There's a lot to be excited about when it comes to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, especially when there's an impressive amount of talent behind the project. Key members on the team include Ken Rolston, who was the lead designer on the third and fourth Elder Scrolls games; best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, who is penning the lore; and Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, who is handling the artwork. And, of course, you have Curt Schilling, Major League Baseball pitcher, who founded the studio and brought the dream team together. At a pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo event in Los Angeles, we were able to revisit Amalur and get some hands-on time with the game.
For a fantasy game of this size and scale, a 30-minute demo only offered a tiny slice of what's to come. From the last demo, all we know about the story of our character is that he is back from the dead. However there are bigger problems brewing in this fantastical world. Big Huge Studios didn't go into great detail about the story this time around, but we picked up some tidbits here and there. We started off halfway through the game, outside the looming gates of the lovely Dokkalfar (dark elf) capital of Rathir, where we were introduced to the crime system. The first portion of the demo was controlled, but we were able take control in the latter half. Our character was a mage rogue, highly skilled in the art of pickpocketing. We watched as he boldly walked up to an unsuspecting non-player character that had her back turned and promptly relieved her of her ring, as well as her gold. She immediately reacted to this, although it took her a few moments to turn around, so we tried to get away before we were caught. If you do get caught, you have a few options to consider. To demonstrate this, we approached the next victim that would succumb to our sticky fingers. But this time, it was in a crowded area where we couldn't exactly see the number of people in our line of sight. A guard immediately came charging at us, and we had a choice to make. We could either pay a fine to have our crime cleared, go to jail and perhaps try to sneak out (there is an experience cost to this), or try to fight our way out and potentially ruin any peaceful experience we might have otherwise had in this city. Chances are you'll likely die fighting against the guards of the capital, but it's something to keep in mind if you don't mind wiping out a small village never to return. We paid the fine to get on with the demo. There's no morality system, but your actions will affect how some people treat you, especially those in the city that you've committed your crime in, but you'll otherwise have access to all the quests in the game so you won't be missing out on any content.
Rathir, like any major bustling city in a role-playing game is packed with things to do. You'll find quests, which are marked with exclamation points all over the map; shops; and fun things to do like blacksmithing. As a mage rogue, we didn't wield any swords, so we bought everything we could from a local mom-and-pop weapon shop and salvaged the items, turning them into materials that we could use to boost the effect of our daggers. Blacksmithing lets you use all the junk that you come across during your travels and turns them into something useful when you get to a forge. Our daggers now had a shimmering frosty ice effect, which made them much more elegant weapons than a couple of plain, non-glowing daggers.
To give us a reason to go out and slash a few things, we picked up a quest from a worried father who was looking for his daughter Anela. We were told that Anela had information regarding the Tuatha, a group of warriors that had made its way across the ocean to this land and was attacking villages left and right. When talking to characters, the first option will always move the conversation forward for those who want to get through as quickly as possible. But there are other dialogue options, if you want to learn more about the world around you. Before accepting the quest, we were given the option to happily accept, decline, or try to persuade the man to give us some money up front for our help. Depending on your skills of persuasion, this might work. But in our case, we weren't such a smooth talker and decided to be the Good Samaritan that we were to help the man out.
Our next destination was Culn, a village not too far from our location. Along the way, we fought some nimble sprites, but we were faster. As a mage rogue, we had the ability to teleport around the area to get behind our enemies and deal damage as we swooshed by them. Upon arriving at the now deserted village of Culn, we noticed that the locals had been slaughtered and walked into an ambush set up by Tuatha guards. We covered combat in our last preview, but it's important to note that your X and Y buttons (on the Xbox 360 version) are tied to each of your weapons, and by holding the right trigger, you can access your other skills. Armed with dual daggers and chakrams, we found that combat was surprisingly smooth and fluid. By tapping any of the buttons repeatedly, you can string together a bunch of attacks. But if you press a button, pause, and then continue, you'll launch an entirely different move set. The demo was set up so that we leveled, which allowed us to use ability points to build our skills, as well as unlock a new hybrid destiny called shadowcaster. Destinies are the game's version of classes, and there are more than 40 in the game. You have to return to a fate weaver to assign yourself to a new one. As you level, you can assign points to might, sorcery, or finesse, and different destinies will unlock, depending on what path you've taken. This way, you're not forever stuck playing a certain role if you don't happen to like it. You can always invest in another path and see where it takes you.
The last part of the demo led us into a dungeon where we fought some wolflike beasts and more guards. We then found Anela and encountered a burly giant, which we promptly slayed. Along the way, there were treasure chests, all locked magically so we had to use our dispel ability to open them. A minigame where we had to time our button presses as the cursor passed by symbols was easy enough, but we're told that these can get much more complicated and difficult. What's nice is that with all the loot that you collect, you can immediately choose to move it into a junk pile with the Y button so that when you head back to town all your junk will be taken care of and sold.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning left a good impression, and we're looking forward to seeing more. The combat felt good; it was fast and easy to learn. It also helped that we looked great doing it in a beautiful fantasy world with rich environments, and our customizable character didn't look so bad either. We'll have more details to share with you during E3, so be sure to stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates.