Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

This is a solid, solid wRPG that actually manages to do something different and interesting with a high-fantasy setting. The visuals are gorgeous as well. My biggest qualm with it is that it was really too easy, even on the highest difficultly.

This game had me at the very first line of the opening: “It all started when you died.”

The whole opening sequence was great, really. The world of Amalur is embroiled in a 10-year-old war in which the immortal Winter Fae have decided to exterminate mortal races (and those of their own who disagree). In addition to being more powerful than elves/gnomes/humans, Fae don’t really die, but quickly reincarnate as adults upon being killed, meaning their manpower is basically limitless. In an attempt to replicate this process, Gnomish scholars have been researching something called the Well of Souls, which aims to capture recently-deceased mortal souls and place them back in reconstructed, functional bodies. You wake up as the first success of the system.

I was immediately struck a) by the originality of this plotline and b) by the fact that the dwarven race were the intellectual magic-users. This game is really at its best when it’s doing new, interesting things like this. The lategame Winter Fae sequences are excellent, the way it explores a society that worships death but in a noble way (I’m explaining this badly) was really neat. The Fae plotlines, Summer and Winter, were generally really good. I liked the problems their disconnect with life  as finite caused. I also really loved the end of the House of Ballads plotline as a fairy-tale subversion, though I won’t spoil it here.

Right off the bat, the game is very egalitarian. The costuming is excellent, and this is one of very, very few games that actually managed to make costuming reflect culture! When everyone is dressed reasonably, male and female, except the dark elves who are both sexy, male and female, I actually learn something about the world of the game! It was great. All of the armor in the game was great, I loved the aesthetic of everything. The one unfortunate exception to this is the main NPC female character, whose costume is over-the-top awful. I imagine she was a sacrifice to the Marketing Gods for the general lack of teh sexi in the rest of the game. She was a great character, though. There were no shortage of excellent female characters, including the most important general in the ongoing war and several of the high scholars you have to deal with in Detyre. That said, the cast definitely does tilt male.

The world, both in its vibrance and its dreariness, was overall very, very pretty. It reminded me of the first Fable game, with the massive trees and saturated colors on the western parts of the map.

The game is Diablo in its construction, and while admittedly the Elder Scrolls-style level-up-with-use is my preference, this is a well-done iteration of the Diablo formula. Each level-up provides one skill point and three ability points with which to enhance your overall, general skills as well as your job-specific abilities (Might/Sorcery/Finesse) respectively. One thing I really liked was that the game made it super easy to reset skills at any time and switch concentrations. Additionally, it was set up that you could do a combo-build if you wanted. I did a Finesse/Sorcery build and quite enjoyed it. It wasn’t a game that punished you for your mistakes.

There were two major gameplay problems. The first was that crafting skills were useless. I could always, easily find better armor than I could blacksmith because of the inability to craft gem slots. Additionally, the only potions I ever used were health, and those dropped frequently, so alchemy was useless, too.

Which ties into the second problem: this game was really easy. I played on the hardest difficultly and it was still a breeze. The fighting itself was fun, which helped, but once I got the wide-area lightening spell I was basically one- or two-hit-KOing mobs and that was the very endgame. The proliferation of enemies made this necessary, but I would much have preferred fewer enemies I had to strategize against than tons upon tons of them I could plow through. That said, the OHKOing came late enough that is made me feel more badass than bored. But I wasn’t ever really challenged. I maxed out my Persuasion early, which let me talk my way through most of the game as well.

I also wish that the sidequests had more of an effect on the world at large. The game tried to do this, but I have a feeling it bit off more than it could chew. There were a lot of points where I felt that taking one quest should have locked me out of another one, or being told “steal from X” should also have opened up an option to tell X someone sent you to steal from them. I think the whole game would have been better served by a Fable-style good/evil system whereby NPCs could react to you based on the sum of your tasks. There wasn’t any penalty for doing quests that were shitty things to do as a person. That bothered me.

