There's plenty of big budget franchises when it comes to RPG's, so developing a new, large RPG adventure is an ambitious project. 38 Studios has definitely delivered with their debut title, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
The story opens with your character's burial. It is revealed you are part of an experiment called the Well of Souls which was designed by a gnome scientist to revive the dead. You are a success, but have no memory of your past life. The facility is attacked by the Tuatha, a group of immortals who wish to destroy the Well. After escaping, you meet up with a Fateweaver, a man who can foresee people's fate. Due to your revival by the Well, your fate is unreadable and so your destiny is in your full control. What this means in terms of game-play is that you can visit the Fateweaver to reset your skills. The flexibility to completely re-assign your skills means you don't need to replay the entire game to experience a different type of character, and enjoy all the aspects of the game.
The beginning of the game acts as a tutorial. It will guide you through equipping items, and showing you how all the attacks perform, giving you a flavour of each of the classes. Once the tutorial is complete, you confirm your character, and there begins your journey.
The role-playing elements can be compared to elements found in Elder Scrolls and Fable. There are essentially three categories of skill trees: Might (physical attack and defence), Finesse (speed and range) and Sorcery (magic). When you level up, you gain 3 points to assign. You can dedicate your points to one of these classes, or even be a hybrid of two or three.
Every time you allocate a certain number of points into a tree, you unlock destiny cards. These destiny cards represent your character's class e.g. Brawler (Might), Acolyte (Sorcery), or Rogue (Finesse), and these give you boosts in their corresponding weapons. Since you can mix and match styles, there are also hybrid destiny cards for every permutation.
There's another set of skills which you can assign one point to when you level up. These skills are used within the world like stealth, lock-picking, dispelling magic traps, alchemy, blacksmithing, detecting hidden and more.
With blacksmithing, you are able to choose each component of your weapon/armour up to a maximum of 5 components (depending on your skill level), defining the physical and magical properties of the created item. Sage-crafting combines two gems together which can be added to certain weapons and armour to add additional magical properties to them. Lock-picking gives you a mini-game like Elder Scrolls. It seems poorly implemented since it's easy to pick the hardest locks with only a couple of skill points. Stealth allows you to pickpocket individuals or steal from chests, desks, cabinets etc. Being caught gives you the option of paying your fine, resisting arrest, or going to jail. Persuasion reduces jail fines and also gives you a higher chance of succeeding in special dialog options. The result can be that you gain extra items or cash. Detecting Hidden is a useful skills since it shows enemies and hidden loot, which there are high quantities of.
Focussing on the main quest is hard due to the amount of distractions. There's a large amount of quests and the scale of the world is very impressive. As you travel the world, you will be finding plenty of people to give you quests, new locations to explore, plants and chests to loot.
The map isn't designed for a true open world. The designated regions are often connected by straight paths and usually feature a loading screen as you travel between them. Once you have discovered a location such as a cave, castle, town etc., you can use your map to fast-travel to that location. The game rewards player exploration by awarding experience when locations and lore stones are discovered. Nearby quests objectives are shown by a white circle, exclamation marks signify new quest givers, and the yellow circle shows you your active quest objective.
Weapons and armour are equal to one bag slot, whereas smaller items such as potions, reagents and other smaller items often stack up to 10. You have 80 initial slots and can purchase backpack upgrades at some merchants. You can mark an item as Junk and these can be sold together with one button press at shops.
Battles take place in real-time. Players can move, dodge, attack and block. The game plays more like Fable, allowing you to alternate between mêlée, long range and magic as you see fit. There's a button dedicated to your primary and secondary attacks, and holding the right-trigger brings up your skills which are assigned to the four face buttons. You are unable to jump, but there's enough combinations of attacks to keep it varied; each class has certain weapons associated with them. Might has Swords/Great Sword/Hammers, Finesse has Knives/Bows and Sorcery has Staves/Sceptres/Chakrams.
You can fire a limited amount of arrows and then have to wait several seconds for them to replenish. At first it seems a weird system, but it strips the tedious nature of retrieving used arrows or replenishing your stocks like you do in some games.
Varying your attacks fills up your Reckoning meter, and once full, can be activated for increased stats and opportunity for extra experience points. Every enemy defeated goes into a downed state and once you choose to execute one of them, you gain extra experience for each downed enemy. In my opinion, the Reckoning meter fills up a bit too quickly and can be used to make light-work of the stronger boss enemies.
The combat could get tedious, but I found that when my character seemed to become too powerful and I was tempted to increase the difficulty, the enemies increased in strength to pose a better challenge. The next time it happened, I decided to visit the Fateweaver to re-assign my skill points and became a magic user instead of a fighter. The flexibility to change your character mid-game is a huge plus, keeping the game varied and interesting and allowing you to experiment to get most out of the games mechanics.
Your character is a voiceless hero so lacks personality, but this is a common occurrence in games. The voice acting for everyone else is very good, although the characters don't seem strong and memorable. It's easy just to skip through the dialog and get back into the action. It's great to see that your movement speed is very fast, allowing you to traverse the large environments quickly. Since the game is so big, I would have expected to encounter a lot of bugs. Apart from some texture pop-up, the game runs smoothly.
Kingdoms of Amalur is fast-paced in terms of movement speed and combat, but has a huge scale world which will take 30 hours or so of your time to go through. The story isn't as good as other games in the genre, and it doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but it does everything else right to make a great RPG.