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.