That said, the story and characters were the game’s strong point. The world was so full. Every NPC had a backstory, and there was lore bursting from the seams. Love love loved the Lorestones, maxed out Detect Hidden early so I didn’t miss any. You could tell a lot of love was put into the world.

My biggest complaint in the story department was that I found Ventrinio to be an extraneous character and the way he was shoved into the story late, with no warning, was confusing. I don’t really think he served any plot purpose that Hughes couldn’t have, especially if, say, you came back in a different body but Alyn could “sense” who you were or something. The point at which we were given Ventrinio made it hard to reconcile his role with the long list of Import People we already knew, to me.

I liked the ending, overall. I loved the ongoing theme of breaking the binds of destiny and carving one’s own path. I do wish we knew more about what Tirnoch (and those like her) actually were, where they came from, why she was so powerful. The idea is foreshadowed a little bit in the Scolia Arcana questline, but I felt like things wrapped up a little too quickly. Part of that, sadly, was probably hook for a sequel that was never to come.

…which is a shame. This game came from 38 Studios, also know as Curt Schilling’s game company, was a commercial failure despite a) being a super solid, enjoyable game and b) getting excellent reviews, and 38 folded. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I would love to see this series picked up by another company. There’s just so much heart and promise here. I almost wonder if it was too off-formula to pick up high-fantasy fanboys, while I’m sure people were turned off by the idea of “baseball-player-turned-game-developer.” I was, I admit.

Anyway, if you’re not into wRPGs this probably won’t convert you, but it’s an excellent entry into the genre and I spent weeks really enjoying myself with it. I’m a little sad to see it go, especially knowing it probably won’t come back. Alas.

40 Comments

  1. SpoonyViking says:
    I was immediately struck […] by the fact that the dwarven race were the intellectual magic-users.

    I blame “D&D” for that. Dwarfs were originally quite the magical beings, unoriginal writers and game developers!

    1. actonthat says:
      I played it for the 360, if you have access to that. I could even send it to you if you’d like.

      As for melee, I have no idea! I virtually never play melee fighters so I honestly didn’t even look at the skill tree as I went. I do know there’s a similar Finesse attack with the bow (like an arrow-rain thing) but I actually didn’t use it because I preferred boosting my spells and MP regen.

      As for dwarves, the mining/enemy-of-magic-elves thing, of course, goes all the way back to Tolkien. You can still do some neat stuff with it (like in Elder Scrolls) but it was neat to see a complete departure.

      1. SpoonyViking says:
        I played it for the 360, if you have access to that. I could even send it to you if you’d like.

        Thanks, but it’s alright, I don’t have any gaming console anymore. :-)

        As for dwarves, the mining/enemy-of-magic-elves thing, of course, goes all the way back to Tolkien.

        I think the “dwarves-are-a-strictly-nonmagical-race” trope owes more to D&D than Tolkien proper. At least, I’d say D&D put much more of an emphasis on that than Tolkien ever did.

        1. Keleri says:
          Certainly Tolkien put “The dwarves of yore made mighty spells” right in an early chapter of The Hobbit. Like Norse mythology’s svartalfar, though, the focus is on their cunning crafting and metalwork, so I can see how D&D might have flanderized them as the strictly nonmagical race.
          1. Nerem says:
            I actually like WoW’s method of just combining the two. Dwarves are powerful shaman and also prefer using/creating technology, especially favoring the rifle.
            1. SpoonyViking says:
              Dwarves are good shamans in “WoW”? But that doesn’t fit the lore from the previous games. Oh, Blizzard and your endless retcons…
              Reply
              1. Nerem says:
                Yes, I mean, it isn’t like their representative unit in Warcraft 2 wasn’t the basis of the Shaman characters in future games, no siree, at all…

                Oh wait.

