Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning [Review] – The Elder Scrolls antidote

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I hate Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Not only has it drawn my attention away from a certain Bethesda RPG, it raises a number of significant questions. Why must an expansive world immediately mean simplistic and dull combat? What happens when voice-acting overcomes a monotonous droning? Why does Cher Lloyd even exist?
After spending a whole lot of time trying to work out the answer to such riddles, I came to a definite answer: Reckoning is the antidote to those who have reached burnout with Skyrim.
Your adventure begins at the gates of death. As two gnomes deposit your body into a mass grave, an ancient artefact, the Well of Souls, mysteriously brings you back to life. In doing so, it changes the fate of Amalur and its citizens forever. As an opening, this isn’t a million miles away from the executions that kick off Skyrim, as 38 Studios provide you with a fast-paced and welcoming tutorial.
Here, you’ll pick the basic frame for your character, suit up with some decaying armour and lay waste to the enemies that begin slaughtering the helpless gnomes. It’s an intriguing start to an enthralling adventure, and one that instantly flaunts Reckoning’s strengths. 

After exiting the morgue, the world of Amalur opens itself up pretty quickly. You’ll instantly meet a ‘Fateweaver’ who, as the name suggests, is interested in how your survival will affect the world around you. Hilariously, this tarot-reading fool is a victim of drink, and his pretentiousness amounts to an inconclusive result. He has no idea who you are, why you survived, and how the activation of the Well of Souls will alter the path of others. This cleverly sets up the premise of the game, putting you on a path to uncover your own fate.
The usual RPG conventions are here, with warrior, rogue and mage abilities making an appearance early on, but it’s the conglomeration of all three that build your unique character. These classes translate to Might, Finesse and Sorcery, offering plenty of options for customisation. Building skills will unlock tarot cards, all of which help you align your fate and improve your stats.
Fancy taking on the role of a hammer-wielding warrior? Pick the right card and the physical damage you dish out becomes more deadly. Interestingly, if you decide to utilise two types of weaponry, a Dualist card appears, meaning both your long-range and close-quarter combat improves. As the game progresses you’ll spend points on skills in each category, each of which dictate which cards are available.

It doesn’t take long to realise that there’s a wealth of combinations for your character to excel within. Mixing and matching will be favoured by many as it opens up plenty of attacking routes. No matter what you pick, three types of offence combine to make an excellent combat system. A primary weapon will dish out the most punishment, usually a sword, hammer or – the magically inclined, a staff. A secondary weapon is great for long-ranged and stealth kills – bows, daggers and circular blades are amongst the most common. Alongside your two weapons, magic itself can lend an extremely helpful hand.
Sure, this set-up isn’t anything new for the Western RPG, but Reckoning holds an absolute trump card up its sleeve. Without overselling it, the combat puts many RPG’s to shame. Instead of cumbersome, non-responsive duals against equally useless foes, you’re treated to consistently entertaining encounters against a variation of beasts. Its effortlessly dynamic, and takes on a hack ‘n’ slash feel that highlights just how so many RPG’s short-change players in this area.
When up close and personal, slamming through enemies with a giant hammer and then pulling off a perfectly-timed block with the shield is hugely satisfying. As your character levels up, new techniques become available, meaning the game never ceases to evolve. Alongside your progression, opponents start to pose a greater challenge, meaning you will always needs to be on your toes. It really cannot be understated just how well the combat works. The dedication of the developers to get this right results in a the game with a massive one-up over its trudging competitors.
As a first outing, it’s worth noting that the world of Amalur is rather impressive. Its layout isn’t the most ambitious, but is deceptively large and diverse. You’ll wallow across dry-lands, enjoy the freshness of forests, all the while noticing the little differences that imbue a sense of personality. A clever use of colour highlights you’re entrance to new terrain, each shift providing a breathtaking contrast that forces you to stare a little longer than you probably should. From luscious greens to autumnal reds, Reckoning oozes beauty.

One of the best examples of such a shift arrives close after the opening. You’d be forgiven for failing to notice how the expansive plains turn into a constricted, dangerous side-path. The only sign that something lurks around the corner are the strands of webbing that hang across the scenery, indicating that an eight-legged friend might be lurking. Of course, it’s not here to offer you a cup of coffee and slice of banana bread to help you on your travels…
It’s all well and good having a rich world to play in, but there must be plenty of interesting things to occupy you. Thankfully, Reckoning ushers in some memorable design choices. The Todd McFarlane aesthetic influence is obvious; wolves, bears and bulls possessing a Spawn-like flair.
As all of the battles happen in real-time, traversing the map can often be dangerous. It’s not uncommon to be minding your own business, only for a troupe of dual-headed giants to get angry at your presence. It’s consistently challenging stuff and forces you to ensure you’re suitably equipped for a long journey.
NPC’s also have a touch of class about them and are brilliantly voiced. Conversations are engaging rather than (as is so often the case) tiresome, with delivered with a palpable sense of heart. Never underestimate how refreshing it is to run into dialogue that is useful, interesting and original/unique to each character.

38 Studios want you to explore Amalur, and there’s plenty of reason to do so. New armour and weaponry is abundant, and there are plenty of chests and enemies to loot them from. Anything you find can be combined to make more weapons, armour and a plethora of potions. A true sense of achievement arises when you stumble across a rare item, as it’s worth can be influential amidst the heat of battle.
Dungeon crawling is worthwhile and fun, never feeling like a chore. In fact, you’d be hard-pushed to stumble across a cave or ruins that aren’t a pleasure to delve into. Huge waterfalls litter interiors, hidden traps hug the floor and there’s a general level of wonder that many RPG’s simply fail to capture. If you’re tackling every mission in the game, expect to clock over 100 hours.
Away from the impressive design, Reckoning runs smoothly for the most part. Freezes are non-existent, and you won’t have to live in fear that you’ll lose your progress. Every so often the frame-rate suffers, but this hardly impacts your entertainment and sorts itself out quickly.
Needless to say, this is an impressively strong showing from 38 Studios. Considering it’s an original IP, the team have created a wonderful world for us to explore, and it wont be going anywhere. From the fantastic combat to the polished visuals and audio design, this title has so much to offer. The comparisons in quality to Skyrim shouldn’t be laughed at – Reckoning is the first title to offer a legitimate challenge to the Elder Scrolls juggernaut.

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