Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – Thoughts after 42 hours

I have no idea how far into the game I am, but I have played 42 hours, and only recently moved into the second of five areas. But I just figured I’d compile a few thoughts while they’re fresh.

Oh look, it's a proper title!

It’s a shame this game will probably be more remembered for having sunk 38 Studios (that being the name of the developer studio, and not 38 different studios) than on any of its own merits. And it took me a while to get around to it as well. Roughly two years, I suppose. I got it in a recent sale, after just… not getting it until then. I dunno, I enjoyed the demo, I seem to remember that much, but… I had other things to spend money on at the time, and then it received… less than favourable responses from people whose opinions I care about. So yeah, it ended up on the backburner.

And now I have played it, and… gotten rather absorbed, you might say. I mean… I see a lot of the criticisms people leveled at it. I even share in some of them. And yet overall, I just want to play more. Let me try to explain a bit.

The first thing that really stood out to me about this game was the combat. There’s a very satisfying amount of impact to your blows. At least if you’re using a big weapon. I must admit to not experimenting much with the smaller weapons, as I 99% of the time stick to warhammers (or just hammers as the game labels them). Enemies get staggered with every hit, and a particularly vicious blow can have them ragdolling away in spectacular fashion.

Titanic, anyone?

This guy was perhaps a bit too spectacular.

There are also bigger enemies that don’t stagger as easily, so when I manage to smack those around I can’t help but grin a little. And early on I unlocked a hookshot that either pulls enemies to me, or me to them, depending on whom is heaviest. And considering enemies can be very aggressive in this game, that often helps me interrupt their attack patterns.

The thing about the combat though… I like being on top. I like feeling powerful and in control. And the game makes it very easy for you to get ahead, especially early on. It takes a while before anything starts becoming the least bit challenging, and personally I enjoy the power trip. Had the combat been a struggle, especially early on, I might well have lost interest very quickly. So depending on what you’re looking for in your fantasy action-RPG, this might be a good or bad thing for you. I have now gotten to the point where I regularly have to employ some tactics and healing items, but I’d say I have been comfortably eased into it.

Sadly it's just this one move, and not a whole skillset.

Also, I can bend the Earth!

See… the other hook, the story, takes a while to really get a hold. At least it did for me. There is a lot of information to acquire through books, NPC interrogation, quest dialogue and such, and honestly it’s a bit too much too fast. I was probably about 15-20 hours in before I really started to care. Being able to ask different NPCs for their views on various things going on locally, or in the world at large, helped seal the deal after I was getting invested. And seeing them move about doing their daily tasks did help a little with immersion, though it never ceased to amuse me that they wouldn’t complain whenever I woke them up in the middle of the night.

So yeah, I’ve grown to like the world of Amalur, with its balance of mortals growing and expanding, and the unyieldingness of the timeless Fae. All of them embedded within the Weave of Fate, destined to play out the parts history assigned to them. Though I’d say really only the Fae have accepted this role, while the mortals attempt to deny it.The idea of this world is that no matter how much something grows, nothing really changes. It’s all too predictable, and those able to see the Weave can know when and how something will happen, even though they have no power to stop or change it.

At least, until you come along.

Fate is eternal.

Considering at the time the player enters the world is at war, I totally understand why the people of the world are frustrated at the Fae’s distance from it all. But as an outsider I can appreciate what the Fae are. They are of nature. They represent the eternal cycle between summer and winter, and it is represented in their society, their architecture, their philosophy, their culture. Anything notable is captured in song, and destined to repeat over and over until the end of time. I like how suitably alien they feel to us, and yet in many ways the same too.

And then… something changed. I have only really figured out pieces of why, but the result is the war. The Fae of the Winter Court have somehow gotten corrupted, and their new leader slew the old nobles before starting a war to rid the world of mortals. The Summer Fae, whom I have been mostly dealing with so far, find themselves unable to adapt to this new reality, because change is not a concept they are familiar with. They are just used to playing out their roles. Uncertainty distresses them. And so the mortals are left to hold off the onslaught of the new Tuatha on their own. When a Fae ‘dies’ he or she is eventually reformed as part of their Great Cycle, so the Tuatha are virtually endless.

