The Elder Scrolls games are the standard for single-player single-character fantasy role playing games, and any game designer wanting to make something in this genre has to address, at all times, how their game is to compare to Bethesda’s juggernaut. Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning (KAR) is Electonic Arts’ answer to Skryim, and it does a fine job of representing itself in the important ways and a passable job everywhere else.
The strength of any of these games is story, and KAR doesn’t skimp, with famous author R.A. Salvatore (yeah, the guy who, for good or ill, inflicted the 2-weapon warrior cliché upon us) creating a deep and interesting game world that’s a cut above generic medieval fantasy, and on a par with anything Bethesda has offered. This is a big world, and, much like with Elder Scrolls, much of the background is presented via many books; in addition, talky-stones give oral narratives describing various game areas. Various characters also give considerable background (although the voices all sort of blend together after a while). You can avoid the background easily enough, as helpful quest circles, guides, and exclamation points point out where you need to go and what you need to do, even if you’re not otherwise paying attention. Through sheer osmosis you’ll pick up quite a bit of information. It’s an impressive world, and it’s presented smoothly.
Combat has always been a weak point of Elder Scrolls, and KAR leaps high over Bethesda’s low bar. Each weapon has quite a number of special attacks, combat often pits you against multiple foes, and you have multiple strategies to achieve victory. It may have too much of an arcade feel for some folks, but it sure beats the “walk up and bash into the ground or snipe helpless enemies from a distance” options of Skyrim. In addition to weapons and tactics, there are a ridiculous number of potions you can use to augment your fight; their duration is brief, and I fear Skyrim’s “potions can be ignored except for healing” mentality has made it hard for me to really appreciate this part of the game, even as I carry a dozen different types around just in case.
“Great story and combat can take you pretty far, which is good, as KAR falls short in most other categories.”
Great story and combat can take you pretty far, which is good, as KAR falls short in most other categories. The graphics, for example, are cartoonish, which detracts a great deal from immersion. There’s never an occasion where I feel I’m in anything but a constructed world. Granted, this may just be my own artistic opinion, but it seems as though nobody cared to have the world make sense. There are boxes and chests literally everywhere, even in towns, and nobody seems to mind as you smash open boxes that, clearly, somebody piled up in front of the store for a reason, and that’s not even factoring in all the “free” chests laying around (some chests do count as stealing if you take from them, at least). There are night and day cycles, but I had a very difficult time distinguishing broad daylight from evening; only folks going to bed give me much of a clue.
Character development is also unsatisfying. When you gain a level, you gain a skill point for special noncombat skills, from Lockpicking to Persuasion to Alchemy. More points make these skills more effective, and you can find trainers. Unfortunately, trainers only help you if you have low skill, so if you improve too quickly, you’re out of luck unless you go to visit a Fateweaver, who resets everything you’ve gained from level 1… forcing you to rebuild your character from scratch just to get that one lousy point. It’s annoying and serves no purpose.
Each time you level up, you also gain three combat skill points that go into making your character a warrior, wizard, or rogue. This too, is unsatisfying, as this is all pure combat stuff, and it’s mostly +5% here, +7% there… it works, but I really don’t see more than a couple of viable builds, and it wouldn’t surprise me if most everyone plays a fighter/mage, using rogue, at best, for archery (which isn’t all that useful, as most combat devolves into melee quickly).
After that, you pick a destiny based on how you’ve allocated points; you can change destiny at every level, and, once again, it’s mostly just giving percentages here and there. It’s all a playable system, mind you, and the Fateweavers guarantee you’ll get a character you like; it’s just fairly narrow, meaning this game is good for one play-through. This is no great loss considering the size of the game world, although I do wish there was a mount of some sort: It’s slow, slow business running everywhere when fast travel isn’t available.
There’s also a treasure system. Inexplicably, they have set items here, granting bonuses if you somehow get multiple items together. While this works well in a game where you’ll use multiple characters and can transfer items between them, it’s flat out stupid in this game… there’s little chance of finding a whole set, and no chance whatsoever of finding it before you’re too high-level to get any use out of it, except for whole sets that are handed to you outright. At least the plentiful unique items are truly unique, with a back story and bonuses that make some sort of sense (instead of the very random feel that I usually get in these types of treasure systems). Even when useless, the unique items still give a feeling of accomplishment for finding them.
There’s a crafting and repair system, but, again, it integrates poorly. You can blacksmith various items, but, seriously, you’ll find plenty of good stuff through adventuring. There was never a time when I needed anything. Similarly, you can craft your own potions… you can trivially buy or find what you need, however. You can repair your items, but you’ll usually find new items more appropriate to your level before your old items wear out enough to require repair. There are also gems and socketing, but it doesn’t really fit, either – you can only socket a gem at a gem socketing station, which is rarely anywhere near where you are, assuming you have a decent gem (you generally won’t) and an item that you’re willing to use, with a socket (never found such a thing).
You can get your own homes in some of the towns, but again, it just doesn’t work. You can’t personalize your home beyond the pre-set decorations; there’s no dropping stuff on the floor, for example. All you’ll care about is the stash where you can go and dump the stuff for which you think, maybe, you might have a use (mostly, for set items in futile hope of getting a set together, gems that you hope someday will fit in an item, or potions that you think someday might be useful).
This is my first game through Origin, which is EA’s answer to Steam. It works well, but I just don’t see the point. The whole reason I go to download sites like GamersGate is so that I can get the feeling that I actually own my games. This is a feeling Steam doesn’t offer and, so far, doesn’t seem to come from Origin either.
For all the things that don’t work well, the exciting combat and deep world make KAR a very worthy game to play. It’s a shame Electronic Arts is doing such a poor job of promoting it, as there is enough here to make the foundation of a very solid franchise. Check it out if you’re tiring of bashing Skyrim’s dragons, at the very least.