                To clarify, the basis of the Shaman characters was the Dwarven Gryphon-Rider in WC2, who rode around throwing lightning hammers at people, because they were shamans. They were a specific clan of Dwarves who skipped out on the Alliance after WC2 so until they rejoined in World of Warcraft you only had the more technologically bent Dwarves.

              2. Keleri says:
                Yeah, the classes in WoW are standardized for gameplay reasons, but they draw from the iconic racial units in the RTSs pretty well I think. Certainly the world of WoW is a multicultural and cosmopolitan one where I’m sure people are copying and adapting spells and techniques all the time. People complain about the Flavor of the Month, but a “real” world of warcraft would experience the same arms races as new techniques are developed and then countered.
              3. SpoonyViking says:
                See, if it were just a matter of copying things that can be easily mass-produced, I’d have agreed with you. But copying an entirely new mystical skillset which involves a heavily different worldview? I don’t see that as being so easy to learn on a wide scale.
              4. Keleri says:
                That’s the cost of the gameplay needing to be uniform for sure, it would be nice if the game could accommodate the different belief systems and such– troll vs. night elf vs. tauren vs. human priests is a big one– but I think in any case in-universe there’s a lot more pragmatism in the class powers than genuine faith or beliefs.

                You can also play differently if you’re a roleplayer– a druid being able to do any of the four talent trees and switch between them is a gameplay mechanic, but your character in-universe has probably had to train their whole life in a single discipline. Your class tag might say Druid, too, but you might not literally be a druid-follower-of-Cenarius, but rather a shapeshifter, another RPG class that’s been subsumed in the broad umbrellas of WoW’s classes. A Wildhammer dwarf shaman might summon elementals because it’s part of her DPS rotation, but in-universe that character is a lightning-caller and gryphon rider and doesn’t actually venerate the elements.

              5. Nerem says:
                Well, Dwarves were always Shaman, so it isn’t like they copied something from another race. It was just a specific clan was in charge of it, and they had quit the Alliance. Dwarf Shaman are a specific clan of Shaman. Well, and also the Dark Iron Dwarves, who were always shamanistic in WoW, just generally villainous until they decided that the world was more important then their petty squabbles with the other clans and rode to their rescue.

                The only ‘race’ that really took on a new mythical skillset are the Worgen, who are few in number and were trained specifically by the Night Elves so they could control their werewolf form. The Night Elves relearned how to be mages from ancient Highborne mages. (Night Elves use to be supreme magi until the whole incident with the Well of Eternity made them abandon it for Druidism)

                Gnomes gained the ability to become Hunters, which dovetailed perfectly into their bent for technology, and mostly involved them invented mechanical pets to bond with, because of course they would.

                Well, I had almost forgotten that Goblins gained the ability to become Shaman was well – instead of learning a mystical skillset, they invented machines which let them effectively do the same thing.

              6. SpoonyViking says:
                Would you mind toning down the sarcasm? Thanks. ;-) Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t WoW Shamans based off the tauren and troll shamans from Warcraft 3? The ones who actually set up totems and so on and so forth? Especially considering the gryphon riders weren’t actually shamans even in the loosest sense – the Warcraft 2 manual makes no mention of them having mystical abilities, for instance.
              7. Nerem says:
                They’re a mashup of the Dwarven Gryphon Riders (Stormhammer-wielders), and Tauren and Orc Shaman in Warcraft 3.

                It was only vaguely mentioned that they had Shaman outside of the Gryphon Riders until the WOW P&P RPG, but I guess it should have been obvious since the Gryphon Riders weren’t actually Shaman themselves, but used hammers empowered by Shaman.

              8. SpoonyViking says:
                I should also note that lore was super vague and kinda scarce until WoW had to make things concrete.

                Hm, I don’t agree. I think the Warcraft 2 and Beyond the Dark Portal manuals had quite a bit of lore, and so did the third game’s and its expansion’s manuals (although that’s when the retcons started).