Unless I use those threads of Fate to undo the thing.

This thing too, will eventually return.

Which leads us to 15 years later, and the start of the game, where the gnomes somehow manage to bring a soul back to life after death. They wanted to put the mortals on equal footing with the Fae, ever returning after demise, but I don’t think even they quite understood the ramifications of what they were doing. The player is brought back, and reformed, and falls outside of the Weave. Unshackled by Fate. And able to reshape it. This includes a special ability which basically boils down to ripping someone out of the Weave. Untangling them from the tapestry of Fate, and even removing Fae from their Great Cycle, so they’ll never return. And understanding that gives me a great amount of catharsis when dealing with certain enemies.

I do occasionally wonder if that kind of power should really be in the hands of anyone… if I am truly fit to judge who deserves to be cut out… I guess that might be the sign I’m a bit too immersed. I do kinda wish they’d done more with the concept though. And it would be interesting to see such a concept in a different setting.

The other really notable thing in the game’s favour is that I like that it’s not afraid to use colour and light. All too many action-RPGs seem to be entirely too fond of washed-out and desaturated colours, with eternal gloom overlooking it all. And while there are certainly a lot of indoors sections that are a bit gloomy, as evidenced in the earlier screenshots, most of the time you’ll be running around places like this:

I like it, okay?

Colour!!!

It also helps that fast-travel is largely painless, and loading times are short.

The whole thing also reminds me a bit of the Elder Scrolls games. You make a character, there’s a brief tutorial section, and then you’re dumped into a world where you have to figure things out for yourself. It’s a bit more linear though, as the areas are just generally smaller, and I’m not sure how much replayability there is, but considering the length of the game, maybe you see that as a good thing. (I certainly do.)

But now I feel like I should move on to the problems this game has… first of all, the menus.

It's even worse than it looks.

Uh-huh…

Hitting Esc brings up this ‘beauty’. It’s your main interface for getting around. I know you can hit M to bring up the map directly, and I for the inventory, I believe… but it’s all a mess. It’s all organised into categories to such a degree that you’d think it was designed by engineers, with only cursory efforts made towards usability. I did eventually get used to it, but I never really fully forgot or was able to overlook how clunky it all is. Like… there’s a huge category in the inventory just called Items, which is where you have to go to find your Repair Kits, or any books you’ve picked up, and it also lists all of your crafting components and quest items, as if to just make it a pain to navigate and find what you need. And you can’t just drop or destroy items directly. You have to first move them to the Junk category, and then destroy them from there. Why?

It can also be a bastard to figure out which items take up inventory slots and which don’t. Crafting components don’t, I think? And most quest items probably don’t? But I think some do? After selling and storing all I can get rid of, I still tend to have over 60 slots filled, and I can really only account for about 30 of them.

And there’s an optional thing about collecting Lorestones. You do actually have a record of all the Lorestones you’ve collected so far, but can you guess where you have to look to find those? Please, have a short think about it. Any ideas? Well! It is under Status. Because collecting a full set of Lorestones gives you a small permanent bonus to your stats. Which the game never, ever thinks to actually inform you of, and I only found out about because I stumbled across the menu by accident.

I wonder if this means I'm roughly halfway through the game?

It looks like this.

You probably get the picture. It’s part of the problem the game has with 1) having too much stuff in it, and 2) not properly explaining most of it. Like… if there is a crafting tutorial, I have never found it. And there are quests that require you to craft shit! And they don’t explain it either! Like this one quest where a guy handed me a bunch of silverware to sell, and said it would probably fetch a better price if I smelted it down first. Nothing in the quest text as to how this is done. I sort of intuited that it had to involve a Forge, but there was no menu for smelting. It’s under Salvage. It didn’t take me long to figure out through sheer process of elimination, but I was still annoyed.

