Developers 38 Studios and Big Huge Games took the opportunity at this year's Game Developers Conference to show off their new action role-playing game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Founded by former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, 38 Studios has assembled a talented cast from across the entertainment industry to bring its primer title to life. These include Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolston. We got the chance to peek into their fantasy world during a hands-off demonstration last week.
We began in a crypt, knee-deep in a pile of corpses. All we knew was that our character had recently died. Now, he was alive once more, thanks to the efforts of an excited gnome that had appeared on a balcony overhead. However, the one-sided conversation was cut short as the gnome urged our character--a blond-haired bruiser decked out in a pair of long johns--to arm himself against the crypt's hostile inhabitants. Our character lifted a broadsword from a nearby corpse, and right on cue, he was attacked by a skeleton warrior.
As the two traded blows, the developers explained how they had integrated some traditional action game combat mechanics, such as launcher attacks and enemy juggling, into Reckoning. Each attack from our character was controlled with just one button, with variations in timing determining which attack was used. Our character opened with three quick strikes; then, he performed the same series again and paused slightly after the second hit before attacking again. This triggered an upward slash that lurched the enemy into the air, leaving him vulnerable to more hits.
With the battle concluded, our character collected some loot from the skeleton's body. As it turned out, the fiend had a bit of a leather fetish because he was holding a pair of leather pants, boots, and armor. These items could be compared against our character's current equipment and even equipped from the loot screen if we wanted. The developers made it clear that they wanted all of the customization options found in a traditional role-playing game, but without all the cumbersome menu diving found in other releases.
As we exited the crypt, our pilot skipped us ahead to the city of Didenhil. This scenic forest village served as one of the game's main quest hubs. Here, we received a crash course on item crafting as our character produced a special gem that, when socketed with our broadsword, created a flaming broadsword. To help demonstrate how awesome this new sword was, he chased down an unsuspecting chicken and used it to punt the creature clear across town and into a small pond. It was an impressive shot.
Our pilot cleared out of Didenhil soon after and rolled up on a snoozing, snakelike creature. Hungry for more animal cruelty, he engaged the monster by alternating between his new sword and a large war hammer. Just like our previous encounter, each weapon was controlled with a single button, and our character could alternate between the two midcombo. The serpent responded by vomiting up a few of its offspring to attack us, which we used to try out our magical abilities. Even though our character was more of the warrior type, he still had access to some aggressive spells that complemented his play style. He could deploy waves of jagged rocks to damage nearby attackers, use a shock wave spell to knock back enemies, or call upon a magical hand to pull targets into melee range.
Once the snake was slain, we spied an entrance to a dungeon not far from our position. Once inside, we noticed that our character had been transformed from a warrior to a wizard. And while wizards aren't known for their martial prowess, the developer wanted to make sure that the magician's weapons were just as much fun to use as any other. Our character quickly encountered some kobolds and drew an ornate wooden staff. Cascading waves of ice covered the cave's floor with each swing of this weapon. And if one foe got too close, our pilot would teleport away before tagging it with the mark of flame spell. This spell transformed the feral fiend into a living bomb that could be detonated at will.
Our demonstration ended with a head-to-head battle against a cave troll. Here, our character made use of his second weapon, a pair of flaming chakrams, to engage the monster from a midrange distance. While these deadly rings lacked the reach of the staff, they excelled at quick hits and covered a lot of space on the front and sides of our character. Once the monster had taken enough punishment, our pilot triggered a quick-time event to finish it off. Luckily, he didn't have to worry about failing the event because it only involved tapping one button repeatedly to do additional damage. Onscreen, this manifested as a giant, magical spear being jammed through the troll's skull.
In the aftermath of this encounter, our character leveled up, which meant he had some skill points to spend. In Reckoning, what skills you have unlocked determine what class your character is, and you will be able to switch between classes with the same character. The skill tree itself is broken down into three branches: might, finesse, and sorcery. Each branch dictates a specific play style with numerous pure and hybrid classes available to unlock. While we didn't get to try out Reckoning ourselves, it looks like 38 Studios is making a lot of smart decisions with the design of its game. If you're ready for another high-fantasy romp, then look for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in 2012.