              9. Nerem says:
                The manuals have a decent amount but once you get into the games, things can be pretty hazy. It’s largely why they had to retcon, since WC1 and WC2 had two conflicting campaigns apiece.
              10. SpoonyViking says:
                Yeah, but it was reasonably easy to combine events from them into a single, coherent whole. Which is actually what the third one did, but in an effort to make things morally greyer, it outright retconned some things from the first games.
              11. Nerem says:
                Ehh some of them were not so easy. Basically some things had to be retconned no matter what. Like the victor/loser of the games. Also, some scenes just needed SOMEBODY there, which was something that, for example, WC1 couldn’t support. Like the confrontation with Medivh. Which is why they wanted to redo WC1 in a way where they could have actual stuff happen.
          2. SpoonyViking says:
            I think the main problem is that D&D took Gimli and basically based the entire Dwarf race off him.
            1. Nerem says:
              You’re pretty much absolutely correct.
              Reply
  2. Roarke says:
    Hmm may have to give this one a shot. I’ve been so hungry for a good wRPG lately. Though I still haven’t started DA: Inquisition, either. Urgh.
    1. actonthat says:
      Well, DA:I is infinitely superior if only by virtue of the fact that it’s several years younger and that it may be the most expansive wRPG I’ve ever seen. But this is a solid, solid entry into the genre and I did quite enjoy it.
      1. Roarke says:
        It plays so similarly to DA:2 though, and I just… could not. I got past the little intro bit where you close a gate and stopped.
        1. actonthat says:
          Yeah, it’s strengths were def in story, characters, and questing and not so much the actual gameplay. I would say the fights in Amalur were more fun, even if they weren’t a huge challenge.
          1. Roarke says:
            I mean, when I look for a challenge, I don’t look for wRPG’s anyway. Roguelikes and competitive multiplayer, sure. wRPG’s is always for the story.
            I’ll try and run DA:I again. Maybe the first quest node will hook me.
            1. actonthat says:
              TBH what I remember most about DAI is the party/character interactions. I just really loved the people. Also the maps were massive and full of sidequests. Those were the top two things about it for me.
              Reply
              1. Roarke says:
                If I can get Origins-quality party and sidequest stuff, I’ll swallow the game whole, yeah. DA:2 was just so… bad. And anything that reminds me of it (looking at Varric here) just puts me off.
              2. actonthat says:
                IDK why they brought Varric back, but they did and he remains the worst. Fortunately most of the other cameos are from Origins.
  3. Nerem says:
    The game actually sold pretty well (but its reviews were actually pretty polarizing, with it either being loved or disliked), but the problem was that Curt Schilling completely mismanaged his company so it would have required like 3 million in sales to break even alone, which a pretty huge amount of sales, and it only got like half that.
    1. actonthat says:
      Yeah, i saw on wiki it needed a crazy amount of sales to break even, but when I played it I actually wasn’t super surprised considering the massive amount of detail in the world just from a graphic-artist perspective. It was a very ambitious game, probably too ambitious for a young dev.
      1. Nerem says:
        IIRC, most of the costs was actually just plain mismanagement. Like, 3 million to break even is insane by video game standards. Dragon Age and Final Fantasy didn’t require that many sales. It probably didn’t help Amalur that it was basically suppose to fund the MMO it’s based on, and was basically built on a game that had already been in development for a while.
    2. SpoonyViking says:
      Oh, wow, I just read the NY Times article on what went on, and damn if it wasn’t a hot mess! Now I’m sorry for the people of Rhode Island.
  4. PostguestivePostistPhase says:
    I remember playing this years ago. It was solidly meh and faaaar too big for its pants. The gameplay started well enough but at some point you get stupidly overpowered and onepunch everything with the giant ice blast spell and the point that happens is some 20 hours before the game ends. And that’s me without breaking it over my knee with crafting abuse, if internet is to be believed. There was far too much stuff and xp came in floods so first half of the game basically facerolled the other half. There was also some minigame puzzle thing for opening locked treasures or something, which was dogshit cos rpg minigame puzzle things are always dogshit (that can be ignored by paying a stat/skill/talent/feat/ability/whatevs tax on level up screens).