There is a lot of crap in this game that feels utterly superfluous, and especially early on this is very apparent as you’re trying to figure out what is useful and what isn’t. And crafting, as a general rule, is not useful. The stuff that drops, or you’re just plain given, will pretty much always be a lot better than what you can craft, unless you invest a lot of skill points into crafting, which I would not recommend. Put your efforts into Detect Hidden (useful to max out eventually), a bit of Dispelling, some Mercantile, Persuasion and probably enough Alchemy to be able to use three components. Will again help with quests, and allow you to brew greater healing potions. That’s really the only useful crafting stuff I’ve found. Eventually you’ll be rich and able to pay trainers to increase those skills you don’t want to spend level-ups on.

Also how nicely the wolf blood is spread across that chest.

Look at my hammer!

It’s sadly the kind of game where having the Wiki closeby can be almost essential. Especially if you wanna do all the quests, but I won’t blame you if you feel like skipping a lot of them. I have it on good authority you will probably reach the level cap anyway. If you are a completionist like me, I can tell you that you can safely skip most Tasks. They are generally repeatable and endless, unless they’re asking you to collect a certain amount of finite items.

And! Oh, I just remembered, so I’ll just throw it in here. I was about 25 hours into the game before I discovered that the way you increase your inventory is that certain merchants will sell you a backpack that increases your allowance by 10. Maybe it’s my own fault for generally ignoring merchants unless I wanted to sell something, but a little hint would have been nice!

Another tip: Save often. F5 for Quicksave. Especially before you try to dispel anything. And probably before every lockpicking attempt, just in case. Getting more lockpicks isn’t always easy, as only a few merchants carry them, and they virtually never drop or are found in chests. Oh, and while you get a fair few Prismere Lockpicks early on, the droprate does not stay consistent, so be careful with those.

Quicksave is your friend.

A dispelling screen.

The two minigames are… alright. Lockpicking generally requires a fair deal of patience, while Dispelling is hectic and timed. Which is why it’s more important to invest skill points into the latter. I’d recommend four, so you at least get rid of the trap nodes.

What else… really just minor issues left, I believe. Like how the facial animations can be rather creepy during conversation, especially if the subject is smiling. And there’s a soft lock-on system during combat which can occasionally screw you over if your camera isn’t angled just perfectly, especially if you’re attacking out of a guard stance.

There’s also slightly interesting stuff, like how skill books are exceptionally rare. I’ve found four so far, sometimes in very curious places. I think maybe there is just one for each skill? And you can murder most NPCs if you feel like it.

And I like how the game seems very equal on the subject of gender. Men and women seem to participate equally on all platforms in this world, and I got a feeling that maybe there wouldn’t be any dumb sexism in this game. And mostly there isn’t! But… there are certain… odd things. Like… your sneaky assassin ally Alyn Shir, who seems to dress with only a few ribbons. And… then there’s thing: Slightly NSFW. A naga-serpent thing with gangly arms and an angler fish head… and boobs. This thing spits out eggs that spawn fully formed fish-people. And yet…

There might be some belts in there.

The aforementioned Alyn Shir.

So… yeah… Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It could have used some tighter direction. Some trimming. Maybe another editor or two. It is rare to see the first game of a series (and now only game I suppose) already suffer from such pronounced feature bloat. Assassin’s Creed didn’t really get there until the expansions for AC2. Revelations especially.

And yet in spite of all that… I still enjoy playing it. Just running around with my newest crazy hammer and smacking all the beasties of the land while doing quests and improving the world. It’s a straight up-and-up power fantasy. You are the big hero. You are changing the world. That’s the big idea. It does try to be a little deep, but it doesn’t really force it on you. There is a bit of mystery to the world, and I am into it, even if I’d call the writing just above-average. Occasionally good, sometimes a bit dumb. I still want to see where it’s going. And if it ends up at the juncture of Daft and Infuriating, then hey! At least I got to smack a lot of bastards with my hammer.

~Wulf

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Posted on February 20, 2014, in Games. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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