Amalur – a world bound to a horrible fate. A labour of love made by giants in the industry – R.A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane, Ken Rolston, Joe Qadara, and Curt Schilling. With names like that, expectations were very high for this fantasy open world rpg. Was Amalur destined for greatness, or fated to fall into obscurity?
The Whims of Destiny
The world of Amalur has, until now, been a world bound by fate and destiny. Each individual has a defined fate, a destiny that can be read by people known as fateweavers. There are 4 primary races in this game, basically broken into Fae, Elves, Humans, and Gnomes. The Elves and Humans are broken into two categories each, which are your playable races. Elves are broken into ‘Dokkalfar’ and ‘Ljosalfar’ while Humans are categorized as either Almain or Varani. The Fae also have two different types – Winter and Summer. The basic story of the game is that around 10 years ago, a member of the Winter Fae named Gadflow started a new religion, worshipping a new god who would rise from beneath his fortress. In the name of that god, he corrupted most of the Winter Fae, renaming themselves the Tuatha Deohn, and started a war on the rest of the world. What is unique about the Fae is not only are they immortal, but their fate is bound to what is called the Great Cycle, meaning that they are reborn when slain – so the Tuatha had a nearly endless supply of warriors and gradually have been waging war.
A Gnome named Hugues has been trying to duplicate this advantage for the mortal races by creating what he called the ‘Well of Souls’. Thus far, he has seen nothing but failure. Until the beginnig of the game. On that day he sees his first, and only success – You. Your main character was reborn by Hugues’ Well of Souls on the day of its destruction by the Tuatha remembering nothing of your past. Of course, this is the method used by the game to give you a ‘blank slate’ of a character to use for the open world nature of the game. A good choice, it allows them to give your character a history without effecting how you play the character since you don’t remember any of that history. Although it does play a role in the game’s story. Your character, regardless of how you choose to play it, is special. She has no fate. She is the only living being that anyone has ever heard of who is separate from the tapestry of fate. And not being a part of it gives you the unbelievable and frightening ability to alter it. This leads to some very interesting developments and possibilities. Unfortunately, these possibilities aren’t explored as thoroughly as I would’ve liked, but they aren’t discounted either. You do get some rather interesting core story elements about it, as well as a few moments where you get to make a decision and the decisions you make do have a noticable impact on the world.
One of my biggest problems with open world rpgs typically is that they usually don’t do a good job of making the world feel like it matters; of giving your character an impact and a presence without demeaning the rest of the world. Amalur does this better than most, providing characters whose personalities do develop over the course of the game, meaningful stories within the various factions, and a fairly interesting core story to play through. That isn’t to say that you don’t have your share of meaningless quests to do – there are a ton of them. But that’s to be expected – when you’re offering hundreds of hours of potential content, it’s impossible to make every minute of that meaningful within a story perspective. But the important part is that they worked to make the world feel important through the quests you do and the people you interact with. Even many of the generic sidequests have an interesting story, but the ones that really captivate are the faction quests. The vast majority of the faction stories tell a tale that is worthy of the rpg genre. It’s not all good, however, as the game still allows you to become the leader of every organization in the world without consequence or penalty. Well, not literally every organization, but a lot of them. At the same time. The core story is great because it offers a guided experience without taking away from the open nature of the world. More open world rpgs should learn how to do this to appeal to a larger crowd. The writing is good, the character development is well handled, you get to run into a lot of interesting people, places and things; and overall it’s just a good solid story. One worth being a part of.
The combat in this game is incredibly dynamic and lively. Overall the combat is very well done, but not perfect. The limitation to 4 special attack buttons is a little disappointing, since you can have so many cool spells and abilities. Another annoying problem was the inability to cast spells from the spell menu. For many things this isn’t an issue, but it would be really handy to be able to turn on ‘continuous’ spells like envenomed edge from the menu rather than mapping them to an ability spot, turning them on, then remapping that spot to the spell you actually want to use. Aside from that one minor annoyance, the combat system is about as good as you can reasonably expect. It has a very nice flow, there are a lot of fancy moves to watch, and you really get a nice feeling of impact especially when you use the higher tier abilities. The meteor, elemental rage, and lunge abilities particularly have a very appropriate and satisfying feel to them. The really cool thing is that they managed to make even classes that don’t typically have flashy abilities feel really satisfying by giving them flashy abilities that make sense. Even pure might classes get some awesome looking skills which is not usually the case in most open world rpgs. So props to the design team for making everyone feel awesome in Amalur.
The game is built off a pretty standard talent tree setup with one distinct twist. Your class is determined by the number of points you place in the talent trees, not the other way around. So if you put all your points into Finesse, you become a gradually more rogue-ish rogue. Or if you put half into finesse and half into sorcery, you become a stealthy mage. Which is an awesome idea that works incredibly well, with the various classes being exchangable at will to any one of the classes you’re qualified for based off of the number of points you’ve allocated. I do kind of wish they’d added a few more hybrid options – all they offered were equal splits(half/half) whereas I think 66/33 splits would’ve been a great addition that would have made the class system feel even more well thought out. However, unlike most games, this game does a really good job of encouraging hybridization with the jack of all trades classes offering some of the coolest bonuses available.
