didn’t catch all the details). It felt like The Lord of the Rings and the struggle against Sauron. Then I created a character, picked a class, and a build, and customized my appearance, because that’s what you do in RPGs. Oh, and pick a deity to follow, too, because that’ll affect your abilities later.
Now that you have your character, battle through catacombs, fighting enemies that look like goblins. After that, start exploring the world. Learn about your combat skills, different weapon types, crafting and alchemy, buy and selling, equipment and inventory management, combo skills for battle; gain experience to level up and access your combat skill tree, and your other, non-combat skill tree. As you continue exploring, you’ll find lore stones and shrines to the gods, which both have differing, temporary affects on your hero. You’ll hear stories of your hero’s fate, and how your hero can change the course of history. In fact, your hero is almost like a god and must be the one to lead us all forward, but only if you choose – your destiny is your own!
Sound familiar? No, I’m not about to rag on a game, any game, for being cliché. I’m not going to complain about lack of originality – well, maybe a little: I will complain about the name. But when you do what everyone else has done, you need to do something that they haven’t in order to stand out and be better. Amalur doesn’t do that extra thing, and it doesn’t do the other things as well as the originals did them.
The presentation looks like a cross between Fable and World of Warcraft. The world is bright and colorful, large and expansive. The plot is presented in a manner very similar to Fable, spending a lot of time convincing you that your destiny is yours, that you can choose your fate, and creating dialog trees pulled straight from Mass Effect. Quest and shop icons litter the mini-map like it were an MMO, removing some of the attraction to the game world itself (in my opinion).
The combat feels like Darksiders, Dragon Age II, and Fable, but mostly like Darksiders. Your character has weight to him and a sluggish draw behind many attacks and actions, just like War does – and that’s not just me playing a warrior class. Despite which weapon I chose, it felt as though I was still War from Darksiders. I didn’t feel anything particularly meaningful between the different battle styles that were offered to me, and when I tried to mix-and-match and create my own methods – such as a sword and bow, instead of daggers and bow or sword and shield – the game reacted very poorly, meaning I was punished rather brutally.
The character development is cluttered. They put everything in this game: every mechanic, not every ounce of wonderment. My character had so many different stats (Dragon Age), affects (Skyrim), skill trees (Dragon Age, Fallout, Skyrim), fate cards (Fable, Persona), and class traits (World of Warcraft, Dragon Age) that I couldn’t tell the weight of any one of them. There was so much going on, so many different choices and little percentage boosts for various parts of my hero, that I couldn’t tell what was meaningful.
It’s been said that artists or game designers steal from the best, but with great power comes great responsibility or you’ll be all wet like the sorcerer’s apprentice. In its ambition, Amalur did two things: (1) it addressed irritating RPG tropes, such as mechanics introduction, tutorials, quest management, and slow combat (commendable, mind you); and (2) it drew its feature list from critically acclaimed AAA sources. However, when pulling together these features, it didn’t stop to ask why the features were there in the first place. It gave the player choices, but didn’t make those choices feel meaningful. Then, after this had been done, it didn’t add any flavor. Amalur seemingly assumed that having strong features would make it a strong game, but instead it came out feeling derivative and bland. I could keep crunching on you and get full, because yes, you are a steak, but you’re not a particularly great steak that I’m going to remember later. In fact, you’re not even a bad steak, so I’ll forget you for that too. You’re just another slab of stegosaurus.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was developed by 38 Studios and Big Huge Games, and published by Electronic Arts. For this post, I played on PlayStation 3 for roughly three hours, making it to about level 5.
This post was originally written and published by me on a former site on October 9, 2012.