    I remember the story starting off as a cheap Torment knockoff, then evolving into a garden variety DnD ripoff fantasyworld whose only saving grace was Fae courts stuff, then… ends fighting some giant monster thing that rules the evilland? There was also some supermove-fatalities or something with tearing threads of dudes’ fates and whacking them with those, which was kinda cool. That’s all I remember of the story and the setting: Fae stuff was really good, everything else was blargh to good averaging on meh.

    It was also fully and completely voiced down to the most insignificant and pointless npcs, usually by the same 3 people, which is hours upon hours upon hours of fantasy claptrap read in fairly bored voices, since even the most enthused actor would be sick of reading aloud fantasy drivel around 30 hours mark. I’m certain that astronomical waste of money was one of the big reasons why they sank.

    Amalur is a nicely average wrpg that’s good for the 10 or so hours before it needs to be put to sleep. They should’ve made something entirely out of Fae and Fate business, would’ve been a really cool game then. Alas, what comes out of the pretty packaging is a huge pile of mud with some small gems hidden inside.

    1. actonthat says:
      I play jRPGs; my standards for voice acting are ridiculously low.

      I think the stuff you didn’t like was stuff I also wasn’t crazy about, but it just bothered me less. I’m a sucker for pretty scenery and there was enough originality in the Fae sections that I felt like it overall did more neat things than bland. Plus I found the combat fun even if the game was very easy. That said, I skipped the mercenary and thief factions precisely because they seemed more rote.

      I also loved the over-saturation of loot, because I am a massive hoarder.

      Alas, what comes out of the pretty packaging is a huge pile of mud with some small gems hidden inside.

      I would say it’s more, idk, iron with a few gems. Solid background with some neat elements that overall was enjoyable if forgettable. Shame it didn’t get a chance to grow.

  5. blank says:
    He was aiming to make an Amalur MMO from the start, which I guess explains the philosophy of doubling down until only hitting it big will keep you afloat? If Amalur-the-RPG was a money pit with massive issues, an MMO version would’ve been ten times worse. SWTOR crashed and burned even with an incredible license, Bioware’s then-untarnished reputation, and EA money.

    At least he hedged his bets enough that a proper Amalur game exists, instead of a lifeless MMO-skeleton on private server. In that respect I guess he failed pretty well.

    1. actonthat says:
      I knew about a lot of the Amalur/38 Studios fuckery, but I did not realize it was hoping to be a prequel to an MMO. Very weird, though not surprising since I know Schilling loves MMOs.
  6. Doortothe says:
    Very enjoyable game with lots to offer and some gosh darn originality to boot. Its really a shame you get so overpowered so easily. I should probably go back and actually pay attention to the writing, because when I played it, I was skipping cutscenes left and right. Also shout outs to the poor writer who had to come up with the different names for every level of class combination.

    I think part of why this game failed was that it was too epic and grand for its own good. This game cost a lot to make, came from a new developer working on a new IP, not to mention this game’s immense similarity to Skyrim. I think the KoAR did end up selling at least a million copies, it just wasn’t enough to justify the cost to make the game.

    Definitely a good game that doesn’t deserve to be as underappreciated as it is.

  7. Doortothe says:
    I have an extremely tangential topic to bring up, which is why I decided to separate it into its own comment: I think KoAR represents a problem that I have with RPGs, wRPGs in particular suffer from this problem to me more than JRPGS. Its where a game has a whole bunch of content, for the purpose of just having a lot of content. This content doesn’t add anything to the story, or or offer anything particularly great as an award other than xp and loot. What makes this content particularly bad or have a negative impact on my enjoyment of the game is when this kind of filler content kills the pacing.

