Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning – Quantity over Quality

For those of you who noticed the new Twitter tracker on the side of the site, it may come as no surprise that I finally bought Kingdoms of Amalur. I had played the demo when it first came out and wrote demo impressions on it, explaining that I wasn’t interested in the game, but may pick it up later. Well there was a price drop, and pick it up I did. I’m going to play my hand early today instead of giving everyone the run around. I very much disliked this game. It is a strange Frankenstein’s monster of many different, better made games, but with no focus of its own. It combines Diablo 2 loot mechanics, God of War combat, World of Warcraft and countless other MMO setting and quests, Elder Scrolls open world and of course blatantly poor fantasy writing that is half ripped off from Tolkien and half completely boring and uninteresting. Kingdoms of Amalur is a very competent game. It does everything it sets out to, and it does it very competently. Unfortunately, it is merely competent and never rises above the bare minimum line. I picked the game up because of the immense buzz surrounding the game. 9.0s were given liberally and that interests me. Having played it now, I can say with certainty that the only reason to give this game more than a 7.0 is weighing quantity over quality and boy does this game give you quantity.

Yes, you too can be a boring anonymous hero!

Kingdoms of Amalur uses the same three character classes found in every single generic fantasy RPG: Rogue, Wizard, and Warrior. Amalur lets you mix and match skills between the classes, but this has little effect. There are no unique abilities or classes. You’ll simply be a Warrior who can cast a lightning spell or a Wizard who can use daggers. The only draw for mixing is that you can pick a different “destiny” at certain levels of skill depending on your point allocations. These provide minor boosts, which is fun, and basically amounts to a watered down perk system where you can only pick a perk four or five times throughout the game and each one only slightly modifies the one before it. The skills for the three classes are very standard fare. Warriors get a couple of melee moves (Think Diablo 2’s Barbarian), Rogues get movement-based abilities and criticals, and Wizards get generic spells (Fire, Ice, Lightning, Healing, Summoning, etc). All of the abilities are distinct, which is a major bonus; however, the balancing is awful. You will find that the vast majority of the skills you can learn are totally useless. For example, there are extremely few cases in which the Wizard’s fire spell isn’t completely superior to all of her other abilities. You also gain so many skill points that you’ll find yourself mastering useless abilities just to get rid of the damn things, ruining any chance of making different choices for a subsequent playthrough, as you’ll have everything you could possibly want by the end of it.

Art design. The best thing about this game.

The combat itself is not your standard hack and slash fare. Well it is actually, but that isn’t common for RPGs, who rely more on customization and hope people ignore the poor combat. Kingdoms of Amalur does indeed have better combat than many fantasy RPGs out there. The combat is quick, and intuitive. You can block attacks and if you time your block right, you can parry them, which sets you up for a counter attack. There are also rolls, or teleports for advanced mages. On top of that, as you put in points in weapon skills, you unlock more moves with which to assault your enemies. These are all quite good. Juggling enemies in the air is fun, as always. The combat is most similar to God of War, but isn’t nearly as refined as that game, which is the tradeoff for having a game with such a scale as this one. Sure it’s a little imprecise, but the system works and it should be very engaging and fun to battle enemies. The key word in that sentence is should. The combat is good, but you will never have a chance to push it in any way. Why? Because the game is so simple that pulling a Dynasty Warriors-style spamfest is far preferable to any actual strategy.

Elephant mounts are absent in this game however.

When I was young there was this game called Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. It was the entry-level RPG that even a toddler could beat. It was stripped of all challenge and complexity to the point that newbies to the RPG genre could get used to it. Kingdoms of Amalur is this generations Mystic Quest. I knew in advance that the game was on the easy side, so I, uncharacteristically, started on Hard. Playing on Hard in Kingdoms of Amalur is like playing on Very Easy on any other game. There is absolutely no challenge. Looking back at the last paragraph the words “You can ____, but why would you want to” come to mind. You can block, but dodging is easier and enemies will be dead before they can even try to hit you, so why would you want to. A good battle system is totally wasted on an easy game. This is because people don’t need to push the system. All they need to do is spam the same attacks over and over again. The game seems to go out of its way to make itself easy. Areas lock at the level you arrive there at. Meaning, if you don’t do lots of quests in a certain area, and instead choose to move on, those quests will be insanely easy as enemies have not gotten any stronger. This isn’t simply a matter of overleveling, which is a problem in many RPGs. It is actually harder to avoid locking areas at too low a level than it is to overpower yourself. Then there are the many ways in which you can break the game. There are three crafting professions, which are the usual Alchemy, Smithing, and Enchanting. Everyone of these breaks the game. Not just at a super high level, but from the moment you start experimenting with them. So many of the problems in this game could have been solved with difficulty. Enemies would have been far less boring to fight, if they could pose even the smallest amount of a challenge. Areas would be more fun to explore if there were legitimate dangers.