Probably the most unique combat mechanic is fateshifting. As you perform special attacks, abilities, and kill enemies you get fate energy that fills up a meter. When full, you can unleash Reckoning mode which slows all enemies, increases the damage you do, but only lasts a short time. The really cool part of Reckoning mode that makes it still something you have to think about is that when you defeat an enemy in reckoning mode they begin ‘unravelling’. You can have as many enemies unravelling as you have time to kill during your reckoning mode, and if you push the indicated button when near one of the unravelling enemies you’ll begin an epic attack called a ‘Fateshift’ attack. The fateshift attack lets you repeatedly push a prompted random face button on the controller to build up an exp bonus, and at the end of it you kill all unravelling enemies awarding bonus exp on all enemies killed. This means that just using reckoning whenever it’s up may leave you with the meter empty at a moment when you could get a huge bonus – or when you’d actually need it.
Need it, you say? Why yes, the slow down and bonus damage can come in quite handy. While this is not a game that’s going to beat you over the head with it’s difficulty, but it’s also not a game that you’re likely to get through without being familiar with the lower ends of your life meter. Luckily it’s also fairly forgiving with frequent autosaves and equally important the ability to manually save your game.
The Tools of the Trade
The game features a pretty bland skill tree that includes your professions as well as things like stealth, detect hidden, and other general ‘skills’. On a positive note; however, this game did stealth right. People react independently to stealth until they alert each other, if one person sees you you can still sneak attack someone who doesn’t. Enemies will chase to a reasonable extent, and will react in a way that makes sense. Overall, I loved the way stealth was handled in this game. On a slightly less encouraging note, professions and pretty-much the entire skill system was largely functional, but very bland and boring. And the professions themselves do a bit to take away from the loot system of the game. Once you have done anything in alchemy, you’re always so well stocked in potions that you can go into every boss fight and be nigh-invulnerable. Once you’ve leveled blacksmithing, unless you get a full set or a really really lucky drop, you never care about loot drops again except to break them down for blacksmithing. Once you’ve leveled sagecrafting, you’ll have so many shards to make gems with you won’t know what to do with them. Also noteworthy about gems is that the number of items with sockets is so low that it’s hard to really justify sagecrafting – you’ll end up with an inventory full of gems with bland but powerful effects and nowhere to put them.
Continuing on with the loot system, it’s pretty-much the standard ‘diablo style’ loot system. Items come in different rarities, with various sets as well. The system overall is interesting when taken at face value – it’s a tried and true loot system that’s known to work. The problem is that the droprates are too low for the genre. In a hack and slash lootfest, this type of droprate would work – in a more serious rpg, I found myself getting endless waves of crappy items and not much that was worth using until I came across the rewards from the various faction quests. The other problem is the lack of really interesting affixes for the items. I found myself wishing they’d taken a bit more inspiration from diablo 2 in their loot than they did, and included some weird item effects into their regular pool of modifiers. In the long run the items ended up feeling a little too sparse and too bland, and I found myself not really caring about them for the most part. That being said, however, this game does feature some of the best weapons around. The Chakram and Faeblades in particular were really interesting to use.
The Tapestry of Amalur
Amalur isn’t a game that’s going to be winning any awards for graphic innovation – it definitely is a bit dated. But this game overcomes those technical limitations by cutting realism and opting for a fantasy art style that really did work. With a very good high fantasy feel, the environments are clean and lush, the animations are smooth and polished, and the character models are good. It does resemble Warcraft style ‘high fantasy’ artwork, but in a lot of ways that isn’t a bad thing. This slightly cartoonish High Fantasy art style will likely continue to look better than it’s more realistic fantasy counterparts for years to come. Probably the biggest ‘mistake’ with regards to the art style is the fact that the zones don’t ‘blend’ well, they either feel identical or they’re so disparate they could be from different continents. Aside from that, the only real negative with regards to the graphics is the overuse of certain types of glow effects. Not a huge problem, but they do become a bit tiring. In addition, the game could’ve used a few more enemy types to make it feel a little less monotonous. That being said, there are a pretty good number and they do a pretty good job of placing them and spreading them out which helps to make it feel a bit better.
On the other side of things, we have the audio. The voice acting is mostly of above average quality, with very few exceptions. There are a few characters whose voices sound a little off, and there are also a few characters who just sound absolutely perfect: The drunk fateweaver for one. However, it is within the soundtrack that Amalur’s presentation finds excellence. From subtle background themes to stirring epics, Amalur’s music is what truly brings the game to life. It’s not perfect, and there are a few pieces that can get a bit annoying, but the number of those is small enough to not mar the overall quality of the soundtrack.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of the best Open World RPGs that I’ve ever played. It contains a ton of replay value, exciting combat, a good solid presentation, and an actual story. To be completely honest, this is the game I was hoping Skyrim would be. Sure it has it’s flaws such as a fairly bland crafting system, some bad voice acting choices, and the loot system not really fitting the genre… but it more than overcomes that with the number of things it does right. I suppose more than anything I just wish they’d done more with the premise the game was built on.
- Combat is incredibly engaging and dynamic.
- Story is quite good.
- Art style works very well.
- Offers an open guided experience, taking the best aspects of both open worlds and guided rpgs and melding them.
- Great soundtrack.
- Fateshifting is an excellent mechanic.
- Game features many memorable characters who develop over the course of the game.
- Very interesting and unique class system
- Encourages hybrid builds through class system.
- Amalur is an amazing world
- Stealth mechanics were handled very well.
- Faction quests are very well done
- Fateshifting really does feel epic.
- Lots of meaningless sidequests.
- Doesn’t take enough advantage of the possibilities of being ‘fateless’.
- Limitation on number of special ability buttons can be frustrating.
- Would have liked more options within hybridization
- Reckoning mode can make boss fights a little too easy if used well.
- Loot system feels out of place in an open rpg.
- Professions are very bland.
- Graphics are a bit dated.
Written by: Sean