    A great example of a game that avoids this issue is Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger is a short game by RPG standards, but that’s because its only as long as it needs to be. Every arc of that game has to do with defeating Lavos, every part is relevant. The sidequests aren’t always about Lavos, but they are relevant to the character development to your party members. Chrono Trigger doesn’t have filler content and the pace never drops because of it.

    So that’s what I have to say about it. What do you guys think? Do you not even notice this kind of stuff? Would you argue this is what makes RPGs what they are? I’d like to know

    1. actonthat says:
      It’s one of the major differences between jRPGs and wRPGs in general. wRPGs tend to be lighter on plot and more open. I like both methods — I love me some sidequests — and which I prefer depends on my mood. I’m on something of a wRPG kick right now.

      I like useless information about the world. I like seeing how NPCs live their daily lives and what problems we have. One of the great things about Amalur, I thought, was that almost every NPC had a backstory.

      But the beauty of sidequests is that they’re optional. You could be like me and not complete the main plot of Skyrim until your third playthrough, or you could follow the plot to the letter and ignore all the other stuff.

      Personally, I think lore is great and when done right.* I love being able to comb through the mundanities of worlds and do stupid fetch quests. Also I like unique items b/c hoarder.

      *in this case, I would define “right” as: it’s actually interesting and makes sense, but it’s not essentially to understanding the main plot.

      So yeah, if it’s not your bag, you probs like jRPGs better in general. I think I’m unusual in that I don’t have any strong preference for RPG type. That said, I *do* like the recent trend to more-story-oriented wRPGs that are still v open, like DAI.

      1. Doortothe says:
        Thinking about it a little more, I believe the thing that really annoys me with filler content is when the game prevents you from getting to where you want to go by making you do a fetch quest somewhere else, and nothing is gained from that fetch quest in both lore or characters. The later Mario and Luigi games are big offenders of this for me.

        As for the other kind of filler content, I guess it comes down to a matter of taste. If you just like being part of the world and exploring things, then MMO like stuff is great. I remember a point in my life when I would play Link’s Awakening and just talk with the villagers.

        “But the beauty of sidequests is that their optional.”

        There’s a bit of a problem with that line of thinking, at least with the way I personally play video games. As Yahtzee once said when reviewing Yoshi Wooly World, “Sure you don’t HAVE to get 100% in a level. You also don’t HAVE to get an A in school, D is a passing grade.” My years of playing JRPGs have taught me to do sidequests as soon as I am able; I’m not going to unlearn that for any one particular game.

        More recently, I have developed an appreciation of beauty through simplicity, where perfection is achieved when you have nothing left to remove, rather than having nothing left to add. Its part of why I like Urobuchi so much, he only uses tropes that are necessary for his story.

        In this aspect, games like KoAR and Skyrim are practically hideous with the abundant amount of unnecessary content they contain. Of course I complain about that while absolutely loving Xenoblade Chronicles.

        Its both fun and frustrating when there are so many tiny reasons for why one thing doesn’t work for you while another similar thing does. Fun because its enjoyable to analyze to such a degree, and frustrating because you need a multiple page essay to tell people. Unfortunately most people don’t have the for that.

        DA:I, I should probably give that another chance now that I have a PS4. I got it on PS3 for $20 surprisingly early after the game’s launch. It was horrible. A villager was wearing unloaded textures in one cutscene, rocks were popping in two feet in front of me, and then Verrick tried to wink at me. After that I stopped playing

        1. SpoonyViking says:
          Urobuchi […] only uses tropes that are necessary for his story.

          Yeeeeeah, that’s not really true at all.

          Anyway, this isn’t a matter of the game’s quality, necessarily, but more a matter of taste. All the additional stuff – the backstory, the sidequests, etc. -, when done right, make the world feel more alive. Conversely, a tight, well-written main plot can make you feel more invested in the characters. It’s a matter of choice, and most games are terrible on that front anyway not only because video game writers often aren’t the best, but video game storytelling in general already faces a great difficulty in balancing the story and the gameplay.

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