You have no idea how simple this fight is going to be

The quest mechanics are clearly reminiscent of fantasy MMOs such as World of Warcraft. They are mostly fetch quests with little substance. The biggest advantage and problem is that there are so damn many of them. This seems good (More content is good right?), but it has some pretty major downsides. Because of the aforementioned area level-locking, it is best to do as many quests in an area as possible before moving on. The problem is that this totally derails the game. There are so many damn quests that you could spend a hundred hours on mindless fetch quests alone. I wouldn’t mind this if they were engaging like the riddler challenges from the Arkham games, but they aren’t. They are paint-by-numbers fantasy RPG quests. So you either spend most of your time doing these boring, repetitive quests for lifeless quest givers, or you beeline the main quest and miss out on 90% of the game. Having done the former, I would recommend the latter just so you can get through this much quicker.

Oh, if you have Mass Effect 3 you can get Shepard’s armour, which looks pretty awful.

The loot mechanics are actually pretty good in this game, and is one of the two parts of it to rise above mere competency. Dungeons are littered with chests and, with enough Detect Hidden skill, you can find lots of hidden cashes all over the place. The loot mechanics are stolen directly from Diablo 2, but if they have to steal, they might as well have stolen from the best. There are set pieces, unique equipment, rare, ultra rare, uncommon, common. Standard stuff really, but it is executed well. Actually, the game may have been better with more dungeons and less quests, as then the addictive loot mechanics could really shine. As it is, they are merely ancillary players to a much worse game. The other factor in this game, which was done well was the art design. Once again, this is simply ripped off from Fable and World of Warcraft, but it is well done in every way. The character models are generic, but clear and charming. The enemies are also well done; although, they won’t last long enough for you to get a good look at them. The real star of the show is the scenery, which is just beautiful. Unfortunately, the camera is focused on the ground, so you won’t often be noticing the amazing set pieces (This was brought to my attention by Zero Punctuation’s Ben Croshaw).

It’s alright, Diablo 2 knows it’s better than you.

Then there is the story. It was penned by “famed fantasy writer” R.A. Salvatore. Looking at his wikipedia does definitely fill you with respect. Unfortunately the story in Amalur is garbage. The mythos is there and it is very, very detailed, but the game does it no justice. Your dead-eyed mute character lumbers around questing from an endless array of boring forgettable characters. I made fun of Skyrim saying that there wasn’t a single memorable character in the game. Well that goes double here. No character even comes close to being memorable. No interaction is fun. No storyline is worth your time. There are also no consequences to any of your actions. By the end of the game, I was skipping cutscenes and dialogue because it was all such a waste of time. Then there is the one major caveat to fantasy novel-style stories that have plagued them throughout their existence: Ripping off Tolkien. I’m sorry, but the bulk of the game feels like bad Lord of the Rings fan fiction. Tolkien was a linguist and did a lot of work to create his character and place names. Now every fantasy writer just mimics his style and endlessly throws out nonsensical generic fantasy names. I don’t care about Castle Gobbledygook in the plains of Lethlanilan, or talking to the Archrabister of Calthanor. The reason generic fantasy naming conventions are terrible is that they all run together. In a book, you can fall back on the fact that the reader will be reading the name a hundred times, but this is not so in a game, where each and every character name and place name is easily confused or forgotten (Forgotten Realms if you will…. sorry).

Get it?!

Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning is a very competent game. It does everything it wants to in a very satisfactory way. The problem is that this isn’t good enough. There is no charm whatsoever to the obscenely generic setting and characters (If you could even call them characters). The gameplay could have been this game’s shining gem, but the total lack of challenge reduces it to a simple spamfest. The game certainly has a lot to do and you could easily spend over a hundred hours in the game, but six hours in a better game would be time better spent. It really is a matter of quantity over quality. Do you want a lifeless, boring game, which is very competently done to spend a huge amount of time on, or do you want a game to give you an exciting or fresh experience. I have no patience for the former and therefore, I hated Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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