8th March 2012 - The last action RPG I really got stuck into was Dragon Age 2 and it left me a little disappointed. It was no Dragon Age: Origins, sure the fighting was faster paced and more action orientated but it felt an overall more shallow experience. When I saw the first promo for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning my interest was peaked. I hadn’t heard of it that long before launch, it certainly looked the part and on paper sounded like a solid experience. I asked myself ‘Could this be the experience Dragon Age 2 should have been?’
The main character awakens in a kind of underground dungeon where he has been brought back to life, but as you well know there’s that damn post resurrection amnesia that persists. So having no idea who you are, where you are or what to do off you trot off to find out. It isn’t long before you are attacked, befriend some folk and before you know it you’re on a quest to save yourself and the land from tyranny and find out what the hell happened to you. The main story is pretty good, not much of a brain buster but it does the job of keeping you interested and wanting to find out more. The dynamics between the different races and regions has been given a lot of thought too which helps the world you play in feel immersive. As is customary in any RPG there are side missions galore. These are broken up into major faction stories which are a series of side plots and pretty long and challenging on their own. Then there are the one off ‘please help me find’ or ‘please help me kill’ damsels in distress.
Controlling the character is very easy, the various actions are mapped to the Dualshock in an intuitive way and you can move from different attacks, blocking, rolling, potions etc smoothly and quickly. Getting around the world requires walking initially but mercifully there is a quick travel option on the world map once you have visited a place.
One of KoA’s many strengths is the fighting. There is a really interesting variety of beasts to fight with different tactics for all. Some are huge lumbering trolls that you need to keep your distance, others fly around shooting at you, and some spawn other monsters so need to be taken out quickly before they spawn an army. Because the controls are so easy to pick up you can concentrate on stringing combos together and being a bad ass. The moves you can perform are awesome to watch (particularly some magic and special kills) and totally devastate all but the toughest of foes.
Your fighting style will be influenced by your choice of weapons, of which you can equip two at any one time, and your fate. As your character gains experience you can allocate points into might, stealth or magic developing new active and passive abilities. Your Fate is chosen from a number of options that become available as you level up. All it really does is give you bonuses like more melee damage, or less mana consumption. The nice thing about the upgrade system is its flexibility. Just spent 10 hours building up a melee tank and want to become a stealth assassin? You simply find a fateweaver and for a small fee they will wipe your slate clean giving you all your points back to reallocate as you want. It also allows you to build up characters with a strong mixture of abilities. For example you can build up a character that is strong in melee and magic to be battlemage, swiping a host of enemies with your great sword before obliterating the whole pack with a meteor shower.
The type of character you build will naturally affect the armour and accessories they can use too. There is a fantastic range of armour and plenty of elusive sets of four or five to collect that give you powerful bonuses when worn together making the journey to collect them well worth it.
One thing that I miss and I think could have made the game even stronger was a more in depth team battle system. On occasion you have someone along with you to fight but you have no control over them and they do little damage. The team control and dynamics in something like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 was a big strength and I would have like to see something like it here. They showed you can have plot heavy game focusing primarily on one player but still have the flexibility and strategy associated with a party.
The world design is rich and varied with all the usual old world hotspots looking well detailed. Lighting is also done well with changes in light and shadows as the day passes through night and from outside to in. Character designs are good but the real stand out are the beasts you fight. All sorts of weird and wonderful creatures ready to gut that have any manner of horns, stings, clubs and blades and they all look the part. Magic effects are also a treat whether its electricity, fire, ice or some other arcane move, it lights up the screen and makes you want to do it again. There were relatively frequent glitches in frame rate and parts of the graphics popping in and out during cut scenes and talking to NPCs. This became quite annoying in some sections and detracted from the game drawing you out of it.
The sound definitely doesn’t disappoint with epic quest, orchestral ‘Lord Of The Rings’ type background music that changes tempo and never gets fatiguing on the ears or distracting, but merely enhances the mood of the game as it should do. The voice acting is not as good as other action RPGs like Mass effect or Dragon Age but it is overall a solid performance with few cringe worthy moments.
In true RPG form there is plenty of gaming hours to be had in the main campaign and the side quests ad many more. I completed the game in about 40 hours and that was not even completing half the side quests. In terms of replay ability I don’t think many will go back through as you can continue to complete quests even when the main story is finished. The ability to change the type of character you are at any time, means there is no real reason to unless you want to play out scenarios through the story differently.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was almost a sleeper for me, I didn’t even know it was in development until a few months before it was released and I chose not to find out too much about it beforehand. I was looking for a solid action RPG to fill the gap that Dragon Age 2 left me and surprisingly I found it. KoA provides players with a well fleshed out world, solid story, easy controls and fast paced, varied and satisfying fighting mechanics. If you want to play a great action RPG but don’t want to lose too much of your life to it KoA will deliver.
AAG Score 9/10
+ Fast, varied fighting mechanics
+ Ability to change your characters fate and build throughout the game
+ Easy intuitive controls
- No party battle system
- Several glitches in framerate and popping graphics
Reviewed and Written by Khye Davey