Taking on the King
Launching on the back of the runaway success of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim could be a curse or a blessing for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, out now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. While the former title is regarded in multiple circles as the definitive open world role playing game of this generation, many of its players will be needing a break or be ready to move on three months after release, and Skyrim has undoubtedly grown interest in the genre.
Just as well that Kingdoms of Amalur manages to emerge from Skyrim's towering shadow to forge a unique identity of its own and present itself as a welcome alternative. It features a generous 50-plus hour gameplay experience that's more accessible than Skyrim, delivers more fluid combat, and offers a great fantasy world of its own to explore courtesy of Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolston.
With a 10,000-year back-story imagined by New York Times best-selling fantasy author RA Salvatore, it's a world steeped in lore, offering a virtual history as comprehensive as any in the genre, and one that's filled with unique characters and interesting monsters. As we enter the scene, the fate of Amalur is at stake as a war rages between its mortals and the immortal Fae.
After being killed in battle, your character becomes the first to be successfully resurrected by a strange contraption called the Well of Souls, which is subsequently destroyed. In Amalur's world, everyone's fate is written in stone and they're pre-destined to follow it to the letter, but not you. Torn from the tapestry of fate following your rebirth, you're now in control of your own future.
Master of your own fate
'Destinies' allow you to develop and master a personal battle style, crafting your character without the constraints of traditional classes. You can manage and unlock abilities within Warrior, Rogue and Mage specialisations, or choose to invest skill points across any combination of the three, meaning you're not forced into advancing down any single path.
Our Mage/Warrior hybrid wielded enhanced damage, a magical shield and the ability to teleport around the battlefield after investing enough points in each skill tree. Pick something you don't like and you can even reset your skill points by visiting a Fateweaver who returns you to a clean slate. It's a remarkably accessible system that allows users to experiment and not worry about spending hard earned credits on non-refundable items.
Varied, fluid combat
Amalur's user-friendly pick-up-and-play approach also extends to its combat system, which ditches the 'you bash me, I bash you' turn-based duels found in so many RPGs for a swifter, more immediate alternative that brings to mind the fluidity of third person action series like God of War. You can dart around the battlefield, perform evasive rolls and teleport-dodges, and characters can pull off timed parries as well as brutal combos and finishing moves. Each class gets access to a number of magical abilities, while every weapon - swords, daggers, hammers, bows and more - feels different, despite being simply controlled using just one button.
Ultimately, Kingdoms of Amalur does a lot of things better than some of its esteemed RPG rivals. The combat and character creation elements are great, the world's full of interesting things to see and do, and the low barrier to entry is definitely a major plus. There may be some room for improvement - visually it appears to borrow heavily from World of Warcraft and it's not as polished in the looks department as Skyrim - but the game lays the foundation for a series we definitely hope to see more of in the future.
- Fluid, exciting combat.
- Not being tied to a single class.
- Interesting, unique world.
- Some repetitive quests.
- Some lengthy loading times.
- Could be stronger looks-wise.